the number of adults who report living with depression has skyrocketed in recent decades. Many sources suggest that this is likely due to our society’s: increased individualism; loss of community connection; higher pressure to perform productively (with less time to relax); sedentary lifestyles; and loss of meaningful values and rituals. Our working lives – not to mention our personal lives – can be fraught with all sorts of complex pressures and difficulties. These can mount up, leaving us feeling increasingly helpless or hopeless about life. When we’re in this state, it’s difficult to relate to our capacity for joy and ease that others demonstrate– and which we ourselves may recollect experiencing in life.
There’s a growing body of research to suggest that yoga can be a valuable part of the strategy to mediate, and recover from depression. There are many reasons why yoga is an effective ally in treating depression. Here are just a few....
There’s a simple rule-of-thumb that’s easy to remember, which is: movement = mental health. Yoga is no exception to this rule. Increased movement has been proven to be the most effective non-drug treatment for depression, since it releases feel-good brain chemicals that may ease depression (neurotransmitters, endorphins and endocannabinoids), leading to an increased experience of wellbeing. Linking movement with breath – one of the key focuses of yoga practice – not only provides this benefit of movement to the body, but also simultaneously calms and focuses the mind, providing additional benefit to the nervous system, and allowing you to reside more restfully in your body and mind.
2. Beyond the Body.
Aside from the aforementioned physiological benefits of yoga practice, yoga provides immense benefits for a mind caught in feelings of meaninglessness. While the media often focus on the physical aspects of yoga, the ancient lineage of yoga is grounded in a philosophical science based on the link of the body, mind and spirit. Amy Weintraub, specialist in yoga for depression, suggests that yoga provides a set of principles and practices which bolster a sense of living with ‘moralnets’ – or moral structures - that provide life with a meaningful foundation, too often lost in modern life. Many people report that their sense of meaning in life has been significantly improved through connecting not only with the physical, but also the philosophical aspects of yoga.
3. Yoke the benefits.
The word yoga means yoke, or union, in Sanskrit. To be yoked is to be deeply connected. The ultimate goal of yoga is not to touch your toes - as is so commonly believed these days - but to experience a union of self, other and universe. While this may sound like a lofty ideal, it’s not so unattainable in a practical sense. The yoga mat provides a peaceful, relaxing opportunity to connect more deeply with yourself. The yoga class environment provides a space for like-minded people to gather, and these people often form communities that can bolster against the effect of isolation felt by so many of us in modern society. Additionally, the practice and philosophy of yoga provides a way of reconnecting with what really matters in life– love, kindness, simplicity, rest, peace, creativity, and connection. Body. Mind. Spirit.
Together, these aspects of yoga are a recipe for mental health.
As we practice yoga, the distressing symptoms of depression are given a generous space in which to be processed, and gradually, alleviated.
Whether you suffer from clinical depression, or regularly feel less-than-amazing, it’s worth trying yoga and seeing if this ancient practice can support you and your state of mind in modern life.
I regularly facilitate 8-week Yoga for Anxiety and Depression courses in the Illawarra, NSW. I am also in the process of developing a 1-day intensive workshop on the same subjects, which I will facilitate in various locations around Australia. For more information about upcoming courses and workshops click here.