In the US, major depressive disorder (MDD) is prevalent. In fact, it’s one of the most common mental health disorders.
A 2016 study by the National Institute of Mental Health found that nearly 7% of the adult population has dealt with at least one MDD episode in the past year.
Those who seek treatment frequently receive antidepressants. But that prescription may only bring partial relief. Luckily, people who want alternatives or supplements to this course of treatment have other ways to manage the debilitating symptoms of depression.
Using yoga for depression is a great place to start.
The link between yoga and depression relief is well-known. Studies can now even designate how often one should practice in order to get relief from the symptoms of MDD. They can also suggest types of yoga for optimal intervention.
What Is Major Depressive Disorder?
Major depressive disorder is a mood disorder. And, as those who suffer from it know, it affects how you handle daily tasks, how you think, and how you feel. To be diagnosed with MDD or clinical depression, symptoms must last for two weeks.
Those symptoms are varied and sometimes surprising – from feelings of anxiety, numbness, and loneliness to physical pain and insomnia.
The link between yoga and depression relief is well-known.
Symptoms can manifest in one of the many different kinds of depression – postpartum, seasonal affective disorder, or persistent depressive disorder, just to name a few.
Depression affects women and men, all races, nationalities, and classes, every gender and orientation. And all these groups can benefit from yoga for depression and its ability to help alleviate symptoms.
Why Does Yoga for Depression Help to Alleviate Depression Symptoms?
Like all exercise, yoga increases serotonin production. Scientists believe that serotonin affects one’s happiness.
There is also a theory that yoga’s emphasis on mindfulness and non-judgmental focus on the present moment helps practitioners develop these skills. And, furthermore, bring this approach to life beyond the yoga mat. (You may have gathered this without a clinical study, but hey – nothing wrong with a little scientific validation.)
Like all exercise, yoga increases serotonin production.
Further, some reports and meta-analysis (studies of studies – I know, it gets deep) assert that yoga is a better treatment than other types of exercise or relaxation techniques. And, that yoga may help regulate the autonomic nervous system (the part of the nervous system that handles involuntary functions).
Also, because yoga is fluid and gentle, everyone can practice at their own level. That accessibility is just the thing for MDD’s chronic, often recurring nature.
Want to learn more about the mental benefits of yoga? Read: Your Brain On Yoga – 6 Mental Benefits of the Practice
So, How Do I Practice Yoga for Depression?
The Boston University School of Medicine reports in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. They say that two or three 90-minute weekly yoga classes in concert with at-home practice can lead to a substantial reduction in the symptoms of depression.
Participants in this study practiced Iyengar Yoga. This style uses helpers and props like blocks, chairs, and straps to aid in alignment of the body.
Along with Sun Salutations, the yoga classes in the study progressed from passive postures to more rigorous ones that incorporated a number of backbends and inversions followed by a period of mindful breathwork between each posture.
Yoga and meditation practices benefit people mentally, emotionally, and physically.
The principles of Iyengar Yoga can also apply to other forms of yoga for depression. The most important aspects seem to be mindful breath and the focus on alignment and aiding the body to pursue this.
Need more mindful breath tools? Here are 4 Go-To Breathing Exercises For Meditation, Stress Relief, and Overall Wellbeing
Meditation, Alone, Can Also Help Depression
The Boston University study is, by no means, the only one to document the benefits of breathwork. The University of Pennsylvania conducted a study of people whose symptions were not relieved after more than eight weeks of traditional antidepressive treatment.
When those same people practiced eight weeks of Sudarshan Kriya meditation, they experienced a marked improvement. Sudarshan Kriya is a simple rhythmic breathing technique. It roughly translates to proper vision through purifying action.
How fitting that the mindfulness it energizes and encompasses has been found to diminish and remove exhausting depressive symptoms – and without the potential side effects of medication.
Yoga for Depression: The Takeaway
Yoga and meditation practices benefit people mentally, emotionally, and physically – and for good reason.
For those living with MDD in the short- or long-term, these practices can provide not just hope, but real change. The scientific community is building a body of work to show exactly why you may want to consider this intervention and how to best utilize it.
If you haven’t, it’s a great time to see for yourself. After all, it’s always the perfect moment to regain some control, to feel again, and – certainly – to feel better.
All included information is not intended to treat or diagnose. The views expressed are those of the author and should be attributed solely to the author. For medical questions, please consult your healthcare provider.
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