Edited and published by Wellness Monster Dina
Many people use the practice of yoga to improve health and wellness and to relieve stress and manage conditions and disorders, such as chronic back pain and arthritis. But, can practicing yoga also help to manage and, perhaps, even erase anxiety or depression? The answer to this question seems to lie in determining what yoga really is. While yoga appears to be a form of exercise, some say it is really a form of meditation that originated in India thousands of years ago. In actuality, yoga is, both, exercise and meditation that focuses on three things; mindfulness (living in the moment), breathing, and performing physical movements that help strengthen the body all at the same time.
Since exercise, controlled breathing, and meditation are known to reduce stress it would only follow that yoga would be beneficial in helping to relieve anxiety and depression at least as well as other stress-reduction methods, such as physical stretch routines, meditative breathing exercises, or even prayer. But, how does yoga specifically work to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression?
Yoga appears to calm down an over-exaggerated stress response which can cause hypersensitivity in some individuals. This hypersensitivity results in chemical imbalances in the body and brain that create negative side-effects, including anxiety, depression, and being more sensitive to pain. For example, individuals suffering from Fibromyalgia are thought to have an over-exaggerated stress response which makes them more susceptible to chronic pain. Since, meditation, breathing, and physical exercise are known to reduce physiological hypersensitivity yoga can help to normalize the stress response, which leads to reduced anxiety and depression.
The practice of yoga varies from class to class from extremely gentle so students can practice at their own personal rate of ability, to more challenging practices for the more advanced student. But, how does yoga work? It works by way of meditation, breathing, and physical movement.
The meditative element of yoga promotes mindfulness. Mindfulness is a form of meditation that is often used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to take the mind off things for a while. It is used to gain balance and fresh perspective. During a mindfulness meditation, the eyes are closed and breathing is regulated, neither too shallowly or too deeply. With each breath out the individual is to imagine all tensions and worries leaving the body. With each breath in peace and love are imagined as being introduced to the body and mind. Picturing a mental oasis of serenity that can be pulled into place during moments of stress are also a part of mindfulness. In yoga, “mindful” breathing is a huge focus. Mindful breathing helps to relieve anxiety and depression.
Breathing properly is an important aspect of yoga because it is breathing properly that supports the lungs in sending sends fresh oxygen throughout the body. Fresh oxygen purifies the blood and helps to release toxins, which helps to relax the mind and body.
All of the various postures in yoga emphasize concentration on breathing. Basically speaking, while each posture is being held each breath taken in and released out while in that posture is timed to supply different organs and glands with fresh oxygen. It is said that no other form of aerobic exercise can flood the body’s systems with oxygen as well as yoga is able to which helps in the treatment of anxiety and depression.
The movements practiced in yoga tend to be calm, gentle on the body, and fluid by nature. Normally, such calm and gentle movements would not be considered aerobic but because controlled breathing is incorporated into each move, this is not so. Each movement includes just the right distribution of blood flow to so that the delivery of oxygen is increased and improves the entire circulatory system through breath. This is what makes yoga an aerobic activity. However, unlike other aerobic exercises that tend to increase cortisol levels, it balances stress hormones and calms the nervous system, instead, through its focus on controlled breathing.
The physical movement also increases serotonin levels. Serotonin is a “feel good” neurotransmitter in the brain. Serotonin deficiency is a major cause of anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. Aerobic exercise is known to boost serotonin production, relieve stress, and create feelings of contentment. Studies show that those suffering from depression have lower serotonin levels. This is how yoga can help to play a role in treating anxiety and depression.
While more studies are necessary to reveal exacts, current studies reveal that most people practicing yoga two or three days each week gain the health benefits described in this article. In fact, it appears it takes just three short months of practicing yoga for an individual to notice a reduction in anxiety and depression by 50%. For this reason, yoga is definitely considered an activity worth pursuing to help manage anxiety and depression.
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