Does Yoga Help Depression and Anxiety?
Two of the most debilitating, and in this modern world, the most common, mental health issues we face are depression and anxiety. Some estimates show that over 17 million adults in the US have experienced depression with 11 million of those diagnosed as severely depressive.
The number of anxiety or anxiety disorder sufferers in the US is a staggering 40 million. Although they are different afflictions with their own symptoms, it should be noted that 50% of those who suffer depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder too.
Given those eye-opening statistics relating to how many people suffer from depression and anxiety, it is fair to say that many of you reading this article may suffer from either or both of them. Whether you do or not, it is not beyond reason that you may do so in the future.
While we pray that is not the case, it is hopefully reassuring to know that there are many ways in which either depression or anxiety can be successfully controlled, relieved and eventually overcome.
Yoga and Its History
One of those ways is yoga, which has a history going back centuries, and its success in helping to alleviate many physical and mental issues have been well documented throughout that time. In more recent years the focus of yoga, particularly in Western cultures, has been on physical benefits such as improved flexibility, and as a means of encouraging relaxation.
To apply just those two benefits to yoga would be grossly unfair as it has far more to offer. Yoga has been used to improve muscle tone, reduce weight, improve blood circulation, enhance respiration, increase vitality and energy, and balance metabolism.
You will note that these are all physical benefits, but as most doctors will tell you, a healthy body helps promote a healthy mind too. In other words, if you use yoga to enhance your body, it can, in turn, improve your mental health too.
One yoga program that can certainly offer that is the 'Yoga Burn Challenge.' As the name suggests it is primarily designed to help you burn excess body fat, which is obviously going to help with weight loss. However. it offers more with over 12 hours of yoga instruction which you can follow from the comfort of your own home which will provide many further benefits, both physical and mental.
We've been talking about the physical benefits of yoga, and they are to be welcomed, but yoga can also have a positive impact on your mental and psychological well-being too. The many yoga poses that require a focus on your inner being, an awareness of your breathing, a quietening of your mind, and allow for complete and utter relaxation, all provide benefits for our mind and our mental health.
Yoga Helping Depression
It makes sense to look at how yoga can help depression and anxiety separately as each of them have different symptoms and often require different treatments, albeit there can be some cross overs. In the case of depression, there have been several studies which suggest that yoga can offer many positives to those who suffer from it.
One specific study monitored 12 adults with long term depression who took part in a yoga program over a 9 week period. Immediately after the yoga program, and 4 months later, when they reassessed the subjects, their depression levels had receded significantly. Another study found that 20 sessions of yoga led to those who participated experiencing mood elevation and a reduction in anger outbursts which is a common symptom of depression.
With depression being an illness that can be influenced heavily by the chemicals within the brain, it is noteworthy that yoga has been seen to increase levels of the protein BDNF. This protein helps to promote the formation of new brain cells and acts as a natural anti-depressant.
There is also evidence that yoga can increase the production of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is known to help promote calmness and, just like BDNF, it has been identified as an anti-depressant.
If you are keen to experience some of these benefits as soon as possible, rather than joining a local yoga group, you can get underway using a yoga program called 'Yoga Burn Challenge.' It consists of 15 videos which you can watch, learn from, implement the yoga poses and soon be reaping the benefits we have been discussing.
Yoga Helping Anxiety
With many of yoga's exercises and poses involving periods of silent relaxation as you focus on breathing slowly, it should stand to reason that it can help reduce anxiety. One of the simplest ways it does so is when you are in that relaxed state, your heartbeat slows. That mere fact alone helps your body to be more aware of itself, and this self-monitoring helps it react better to stress.
Lower blood pressure is another benefit of doing yoga, and not just for the fact that lower blood pressure is more desirable in terms of your health than high blood pressure. Having high blood pressure makes you a prime candidate for anxiety and stress-related conditions, and of course, there are the physical dangers of high blood pressure. These are well known, such as strokes and heart attacks, and knowing you are at risk of them can create further anxiety, just when you can least want it.
Yoga can also help to decrease the amount of cortisol in your body. Cortisol is a hormone and an unwanted one at that, as it is a hormone which is strongly associated with stress and anxiety.
We've already mentioned how, by increasing the neurotransmitter GABA, yoga can help with depression. Well, that same neurotransmitter is also able to inhibit brain activity which stops unwanted scenarios like you over-thinking or feeling overwhelmed in any given situation. Instead, at these stressful times, GABA makes you more able to relax.
Finally, we have the fact that as we age our brain shrinks. Before you panic, thinking your brain will shrink to the size of a walnut, be aware this is normal, and usually of no harm to us whatsoever. However, for those who suffer from anxiety, and who also do yoga, MRI scans have shown some evidence that this has helped limit, and even reverse the shrinkage.
More specifically, an area of the brain called the hippocampus has shown the largest volume gains. This is important as the hippocampus is a region which is essential in helping to reduce the levels of stress we experience.