How Yoga Can Help Battle Depression

Yoga is often the first complementary activity recommended by doctors for anxiety. So powerful is its effect on the stress hormone, cortisol, that it is currently used in numerous therapeutic settings across the globe – including centres for substance abuse, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and anxiety. Recent research published by researchers at the University of Coventry, meanwhile, has found that yoga can also help battle one of the most common mental conditions in the world: depression.

What Does Depression Feel Like?

People often associate depression with ‘the blues’ but its symptoms are actually more far-ranging. One lesser known symptoms is a simple lack of enjoyment in the things, people, and activities that once gave them pleasure. Other ‘hidden’ symptoms can include weight gain, chronic pain, and even an addiction to anything that can feel stimulating; it might be social media, shopping, or other activities that can give a sense of a ‘high’.

How Can Yoga Help?

The research mentioned above took into account various studies. One study showed that eight weeks of twice-weekly yoga significantly reduced symptoms of depression, and boosted cognitive and physical functioning, quality of life, and optimism. The more yoga classes participants attended, the greater were the improvements!

In another study, participants who had suffered depression for an average of 11 years, had less depression, anxiety, and stress, even four months after they stopped a dedicated yoga program.

In further research involving depressed university students, those who did yoga for half an hour a day, for a total of eight days, had lesser depression, anxiety, and stress, for two months after completing a yoga programme. In contrast, another group of students who only performed relaxation exercises, did not fare as well.

How Can We Enhance the Power of Yoga at Home?

The relaxing effect of yoga is strengthened when we open our senses to the spiritual force that runs through all living things through the use of aromas (such as essential oils), and visual aids such as candles. Flickering flames make an excellent point of focus and add an air of spirituality to any yoga experience. One important piece of advice is to use 100% natural candles and oils. Paraffin candles emit toxic particles into the air when burned and should be replaced by soy candles, while non-therapeutic essential oils fail to have the desired effect on mood, be it relaxing, energising or uplifting.

Why is Yoga so Powerful?

Scientists believe that the essential ingredient that makes yoga such a powerful tool against stress and depression, is mindfulness, which is shared by other mind-body activities, such as Tai Chi. Yoga requires great concentration, and the coordination between mind, body, and breathing.

As we work on performing each asana with the right technique, engage in pranayamic breathing, meditate during and after a yoga session, we are ushered into ‘the here and now’. We begin to feel empowered against the kind of negative thought cycles, regret, and worry that can invoke our ‘fight or flight’ response. This makes yoga one of the most efficient ways to boost focus.

One of the most powerful studies on yoga’s relaxing effect found that this practice does not only relax us as we perform it; it also undoes the harm that chronic stress causes the DNA in our cells. It is therefore an ideal activity for anybody who is facing a stressful life event, or who is trying to overcome a traumatic experience from the past.

Yoga is a powerful mood lifter, so much so that it is recommended for so many people facing challenges – including women receiving radiotherapy for breast cancer. Yoga lowers symptoms of depression and anxiety, but also lifts the mood and gives us a sense of vitality – something that can feel like the silver lining on the cloud of depression and stress.

Contributed by:

Sally Collins is a professional freelance writer with many years experience across many different areas. She made the move to freelancing from a stressful corporate job and loves the work-life balance it offers her. When not at work, Sally enjoys reading, hiking, spending time with her family and travelling as much as possible.