Can yoga ease symptoms of depression?

Yoga utilises various poses, meditation and breathing techniques that can assist in relaxing the body and mind. This holistic approach to exercise takes a look at strengthening your body while developing greater self-awareness.

According to Harvard University, yoga can reduce the impact of stress and decreases feelings of anxiety and depression through the use of self-soothing techniques that can be utilised as coping mechanisms by persons suffering from depression.

How can yoga help people suffering from depression and anxiety?

Exercise is known to stimulate the production of serotonin which has been found to play an important role in treating depression as it is responsible for creating a sense of happiness when present in the body.

The gentle, soothing and calming nature of yoga further creates a sense of happiness and reduces stress levels throughout the body. By focusing on your breathing and concentrating on your movements, you are able to calm your body and mind.

Yoga has also been found to increase heart rate variability by promoting relaxation. A high heart rate variability means that your body is better at managing its stress levels.

Yoga for depression

  • Meditation:

Benefits – Calms the mind and reduces stress.

Find a quiet place free of distraction. You can either sit or lie down – whichever is more comfortable for you. Start by focusing on deep breathing. As you breathe in, count to five, hold it and then exhale. Repeat until your mind becomes still. You can download a guided meditation if you are unsure of what you need to do.

  • Downward facing dog:

Benefits – Reduces anxiety and energises.

Start with lying on your stomach, place your hands next to your chest. As you inhale, lift yourself onto your hands as well as knees. Place your knees immediately below your hips and your hands below your shoulders. As you exhale, lift your bum into the air. Hold for five breaths and then release.

  • Wide-angle forward bend:

Benefits – Beats fatigue and calms nerves.

Standing with your feet hip-width apart, inhale. As you exhale, bend forward, placing your hands on the floor in front of you. Lift your hips upward, arching your back slightly. Hold for five breaths and then release.

  • Child’s pose:

Benefits – Calms nerves and releases tense spinal muscles.

While kneeling on the floor, slowly bend forward and stretch your arms out in front of you. Rest your head on your mat and hold for five breaths.

  • Plow pose:

Benefits – Reduces irritability.

Start by lying on your back, lift your legs and hips off of the ground. Use your hands to support your hips. Slowly lower your legs until your toes touch the floor. Stay for five breaths and then slowly roll yourself back onto the floor.

These are not the only poses that can assist in treating depression and anxiety, but they are a great starting point and are suitable for beginners. If you need extra support or something to prop yourself up on to, you can fold blankets and use them as you would a yoga brick or pillow. Remember to listen to your body and try not to force yourself into difficult poses. When in doubt, please consult a professional yoga instructor.

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