Downward Dog and Depression - Why Yoga is Fighting Mental Illness
Those suffering from depression often cite one of the most challenging side effects of the illness as being the lack of energy and fatigue. On the flip side, those that take anti-depressants often suffer from these symptoms also. This catch 22 makes it insufferable for depression-prone people; how can they find the motivation to keep going when their disease and treatment both cause the exact opposite? Exercise, particularly yoga, is making waves as a powerful tool to use to battle depression. So how exactly can the downward dog help to beat the black dog? Here's how.
Yoga is by no means a new therapeutic practice. According to Harvard Medical School, a national survey conducted showed that almost 8 percent of Americans had tried yoga at least once. While yoga is commonly revered for its gentleness, making it a suitable exercise for sedentary and older people, it is powerful for depression healing also. The deep breathing exercises that are a core focus of yoga help to target the nervous system, providing a sense of balance and restoration. The benefits of a restored nervous system are that it aids the brain to function better and reduces stress.
The lack of energy makes more regular exercises quite tricky for a depression sufferer to commit to, whereas yoga requires significantly less energy output for positive outcomes. The calm and meditative environment that a yoga class creates is great for increasing positive feelings and a sense of grounding in the present moment. This ability to remain current is critical for depression sufferers and aids in improving their mood. Meditation as a component of yoga practices is a time in which the participant can hone in on their mind with all the external distractions drowned out. The depression sufferer can take this moment to devote an insular focus to their depressed mind and feel it in its raw state.
A study completed by the American Psychological Association showed that a group of depression sufferers who engaged in twice-weekly yoga for eight weeks reported improvement in their symptoms. Some of the improvements that were cited amongst the group of 29 people were physical functioning, optimism and overall quality of life. It is the physical functional improvement that is particularly interesting as it shows that yoga is an energy generating exercise. The benefits of this are twofold. By engaging in yoga, a participant is building their fitness level which is contributing to their levels of motivation, in turn reducing their depression. They are also immersing themselves in a group activity that is relaxing and inclusive, so for those suffering from isolation because of their depression, this is particularly beneficial.
Yoga is probably not a quick fix for depression, but it indeed provides some useful tools for depression sufferers to tap into over and above traditional treatment methods. Yoga classes are safe and calm places for a depression sufferer to engage in some gentle exercise and meditation. A yoga studio is an alternative to the therapist's couch, and downward dogging in the face of depression is starting to sound more appealing.