In the depths of depression, the last thing you probably want to do is move your body. But your councillor, if they’re worth their salt, has probably recommended exercise to help treat depression as well as its painful side effects. Before you peel yourself off of the couch (hey we’ve all been there) and hit a yoga class, you’re probably wondering if it’s even worth your time and money. Can a series of stretches really help with depression? Let’s take a look at some of the side effects of depression and see if there’s any science to justify trying out a yoga class.
One of the key symptoms of depression is sleep irregularities. You may sleep 15 hours a day then suddenly go three days without sleeping at all. Worse, one of the key side effects of antidepressants is also insomnia. As if that weren’t enough, insomnia can actually make depression worse and trigger anxiety. Sounds like a catch-22, but science says yoga can help.
It’s well established that exercise can help regulate your sleep cycles, but the meditation and breath work practiced during yoga grant additional benefits. One study from the National Center for Contemporary and Integrative Health found that 55% of people saw improved sleep and 85% saw reduced stress after practicing yoga. Yet another study found that yoga improved sleep times and efficiency. When you’re tossing and turning yoga can be a great chance to balance things out.
2) Body Pain
One major symptom of depression that doesn’t get a lot of attention is the mysterious aches and pains. Not only are you exhausted, but your body seems to start hurting out of nowhere. Oh, and how about those headaches and digestive discomfort? When your body is in pain, the last thing you want to do is exercise, but a gentle yoga practice can go a long way towards reducing your body aches. Plus the breathwork and meditation can help alleviate headaches, while poses like Locust Pose or Child’s Pose can work wonders for digestive issues.
One of the hardest parts about depression is feeling completely alone with your pain. It’s a toxic cycle because depression causes you to isolate yourself, but isolation only compounds your problems, making you feel worse and more trapped in your own head. Not only can the mindfulness and meditation learned from a consistent yoga practice help you to identify these harmful patterns, but joining a yoga studio can help you cultivate a community around yourself. You may not feel like socializing, but even sitting in silent meditation with a group of people can go a long way towards alleviating the painful feeling of isolation, while encouraging you to leave the house.
But What About Depression Itself?
Part of the battle of depression is eliminating the symptoms and negative behaviors that make depression worse. Now that you’re clear on how yoga can help break destructive thought patterns, like isolation, and reduce triggers, like insomnia, let’s discuss how yoga can help with the root issue, depression.
The health community has been pretty clear for some time that exercise helps to reduce depression by increasing production of neurotransmitters that facilitate an improved mood. Depression is caused in part by a defect in neurotransmitters in the brain, so exercise actually addresses the root issue. Studies have also shown that exercise increases white blood cell count, soothes the nervous system, and flushes stress hormones out of the body, which all help to alleviate depression.
But why yoga over hitting the gym? For one, yoga spaces are usually calming with low lighting, not something the gym can brag about. More scientifically, studies have shown the meditation found in a yoga class can help retrain the brain to break negative thought patterns that enable depression. One study from Johns Hopkins even found meditation to be as effective as antidepressants, while a study from Harvard found reduced brain cell mass in the parts of the brain responsible for anxiety, stress, and fear.
Exercising might not sound like that appealing of an idea if you’re struggling with depression, but the science is in, yoga can definitely help!
Guest post by Kosta Miachin, the creator of VIKASA Yoga method – a unique, challenging and effective approach to yoga. He is also the founder of VIKASA Yoga Academy. You can find him online: http://www.vikasayoga.com