Yoga for Depression and Anxiety
By Linda Comin PhD.
Yoga is an ancient mind-body practice with origins in Eastern Indian Philosophy. The word yoga in Sanskrit actually means to yoke or unite. Yoga combines physical postures (asanas) with breath-work (pranayama) and meditation (dhyana), concentration (dharana), relaxation, balance, strength, and stamina.
Current research on yoga suggests that it improves mood and gives a general sense of well-being. It is beneficial in counteracting stress and reducing heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure.
Yoga for Anxiety
Many people suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. Anxiety can be a useful emotion if it heightens your awareness to make healthier choices. However, when anxiety becomes more than a little nervousness, it can be very debilitating. Sufferers of anxiety and panic disorders complain of exhaustion and mental fatigue. Some of these symptoms include obsessive thinking insomnia, migraines, intestinal problems, dizziness, nausea, and shortness of breath and heart palpitations. The appearance of anxiety in your daily life can drastically influence your lifestyle. Research suggests that excessive worry sabotages the immune system, weakening the body’s ability to fight off disease and heal.
Yoga is effective in treating anxiety by reducing the symptoms. One of yoga’s basic tenants is to turn your focus inward, letting the external world go. Focusing within facilitates recognition of what may be triggering the anxiety, which is usually those habitual thoughts and unresolved conflicts.
Yoga breath work is one of the key methods in counteracting anxiety. Breath is life and puts us in touch with our essence. When threatened, real or imagined, our bodies react. Therefore, during an anxiety attack the body reacts to what is perceived as a threat. This results in tension, rigidity, and choppy, constricted or cessation of breath. Yoga teaches you to slow down your breath, relax your body, and look inward at the precipitating event.
Yoga for Depression
The benefit of yoga on depression is another area being explored. One of the biggest contributing factors to depression is stress. Depression increases the fight or flight response in the sympathetic nervous system. Persistent/chronic activation of the sympathetic nervous system elevates the stress hormone cortisol. It is a well known fact that cortisol has a major influence on stress related illnesses. Part of yoga’s effectiveness is its ability to decrease stress and increase a sense of well-being. Yoga breath work boosts the oxygen level to the brain; the postures alleviate tension, promoting introspection, and in conjunction with deep relaxation and meditation techniques, produces a calming effect.
Among yoga’s anti-stress benefits are positive levels of certain brain chemicals that decrease catecholamines. Findings also suggest lower levels of the hormone neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine (when elevated, all of these neurotransmitters are involved in fight or flight response and increase fear and anger and decrease the ability to think realistically), which facilitate a calming feeling. There is also an increase in oxytocin, the hormone that is released during childbirth, maternal bonding and during orgasm, sometimes referred to as the “love hormone.” Students who practice yoga on a regular basis report a feeling of increased trust and a heightened sense of connectedness and bonding with others.
I am 59 years old and I believe in the benefits of yoga. I have been practicing yoga since I was 24 years old and it has seen me through every challenge in my life, including cancer in 1992. I believe that yoga saved my life by giving me a deeper sense of awareness, and an intuition to know that something was wrong even though the physicians could not find it.
IMO Yoga is an ok exercise for those that don't want to do "REAL" exercise such as "Cardio, weight training, change of lifestyle and eating habits" Many studies indicate that you if you exercise that you are less prone to depression. As you exercise your mind release "feel good hormones" Again, any exercise does help. Exercise is not just good for your brain, but for your body as well. Google exercise and depression and I'm sure you will find lots, lots of info out there. I myself suffer from depression but I have some major reasons for my depression. As a combat soldier, I have done it all! Been in many live actual combat situations in the Middle East, lost many of my good Soldiers and military personnel and that within itself is hard to deal with and live with. Their isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about my platoon, my brothers and sister who served beside me, the combat missions, how and why things happen, the nature of a brutal enemy who would do anything to demonstrate a point, psychological turmoil, and the list goes on. So yeah, what can I do as a man? Try not to think about my past, exercise and keep my mind pre occupied with things to do, good friends, good family and try to live my life to the best of my ability.
I think as mentioned, generally its more about finding the activity that let's you go into "the zone" - this generally allows you to go into controlled breathing, expend energy, relax mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally. Regular execution of whatever activity you find ends up being your go-to when you know you need the outlet and helps regulate your overall balance in life. I'd venture further, yoga is also designed to optimize the functional flexibility of the body and breathing to further get the most out of the whole effort.