Yoga shows promise in the treatment of depression, according to a 2010 research review published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice. Looking at data from eight clinical trials, the review’s authors found that yoga might augment the benefits of other depression treatments. However, since many of the reviewed studies were flawed, the authors caution that more research is needed before yoga can be recommended as a treatment for depression.
Findings from several small studies offer insight into yoga’s effects on people with depression. For instance, a 2007 study of 37 people with major depression (published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine) found that 20 sessions of Iyengar yoga led to improvements in mood, anger, and anxiety and helped regulate heart rate. And in a 2004 study from Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, five weeks of twice-weekly yoga classes resulted in improved mood and reductions in anxiety, fatigue, and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. (The study involved 28 adults, all of whom had mild depression.)
Should You Use Yoga to Fight Depression?
Yoga may be of some benefit to people with depression. For example, yoga may help alleviate chronic stress (a problem closely linked to depression). What’s more, yoga serves as a form of physical exercise (a self-care strategy commonly recommended in management of depression).
However, self-treating depression with yoga (or any type of alternative therapy) may have serious health consequences. Therefore, it’s crucial to seek treatment with a mental-health professional if you’re experiencing any symptoms of depression (such as loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy, difficulty sleeping, lack of energy, and feelings of worthlessness).
If you’re currently in treatment for depression, do not pursue a new form of treatment without consulting your doctor. If you’re interested in using yoga for management of depression, talk to your doctor about how to safely incorporate yoga into your self-care.
10 Yoga Poses to Fight Depression and Anxiety
The mind, body and spirit are all connected and when a person suffers from mild depression or anxiety, the body is out of balance. Yoga is a series of stretches that helps bring balance to the body; not just focusing on the body’s health, but also on the mind and spirit. Always consult a physician or counsellor if you are having ongoing feelings of depression or anxiety and before trying any new exercise program.
1. Begin with the Lotus position, sitting crossed legged with hands resting on the knees, palms up. The most important thing is to remember to breathe. To calm the rapid breathing often accompanying panic attacks, focus on your breathing at first, a five count in and a five count out, but let the breathing become natural. Let the breathing set the rhythm of the practice. Eyes should be closed, listening to the rhythm of the breathing. After five or ten minutes here, the body should feel calmer
2. Viparita Karani is a great pose for either depression or anxiety as it has both a soothing and energizing effect. Often called the fountain of youth pose, it can be done by beginners or experts. Lie flat on the back with the arms laying at the side and palms down or open the arms with palms up to open the heart even more. Rest the legs against the wall to hold this pose longer comfortably or for more advanced practices, lift up the lower back and rest the bottom on the hands.
3. Fish pose is a terrific pose for opening the heart. Opening the heart with back-bending yoga positions is believed to not only expand the ribcage to give the lungs more room to breathe, but to open the spiritual heart center. Opening the heart, or stretching the chest, eases respiration, relieves stress by unclogging the tension in the tissue in the core. Lying on the back with the arms at the side, round the back and lean as far back on the crown of the head as is comfortable. Lay a bolster, yoga block or pillow under the back for support.
4. In the lying position Setu Bandha Sarvangasana or the Bridge pose is different from a bridge in gymnastics. With bent knees lift the core, arms should lay at the side, palms up or interlock the fingers behind the back. This pose calms the mind and energizes the body. Place a bolster or pillow under the back to hold this pose longer and more comfortably.
5. & 6. The calming poses, Cow and Cat, should be used together. Position the knees under the hips and the hands under the shoulders, kneeling on all fours with a neutral spine. With the inhale, let the belly sink towards the floor, looking up for Cow and letting the head fall down, with the exhale, round the back up to the ceiling for Cat. Keep the eyes closed as much as possible. Try and round the back one vertebra at a time. This pose is terrific for stress in the back; it establishes ideal spinal alignment, strengthens and stretches back muscles in the back and develops coordination of spinal movement.
7. Salabhasana or the Locust pose is a yoga posture. Lying on the belly with the arms along side the body, lift the legs and arms together and lift the chest as high as is comfortable. This pose opens the heart, helps poor posture, depression, low energy, digestion, gas, bladder and back pain. Move into Dhanurasana or Bow pose, relax, then bend the knees and take hold of the feet with the hands. Pull back with the legs to help open up the heart and chest.
8. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana or the Upward Facing Dog pose can be entered from Locust by coming to a neutral lying position, then planitng the toe nails and the palms, directly under the shoulders, into the mat. Lift the body slowly off the mat so that only the tops of the feet and the palms of the hands are the only parts of the body firmly planted to the mat.
9. Child’s pose or Balasana is a resting position which can help calm the body and the mind when under stress. Return to Child’s pose at any time during practice when feeling as though the body may have been pushed too far. On bended knees, lean forward with the forehead to the the mat. Lay arms at the sides of the body with palms up next to the feet or palms down stretched over the head. Breathe deeply, focusing on the breath with eyes closed.
10. Every yoga practice should be competed with Savasana or the Corpse pose. This is the most important pose in any yoga practice and should never be skipped. The body processes the information received through practicing yoga during this pose. Palms, middle of the back, and the back of the head should all be planted into the mat. The feet can fall loose and the eyes closed to help the body relax into the pose. With eyes closed and the focus on the breathing, hang out here for five or 10 minutes.
Slowly wake up the body, wiggling the toes and fingers. Then roll gently on the side, laying the head on the arm and bending the knees. Gently and slowly lift the body. The body should feel revived and the mind calmed.
Focusing on breathing and practicing yoga poses can calm momentary anxiety and depression by giving the mind a peaceful focus and re-energizing the body
When Jenny Smith was 41 years old, her mental illness became so severe that she could barely walk or speak. After days of feeling wonderful one moment and hallucinating that spiders and bugs were crawling on her skin the next, she landed in the hospital.
Smith is a victim of bipolar disorder, an illness characterized by oscillating feelings of elation and utter depression. And though she had tried 11 different medications for relief, some in combination, nothing seemed to work. Upon leaving the hospital, Smith was told that she could expect to be in and out of psychiatric hospitals for the rest of her life. Soon after her release, Smith decided to learn hatha yoga, which incorporates specific postures, meditation and pranayamas, deep abdominal breathing techniques that relax the body. As she practiced daily, Smith noticed that her panic attacks—a symptom of panic disorder, a disease that some bipolar disorder sufferers also contend with—were subsiding. She has since become a certified hatha yoga instructor, and with the help of only Paxil, an antidepressant that she’d taken before without effect, Smith’s pattern of severe mood swings seems to have ended. She even taught her 11-year-old daughter—who had experienced panic attacks since age 7—the simple breathing technique of inhaling to the count of four and exhaling to the count of eight; as a result, her daughter’s panic attacks subsided.