Managing your depression requires constant effort, attention, and maybe even medication.
If you’re struggling with your depression, you need a toolkit of practices and activities to help you manage. In recent years therapists and psychiatrists have been recommending yoga, meditation, and exercise to those struggling with depression.
If someone has recommended yoga to you as
a tool for coping with your depression, you’re probably wondering whether yoga actually helps or is just a passing fad.
Although yoga has only been popular in Western countries for the past 30 years or so, it has been practiced and studied to a great extent for thousands of years.
This is no transitory trend, but a powerful and ancient technology that has been used for centuries to heal the body, mind, and spirit through physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation.
If you’re feeling depressed and physically worn out, get on the mat for an instant pick-me-up.
The claim that exercise can improve your mood and reduce stress is backed up by hard science. In fact, some believe that because we evolved to be active as a species, our sedentary lifestyles are contributing to high rates of depression.
Exercise works on our brains by releasing endorphins and other so-called “feel good chemicals” improving mood and decreasing anxiety.
A study conducted by Duke University found that patients with major depression who exercised regularly in place of medication saw a 95-100% improvement compared to their fellow patients only taking medication.
These results were not short term. A follow-up study 10 months later found that those who exercised had the highest remission rates.
Although these findings are exciting, talk to your psychiatrist before you make any changes to your medication.
When the weather is nice, take your practice outside for the added benefit of vitamin D absorption. Fish Pose (Matsyasana), is a great addition to your exercise regimen as it increases blood flow to the brain, helping to reduce anxiety.
Sense of Community
One of the worst side effects of depression is the feeling of alienation and loneliness. If you’re feeling isolated, you won’t reach out for help, which will leave you feeling more alone. Worse, sometimes your depression and anxiety may be so bad that you’re unable to even leave the house.
Yoga helps us to feel like we’re part of a larger community of conscious yogis, while in-depth meditation practices often remind us of our connection to all other living creatures.
Join a community of yogis working through their mental health issues. Some therapists even offer group yoga therapy! If you’re not ready to go out into the world yet, that’s ok. Try watching some online yoga training videos and connecting with fellow yogis online.
Most yoga studios also have vibrant communities that you can plug into for great events, workshops, and training. If your friend is waiting for you at yoga, it’s a lot harder to skip your practice.
Knowing that people are expecting you somewhere can be exactly what you need on those days where you just can’t leave the house.
When we’ve been on the same medication for a long time or have been using the same tools to manage our depression, suddenly they become less effective. Sometimes all you need is to try something new.
Overcoming your anxiety to get outside of your comfort zone is an important step in regaining confidence that is so often lost during struggles with depression.
If you’ve never tried yoga before, be prepared to feel amazing physical and emotional benefits that can be a huge asset to your recovery. If you regularly practice yoga but are feeling stuck, shake up your practice.
Try a kind of yoga you’ve never tried before, like hot yoga for its detox benefits. Looking for adventure? Go on a yoga retreat in a beautiful location to meet new people and experience a new culture.
But you don’t have to even leave your home to have a yoga adventure. As we deepen our practice we learn more about ourselves and our recovery. Start a yoga practice for the adventure of getting to know yourself, your emotions, and your spiritual journey better.
Maybe the most frustrating thing about living with depression is the “brain fog.” When you’re depressed you may try watching a movie or reading to distract yourself, only to find that you just can’t focus on anything.
Even worse, this gets in the way of your ability to hold down a stable job.
Some studies have also shown that regular exercise can improve concentration and memory. One study, in particular, found that running was linked to learning new vocabulary in adults. If the depression fog is getting in your way, yoga can be a brilliant tool.
Taking a few minutes to do a breathing exercise like Breath of Fire, can be a great way to improve focus. Yoga instructors also recommend balancing poses, like Warrior III, to practice concentration because these poses require patience, calm, and focus.
Maybe the most powerful side effect of a consistent yoga practice is developing mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of non-judgmentally noticing your thoughts, feelings, surroundings, and experiences.
Mindfulness works wonders in patients with depression as it helps them to identify their feelings and triggers for these feelings. Mindfulness also helps people to realize that their thoughts are just thoughts, not facts.
When you think thoughts like, “I’m a terrible person, no one likes me,” mindfulness helps you accept that this is a passing thought, not the truth.
From yoga and mindfulness a new kind of therapy has been born, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). MBCT is usually done in a group setting and aims to help participants identify negative thought and behaviour patterns that exacerbate depression.
If you’re looking for a new therapy tool, this might be it.
If you’re ready to get better, it’s time to consider adding yoga to your wellness plan. Start small with 30 minutes of yoga from home every day, or jump in by finding an MBCT group or going on a yoga retreat.
Either way, you have nothing to lose by giving yoga a chance. At the very least, yoga feels great for your body, and at best it can revolutionize your lifestyle and the way you think.
Be sure to talk to your psychiatrist about your experiences and seek his or her advice before making any changes to your medication.
Have some thoughts on this? Let me know in the comments!