For the millions of people suffering from depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues, it can be a real challenge to find relief and healing. Medications have been a lifesaver for some, but most therapists recommend a more holistic approach, using talk therapy or behavioral modifications to try and eventually wean patients off of antidepressant drugs.
Unfortunately, many people are not helped by traditional talk therapy. Depression and anxiety are physical as well as emotional problems – ever seen that ad for antidepressants that says “depression hurts”? Well, this is more than a clever marketing ploy. One of the most common complaints of severely depressed people is that a lack of energy and numerous aches and pains make it hard to do the things people often recommend for self-care, like going for a walk with a friend, or getting exercise. And while talk therapy can help someone analyze and become more aware of negative thinking patterns, it doesn’t address the impact this negative thinking has made on the person’s body.
So how does one treat the mind-body crisis of depression or anxiety? Yoga may provide answers and much-needed relief. Amy Weintraub, creator of Life Force Yoga, a program designed to treat mental health through yoga practice, discusses this on her website:
“…Despite our ever-expanding knowledge… we’ve lost our connection to who we are and often feel separated and alone. Yogis have always believed that depression is that separation from our source. Yoga, including postures, breathing exercises and meditation is the science of positive mental health. Practice Yoga regularly and it will strip away the obstacles that separate you from your source.”
Western therapists are rapidly jumping on the yoga bandwagon. In an article for Common Ground, writer Joelle Hann reports that traditional psychotherapists are finding that yoga complements talk therapy. And interestingly, the reverse is happening too: yoga teachers are bringing more traditional therapeutic ideas into their classes, making a sort of yoga/therapy hybrid. The only problem with combining the two practices is that for licensed therapists, there are strict rules about bodily contact with patients. So those who are using yoga as a therapeutic tool have found creative ways around these restrictions – holding yoga classes outside of regular clinic hours, or focusing more on the breathing, visualization and meditation aspects of yoga that don’t require touching.
This isn’t just a bunch of new-age therapists trying alternative methods to treat open-minded patients, either. A slew of clinical studies have been studying the effect of yoga on conditions like post-traumatic stress, eating disorders, chronic pain disorders, and other mental health problems. A study at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience in India examined how effective it would be to treat depression with a pranayama technique called “sudharshan kriya”, or Healing Breath. The results? There was an approximately 73% success rate in treating depression with this yogic technique.
Still not convinced? Check out this explanation from Psychology Today:
“According to Stephen Cope, a psychotherapist and author of Yoga and the Quest for the True Self, hatha yoga’s postures improve mood by moving energy through places in the body where feelings of grief or anger are stored…Yoga students may also benefit from their relationship with the yoga instructor, Cope said, which can provide a “container” or a safe place for investigating, expressing and resolving emotional issues. The instructor’s encouraging and accepting words may also help students defeat self-limiting notions.”
From this explanation, it sounds like even a “normal” yoga class could help treat depression. So even if you are undergoing traditional therapy or are finding relief from antidepressant medications, yoga can still be a great complementary therapy. If there truly is a mind-body connection, it makes sense to treat both the mind and the body, doesn’t it? And what better to soothe, strengthen and focus both our physical and mental selves than a good, solid yoga practice?