Depression and anxiety are common illnesses of today’s fast paced society; often one is accompanied by the other, leading to a viscous circle to which there seems no escape. However, studies have shown that yoga might be a a natural tool to coping with some of the symptoms and problems associated with both depression and anxiety.
What is Yoga?
Yoga is more than just physical exercise; it introduces you to a uniting and balancing of the mind and body. Yoga also focuses on how you breathe, a common problem in people who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. Yoga is different to other types of “stretching” exercises because it teaches you to recognize and work with the connection between mind, body and soul. Yoga makes both the body and the mind more flexible (source).
Depression and Anxiety
There are various types of depression but in general depression is accompanied by the following symptoms:
- feelings of sadness
- feelings of hopelessness
- physical aches and pains such as back ache
- loss of appetite
- lack of interest in everyday activities
Anxiety and depression often share the same symptoms but people who suffer from anxiety often suffer from panic attacks (the overwhelming fear of carrying out a specific activity and the feeling of inability to do so), breathing difficulties, tearfulness and irritability, in addition to the above symptoms.
(source: Anxiety Disorders Association of America)
How Yoga Helps
The main benefit of yoga, with regard to depression and anxiety, is that it reduces stress levels and in turn reduces some of the symptoms associated with depression and anxiety. According to the Harvard Health Publications website, yoga can:
- improve your mood and function – a 2005 German study showed an improvement in depression scores by 50% and improvement in anxiety scores by 30% at the end of a 3 month study period on participants who practiced yoga in the study
- improve and control your breathing – yoga teaches you how to breathe “properly” and consequently diminish the frequency of a panic attack.
Yoga, in some respects, is a form of “stress management” and as such helps to elevate mood. It may also help reduce insomnia and improve your physical fitness (source).
What You Can Do
There are various types of yoga available so to get started check your local gym, fitness center or social club for classes. If you haven’t practiced yoga before, talk to the instructor as to the suitability of a particular class for you. In addition, you might want to consult your doctor, particularly if you have a history of physical or medical conditions that might restrict your ability to practice yoga.
If you don’t feel confident enough to take a class, you can also practice with a private instructor, although one-on-one tuition is usually a lot more expensive. You can practice as much or as little yoga as you want/need but building a regular routine helps you to keep it up.
An Ancient Tool for a Modern Disease
Yoga might not be a “cure” for depression and anxiety, and not all of its benefits have been scientifically proven, but there certainly appears to be some link between yoga and the perceived benefits it presents. Yoga is not a new practice; it has been around for centuries and has been practiced by ancient and respected elders of many societies. Yoga might just be the tool to help you cope with one of the modern world’s most common illnesses.
Photo by Augusto Mia Battaglia photography