Yoga as Holistic Medicine for Depression
Author: Justin Mckibben
In the past, eastern medicines, theologies and practices have been observed by the western world with a heavy hint of speculation. There was a time science was limited as to what it could and could not prove through technical studies what scriptures like the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali or the Bhagavad Gita, both sacred and valued text in connection to Indian and Hindu philosophy, told us about the mind, body and spirit. However as time and science has caught up with the claims made in the ancient manuscripts we have discovered more of the remarkable catalogs of evidence to support eastern medicines and practices… especially yoga.
Yoga has become more mainstream over the last decade plus, and it would seem that since its inception into western culture there have been compiling examples of how gurus from hundreds or even thousands of years ago have actually been telling us all along about the healing power in the science of spirituality.
Today, health and human service providers across America have shown a mounting interest in using yoga as a form of holistic healing, especially as an option for treating people with mental health problems. There is a multitude of reasons why the aspects of yoga would benefit those struggling with depression.
- Mindfulness and meditation
- Exercising physical health promoting mental well-being
- Emphasis on detachment from negativity and connection to higher self
The list goes on and on… let us make a few points about how yoga can be amazing medicine for depression.
UNC Yoga Study
A recent study published in the journal Trauma, Violence, & Abuse from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found there are some exceptionally encouraging benefits to using yoga to help address mental health disorders, specifically when coupled with other forms of holistic healing and intervention.
Rebecca Macy is a researcher who works with violence and trauma survivors. She also helped lead the study at the UNC School of Social Work on utilizing yoga to treat mental health disorders. In a statement about the study Macy said she was especially interested to really know what the evidence said; is yoga something healthcare providers should be suggesting to people who struggle with various mental health problems, such as:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Various traumas
Overall, the researchers determined that yoga holds a high potential for helping improve anxiety, depression, PTSD and/or the psychological consequences of trauma.
Depression, Posture and the Heart Chakra
Truthfully, any asana (posture) from the yoga practice has the potential to make a drastic difference when trying to overcome depression. Yoga engages the physical body to focus the mind and create space for intuitive introspection or spiritual reflection. Every pose can make a strong contribution to rewiring the patterns in the brain, while systematically utilizing an individual’s biology to alter their mindset.
That being said, I will promote one of my favorite types of asana when it comes to changing the mood- Heart Openers!
Research does show that sudden emotional stress can actually release hormones in the body that prevent the heart from pumping normally, which of course has an adverse ripple effect. So if we can scientifically say that emotions affect the body so acutely, it would only seem logical that the body could in fact be used to influence our emotions. If you open your heart, give it space to breathe and be beat, it might just surprise you.
Back-bends are some of the simple heart-opening poses that ease breathing and reduce stress by releasing tension held in the tissues of the whole chest and lung region of the body. A variety of back-bending postures are great heart-openers, here are just a few examples:
- Bhujangasana- Cobra
- Ustrasana- Camel
- Anjaneyasana- Low Lunge
- Urdhva Mukha Svanasana- Upward-facing Dog
- Dhanurasana- Bow
Physiology has a very real impression on our psychology, and it has been said that opening the heart in some yoga poses has a way of letting positive energy make its way into our system. Warm up your body, warm up your heart and start to change the language of your life by engaging in yoga that heals.
Of course a yoga teacher and a believer in the power of yoga, I am a little biased… but that’s besides the point…
In yogi traditions the heart chakra, Anahata in Sanskrit, is located in the center of the chest at the heart level. Anahata is thought of as the wellspring of love, warmth, compassion, and joy that moves love through our lives. It is said to act as an integrating focal point of energy and as love is often thought of in most spiritual practices as the ultimate element of healing, the heart chakra is thought of as the healing center of the body. So when we talk about opening the heart we are tapping into the healing inside us all.
Mindfulness is Medicine
There has also been past research suggesting that mindfulness and meditation could be considered as alternatives to anti-depressant medications, or could also be used to combat the side-effects of medications.
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) may now offer a welcome alternative for people wishing to avoid long-term use of anti-depressants, and mindfulness and meditation are bread-and-butter with the practice of yoga.
The list goes on and on as to the benefits of practicing yoga for the individual struggling with mental health disorders such as severe anxiety or depression, and I could sit here and write all day about studies and strategies closely connecting yoga to incredible outcomes in recovery from mental health and addiction issues.
My personal experience itself can support the idea of using yoga to overcome depression, as I am someone who has struggled with anxiety, depression and addiction chronically in my lifetime. As someone now in long-term recovery I can say that one of the most amazing experiences I have been given is to practice yoga and cultivate an intimate understanding with how unifying the mind, body and spirit has helped me dramatically reduce anxiety attacks, overcome suicidal ideation, and even helped me find new passion and serenity while rebuilding a life devastated by drugs and alcohol. My testimony is just one of countless accounts of how yoga transforms lives in recovery, so if depression is an obstacle in your life yoga can be a means to overcome it.
At Palm Partners, we believe in treating and healing the mind, body and spirit as equally important and unified parts that make up the whole person, and yoga is one opportunity offered as part of an innovative and restorative personalized treatment plan to creating lasting change. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135