How does yoga affect depression?
We’ve all felt stressed, anxious and even depressed sometimes in our lives. When those feelings become frequent or permanent, it’s best to seek help from a therapist. Nevertheless, there are some things you can do to combat those issues yourself. In this article, we will focus on practicing yoga for stress, anxiety and depression.
Many people start doing yoga motivated by physical benefits. But what we discover as we continue practicing is the strong impact it has on our minds and spiritual growth.
Yoga affects depression by decreasing the impact of stress, increasing energy, and elevating your mood. Before we recommend specific asanas and types of yoga for depression, we will go through some proven facts and benefits.
Is Yoga Good For Anxiety And Depression?
These days, many methods and supplements promise to help with psychiatric disorders – but with no backing in science. It’s understandable if you are skeptical.
Is yoga good for depression and anxiety? Or is it just another fad?
The idea of using yoga for stress, anxiety, depression, and concurrent mental health disorders isn’t only based on personal experience. Scientists have researched this ancient practice and undividedly agreed that it has a beneficial impact on our mental health.
One of the most notable scientific documents about yoga is the Harvard Mental Health Letter, first published in 2009 and periodically updated. In the article, they promote yoga as a natural method to relieve anxiety, regulate our response to stress and manage symptoms of depression.
Benefits of Yoga for Anxiety and Depression
So, what can you expect from using yoga therapy for anxiety and depression? What are the benefits and how exactly does it work?
Here are some of the impacts yoga has on your brain and body, which help reduce symptoms of mental disorders:
- Elevates mood and reduces anger and anxiety
- Increases GABA levels in your body. GABA s a primary inhibitory neurotransmitter, which plays a crucial role in emotion regulation, and can consequently reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Increases levels of the BDNF protein. BDNF promotes formation of new brain cells, and can act as a natural antidepressant.
- Decreases inflammation. Inflammation is linked to a higher risk of depression.
- Relieves stress. It does so by reducing levels of cortisol, slowing heart and breathing rate, and lowering high blood pressure.
- Increases heart rate variability (HRV), which helps your body to adapt to stress.
- Pranayamas, yogic breathing exercises, are effective in decreasing anxiety and depressive symptoms.
- As every exercise, yoga increases secretion of serotonin, dubbed the “happy hormone”, which plays a key role in effective depression treatment.
- Through all these hormonal effects, yoga also improves sleep quality, reduces fatigue and increases energy
These benefits are confirmed through many studies. Individual researchers have focused on an array of groups including healthy adults, women struggling with emotional distress, veterans suffering from PTSD, bipolar patients, and young adults with mild depression. All groups reported positive effects of yoga on their mood, symptoms and overall well being.
Of course, if you are diagnosed with a mental illness or suffering symptoms, you should visit a doctor and be open for standard treatment with therapy and potentially medicine.
Consider yoga a supplement that will boost your standard treatment, and help you regain control over your mental health.
Best Yoga For Anxiety And Depression
It’s time to go through the best yoga practices for anxiety and depression.
Yoga means unity, in many aspects of the word, and that also proposes its effects are unified – regardless of the specific sequence or asana you do.
Nevertheless, many yogis and researchers mention specific yoga exercises for depression and anxiety. These postures are available to all ages and experience levels.
Knowing these asanas and yoga types will help you build a relaxing sequence that you can turn to every time you feel stressed, anxious or discouraged.
Best Yoga Poses For Anxiety And Depression
Let’s start by listing 6 yoga poses for depression and anxiety. These asanas work by opening and relaxing certain parts of our bodies which tend to store negative emotions.
Though you can use these postures alone for an instant relief, you can also combine them into your personal yoga sequence for anxiety and depression. Then, every time when you feel anxious, just return to your sequence to calm your mind, clarify your thoughts and elevate your mood.
Downward Facing Dog
(Adho mukha svanasana)
Downward Facing Dog is the fundamental pose of sun salutations and is a part of virtually every class. It is also one of the most beneficial poses for anxiety and depression.
It gives you the benefits of an inversion, but is appropriate for beginners. The main effect of this posture is that it increases blood flow to your brain, which in turn boosts energy, combats anxiety and clarifies your thoughts. That gives you the mental strength you need to deal with thoughts and issues that led you to feeling anxious.
Increased circulation to the brain can combat insomnia, and B.K.S. Iyengar often recommended Downward Dog to those who are fatigued.
Downward dog also stretches your spine and expands your chest, which encourages deeper breathing and alleviates stress.
Easy Pose (Sukhasana)
Easy Pose is a beginner-friendly asana. It’s often used for meditation, as it keeps your back straight and can be held comfortably for long periods.
Sukhasana invokes a feeling of relaxation in the entire body, and allows an uninterrupted energy flow. The base of the spine is rooted to the earth, which helps you to feel grounded, while the symmetry of the pose centers you and corrects misalignments.
By promoting a proper posture, this pose will also conjure a sense of calmness, clarity and confidence. To stop overthinking when holding the posture, you can focus on your breath or recite a simple mantra.
Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana)
Heart openers are among the most powerful yoga asanas for depression and anxiety. One of those poses – which extend your spine and expand your chest – is Upward Facing Dog.
By opening your whole front body, Upward Facing Dog helps to release any tension you’ve built up in your chest. This motion balances the respiratory system, promoting deeper breathing and clarifying your thoughts. The Upward Facing Dog is also used to awaken Kundalini, a Hinduistic divine energy which is located at the base of the spine.
By strengthening the spine, and improving our posture, this asana can help you feel more confident. This is why it’s often called an “extroverted pose”, able to give you strength to stop curling in on yourself, a habit often associated with depression and lack of self confidence.
Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Child’s Pose is an essential resting asana, with an amazing comforting ability. It allows you to ground yourself, and makes you feel protected and supported by the earth itself.
Its effects are profound in the times when you feel anxious, and it can calm jittery nerves. By slowing down your mind, it invokes a sense of self-soothing. It releases spinal muscles after backbends, and allows you to let go the pent-up tension in the back body.
Child’s pose is often used to breathe into and replenish overworked adrenal glands, which are crucial for natural adrenaline and cortisol levels. When you are going through a lot of stress, the gland can activate more than it should, which can increase the feeling of fatigue depressed people often struggle with.
Sarvangasana is another inversion that increases blood flow to your brain, and can help balance mood swings.
This posture balances emotions and irritability by nourishing and calming our parasympathetic nervous system, which also decreases other symptoms of depression and anxiety.
If you have any shoulder or neck problems, or are menstruating, you should avoid this asana. Opt for the modified version – lying on your back, with your legs stretched onto a wall. The “legs up the wall” position delivers the same blood-flow-boosting effects.
Sarvangasana may also help manage symptoms of sleep deprivation and disorders. B.K.S. Iyengar was heard saying “Due to the soothing effect of the pose on the nerves, those suffering from irritation, shortness of temper, nervous breakdown and insomnia, are relieved.”
The CorpsePose (Shavasana)
Simple to do, yet difficult to master, Shavasana is a pose which you should always implement when you exercise yoga and meditation for depressive and anxiety disorders.
Shavasana is a pose of complete relaxation, where you are lying on your back with your hands and feet open. It is usually done at the end of your practice, as that’s when you’ve already released some stress, and are less likely to struggle with a busy, overactive mind.
If you’re struggling to hold the posture and stay calm, you can use a meditation from Yoga Nidra. It involves focusing and releasing each part of your body separately, from your head and your face, over the neck, chest and back, to your arms and fingers, legs and toes.
Shavasana encourages mindfulness and introspection. It helps you to build an awareness of your body and yourself as a whole.
At the end of your yoga exercise for anxiety and depression, it will assimilate energy channels and integrate everything you’ve worked on, allowing you to gradually reach a fully relaxed, calm, and positive state.
Best Types Of Yoga For Depression And Anxiety
After you understand how specific postures can help you with depression, you can look for yoga types which utilize these asanas.
We will mention three types of yoga which implement these poses. Additionally, these yoga styles primarily focus on the mind-to-breath connection and meditation, rather than physical exercise.
Beginners yoga for anxiety and depression
If you are a beginner, you can ease in the practice with Hatha yoga. This style teaches the basic postures, and often includes those on our list.
Hatha yoga is simple and available to everyone, which makes it appropriate for learning breathwork. Breath-to-movement connection promotes greater mindfulness and alleviates symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety.
Hatha is a flow class, meaning you are constantly moving from one posture to the other. As this requires you to follow instructions and focus on alignment in each pose, it will be easier not to worry or think about anything aside from the practice itself.
Kundalini yoga For Anxiety And Depression
Kundalini yoga is a synthesis of many yogic physical and spiritual practices. It’s based on the idea of Kundalini Shakti, a spiritual energy that resides at the base of your spine. Kundalini yoga strives to awaken this energy and elevate it through the six chakras placed along the spine, and through the crown chakra on your head.
Kundalini yoga works on your mind and body simultaneously, by incorporating movement, breathing patterns and chanting of mantras. By doing so, you’re breaking down the walls and barriers you’ve built in your body and mind, and are able to achieve inner peace.
As you practice Kundalini yoga, you will become more self aware, which will prove useful when you need to overcome panic attacks or intense feelings of depression.
Pranayama Yoga For Depression And Anxiety
When you’re depressed, it can be hard to get yourself to exercise. And that’s ok. There’s no need to force yourself to do anything that doesn’t feel good. In those moments, you can turn to Pranayama.
Pranayama yoga allows you to reap the healing benefits of yoga, without moving through different poses. It only requires you to sit in a single, comfortable position, and works only on your breath.
Yogis have always known – and science is beginning to understand – the restorative power of the breath. Pranayamas slow and regulate your breathing, which engages the parasympathetic nervous system and calms your mind.
When you are anxious and stressed you tend to breathe faster. That breaks the natural balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your body, and upsets the ideal PH level. When that happens, you feel irritated and anxious. By controlling your breath, you can restore this balance, calm your nerves and lower your heart rate.
If you’ve never practiced pranayama before, you can start simply by observing your regular breathing patterns. When you focus on our breath, it naturally slows down and deepens.
Once you feel ready, you can begin exploring different types of pranayama. Give yourself time to try and discover what works best for you. When you find your sweet spot, the most enjoyable method, focus only on that single technique.
Next time when you feel distressed and anxious, you can sit or lie down and do the exercise you’ve worked on. That puts you in control, and you’ll know exactly what you need to do to return to a calm, mindful, and confident state of mind.