Are you battling the blues? Although the gurus have always known this, an increasing number of scientific studies now demonstrate how Yoga helps depression and low mood in a significant way.
In this article, we delve into some of the more common causes of depression and the role that Yoga can play in improving this. We look at the science that offers new evidence about the benefits of Yoga for depression and suggest a couple of free YouTube videos anyone can do at home.
What Causes Depression?
We all know how it is to be blue at some stage in our lives. At times it may just be because it is cold outside or raining cats and dogs. And there’s a good reason for this – a lack of the right amount of sunshine and light can cause what’s known as SAD – seasonally affected depression. Something that can be addressed relatively easily with the right kind of light exposure.
Other times, we are facing difficulties in our personal lives or jobs that we can’t see a way through. Whether this is an abusive situation at work or home, unrelenting stress, or the loss of a valued relationship or a loved one – many factors can contribute to low mood or depression.
Finally, there are also those events to consider that happened much earlier in our lives but still have a significant effect on our mood long term. These can be experiences and situations we only have a vague memory of but persist in their effect on our current lives. There can also be very specific traumatic events that remain unsolved in their acuteness and ongoing effects on our present state of wellbeing.
Often the consequence is that we retreat from the world and social engagement. Our energy levels drop and our mood may even go down further.
If circumstances persist and we do not seek or get appropriate help and support, we can easily slip into a depressive state.
Although Yoga is very helpful to anyone with low mood or depression – please make sure you also seek professional medical support if your depression is severe. Please see further comments at the end of this article.
How Does Yoga Help With Depression?
Many times we can’t dictate our circumstances: they simply happen to us. However, we have a level of control over how we respond to the circumstances.
Our thoughts guide our emotions. Therefore, by guiding our thoughts in a more positive direction, more upbeat emotions will follow. Yoga works surprisingly well in this context and can be an effective tool to counter anxiety and low mood.
Very simply, therefore, just doing a little bit of Yoga is a step in the right direction.
Most regular Yoga practitioners know that Yoga influences mood and energy in a very positive way. It does this by helping release any stuck energy or “chi” so that it can move out of the body.
However, Yoga also fundamentally affects our emotional state at a nervous system and hormonal level, with significant benefits. Check out our article on the emotional benefits of Yoga to find out more about this.
Yoga For Depression – The Scientific Evidence
The scientific community has developed a growing interest in demonstrating the benefits of Yoga for depression – with many surprising results.
For example, a recent report by the American Psychological Association talks extensively about the benefits of Yoga as an effective therapy for depression. In one of the documented studies, 74 mildly depressed university students received a 30-minute live instruction on Yoga. Then, they were asked to practice Yoga for eight days at home, using a 15-minute instructional video.
Two months later, the participants had significantly reduced scores for depression, anxiety, and stress. Not only that, these scores were much lower than for a comparative group that just did relaxation exercises.
Although it is noted that the study participants only suffered a mild level of depression, the results are important.
Effectively, a simple Yoga practice of just 15 minutes each day can have a big influence on how you feel and your overall wellbeing. In the overall scheme of a day, 15 minutes is very minor and very doable.
If you feel like reading a bit more about the science behind Yoga and mood, read our article on Yoga, curiosity and happiness. This delves into this a bit further into how Yoga can guide you towards greater happiness.
Yoga Sequences For Depression
Below we suggest a couple of Yoga routines that might get you started in the right direction. Both are slow and gentle. They are very helpful in opening up the body, awaken the chi and get it to flow again. Some Yoga asanas work particularly well for depression.
Remember, do only what serves your body: don’t do anything that feels painful or uncomfortable. Fall back to a good “standby” pose if necessary, or just use a few props to relieve any pressure points or sore joints.
In no time, your chi will rise again and you will develop a sense of wellbeing no matter what the weather of life does around you.
Yoga is just one of the tools in the overall toolbox to help depression.
However, significant and ongoing depression must be taken seriously.
Please note that if your depression is severe then please consult with your medical practitioner to map out the best path forward for you. This may include some medication or sessions with a qualified counsellor or psychotherapist who can help you move to a better place.
There is no shame but only courage in admitting you need help.
Personal story: My life partner Stephen has struggled with depression his whole life. Long term counselling (which is still ongoing) has fundamentally turned his life around and his resilience and level of skill in navigating and understanding the “weather of emotions” – as he calls it – is amazing. He has all of my support and admiration.