Yoga for Depression and Anxiety: How to Improve Your Mental Health Through Gentle Stretching
Are you Stressed or Depressed? Try Yoga!
It’s well-known that yoga has numerous health benefits and is often recommended for physical ailments such as back pain, but it’s interesting to delve into the use of the ancient technique to improve mental well-being and provide a healthy outlook on life.
Recent research in the United States found that three sessions of gentle yoga a week can help combat depression as it boosts levels of a chemical in the brain which is essential for a relaxed mind. In 2010, scientists at the Boston University School of Medicine found that the levels of the amino acid GABA are significantly higher in people that carry out yoga than those who do the equivalent of a similarly strenuous exercise, for example walking. This chemical is essential for the function of brain and central nervous system and promotes a state of calm within the body.
Low levels of GABA are associated with various anxiety disorders, and depression. This would suggest then that there is more to the way in which yoga makes us feel happy and relaxed than simply releasing endorphins as other exercise does.
Stress is a common occurrence in today’s society; factors such as the recent credit crunch and job market on top of raising a family, relationships, studies etc. can take a toll on all of us. Our bodies and minds are not designed to handle long periods of stress- which can manifest itself in hypertension, insomnia, skin problems, asthma, ulcers, and as previously mentioned; anxiety and depression.
How to Reduce Stress and Anxiety Through Focused Breathing and Awareness
Yoga provides good results for stress management
-It physically releases stress and tension by the stretching and twisting into different postures (referred to as ‘Asanas’ in yoga) and unwinds knots in the back and neck muscles etc. which may be causing the body to feel tight.
-The physical exercises releases endorphins, natural hormones in the body which create a feeling of well-being.
-Yoga breathing techniques (known as ‘Pranayamas’) make a person take deeper breaths which fill the bloodstream with more oxygen and control blood pressure, but also being aware of your control over breathing is a very effective tool in combating stress.
-Pranayamas and Asanas, together the ‘language of the body’ help us get to know our innermost being, and control over ourselves through learning to control our body. Practising yoga will help realise there is an inter-connection between mind, body and spirit which in turn helps to maintain balance in daily life.
-Yoga clears the mind: Our minds are constantly racing from one thought to another and tiring themselves out in the process! The concentration used in yoga for Asanas and Pranayamas gives the brain a well-deserved break, and puts all other worries and thoughts to the side.
-Yogic philosophy also plays an important role in achieving a more optimistic outlook. Regular practising of yoga can change the way in which a person views the world and their attitude towards achieving goals and success rather than failure. Asanas and Pranayamas impart positive thinking.
-Ending each yoga session relaxing with the ‘savasana’ or corpse pose might feel like an enforced relaxation at first but eventually becomes a total release for both body and mind, transitioning you back into the world refreshed and ready to go!
A few key yoga postures, or asanas, for relieving stress are ‘savasana’ (corpse pose) as mentioned above, ‘balasana’ (child’s pose), ‘makarasana’ (crocodile pose) and ‘vrikshasana’ (tree pose). Take a breather next time you feel stressed out and see how much of a difference yoga makes to your mood!