Yoga Can Help Depression and Anxiety: Here’s Why and How
Anyone struggling with depression and/or anxiety will know that these states can be all consuming.
You may begin to feel that functioning from day-to-day is an overwhelming task.
You may even wrestle with endless feelings of hopelessness, worry and despair.
When this happens, looking for a solution is the obvious next step.
Did you know that yoga can help depression and anxiety in a big way? One of these ways is by improving mental and physical relaxation.
We’re not suggesting that yoga is the cure-all for these issues but over time and with regular practice, it can make a huge difference.
The National Institute of Mental Health will tell you that depression and anxiety disorders often go hand-in-hand, and everyone experiences them differently. The causes can be complex and diverse, so yoga may not be the ‘be all and end all’ for everyone who tries it.
However, some people do experience total transformations through yoga – so don’t rule it out just yet!
If you’re wondering how yoga can help depression and anxiety, read on…
Why can yoga help depression and anxiety?
Doing yoga regularly can really reduce feelings of anxiety and the depression that often follows.
Since yoga encourages you to relax on both mental and physical levels, you are more likely to stay with feelings as they arise rather than resisting, numbing or talking yourself out of them.
This makes it easier to spot triggers and causal factors behind your anxiety or depression. In other words, yoga practice promotes awareness, and awareness is step one when it comes to healing anything.
Therefore when you start to become more aware of (and accustomed to observing) your state, you’re more likely to notice when things have gone awry in every day life.
You may be more attuned to triggers in your environment, relationships and habits.
Can you already see how these benefits might start to take shape?
In a nutshell, here are some of the main ways yoga can help depression and anxiety:
- Development of healthier thought patterns
- Mind and body awareness
- Feelings of self-love and acceptance
- Grounding into the present moment (thus calming)
- Releasing of endorphins (the brain’s feel-good chemicals)
- Reduction of stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline)
- Cultivation of patience and focus
- Calming of the central nervous system
- Relaxation on mental and physical levels
- Facilitation of social interaction (thus a brighter outlook)
How yoga can help depression and anxiety
Let’s take a look at the practical application of yoga for anxiety and depression for a minute.
The mindful breathing process in yoga practice is a big part of this.
No doubt you’ll have noticed that anxiety attacks result in shallow, disjointed breathing, which only makes the feelings worse… and the cycle repeats.
So by focusing on the breath and consciously slowing it down, your body gets the signal that it’s OK to relax and your mind follows suit.
When your overactive mind has something positive to focus on, thoughts slow down and start to make more sense.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that feelings of fear, agitation or anxiety are best eliminated through the most calming yoga poses (asanas).
It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s often the dynamic and invigorating poses that help the most. That’s because an anxious mind is usually busy and frantic, and giving it something to focus on and achieve can subvert its panicky thoughts.
On the other hand, trying to force a hectic or worried mind to quieten down can actually make you feel more anxious.
Yoga poses for depression and anxiety
The following postures can help you to focus your mind, get your energy flowing consistently and stimulate endorphin production.
Backbends are great for opening the chest, which cultivates feelings of freedom – quite the opposite to that cagey, panicky feeling in the chest when anxiety takes hold.
Here are some of the best yoga poses for depression and anxiety:
- Sun salutations (Surya Namaskār)
- Downward dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
- Supported backbends (Viparita Dandasana)
- Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)
- Handstands (Adho Mukha Vrksasana) – note that this is an advanced posture!
These more stimulating yoga postures help anxiety and depression when they are accompanied by the proper breathing techniques (pranayama).
Your teacher should be encouraging these but you can also learn about yogic breathing at home. Focus on your inhalation to life force into your body and then exhalation to release stress and anxiety while promoting feelings of calmness and peace.
Remember to only perform the poses you’re capable of, as forcing your body to do things it struggles with may only make you more anxious. Yoga requires patience.
Restorative yoga poses can follow later
After you notice a shift in your mindset and emotional state, you’ll be better equipped to perform restorative poses with ease.
Here are some of the best restorative yoga poses for anxiety and depression:
- Reclining bound angle pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
- Legs against the wall (Viparita Karani)
- Child’s pose (Balasana)
- Corpse pose (Savasana) – the pose that usually closes a class
These poses should help an already calmer system to continue relaxing.
However, if you start to feel restless when holding a restorative pose, it might be a good idea to keep your eyes open as this may lessen the intensity of your feelings.
If you’re not yet convinced that yoga can help depression and anxiety, know that Havard Health research found that yoga modulates the stress response.
Also, if you’re already doing yoga but finding that your anxiety and depression still has a grip on you, it may be that you need to combine yoga with a more in-depth treatment plan.
It may be time to get a personal diagnosis to decide upon the best course of action… but however you approach healing, it’s worth giving yoga a chance.
Check out our other articles on yoga if you’re interested in this subject!