How Yoga Can Help with Depression
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Depression is a huge problem today and is the world’s leading cause of altered life. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is ranked as the third highest global disease burden, especially in China, India, and the USA. Even more so than other ailments like arthritis, asthma, and diabetes.
We are reading more and more about famous people who not only suffer from depression, but have also, sadly, taken their lives because of it. Many people believe that there is no help, but there are things that can be done that don’t require taking strong medications, like yoga.
Yoga has always been associated with meditation, calmness, and stress-reduction. It also has amazing benefits for people who suffer from depression and there are many studies to prove this.
How Can Yoga Help?
Many studies have been conducted to prove that yoga can influence neurotransmitters similar to the way that anti-depressants do. Neurotransmitters (dopamine and serotonin) control the pleasure centers of the brain and send signals from the brain to the nerve system. This then helps to control things like happiness and mood balancing.
Asanas and pranayama are also associated with mood and help dopamine and serotonin levels naturally increase without the use of medication. Yoga also works against stress, helping to remove it and its responses. This then helps to minimize depression. In addition, asanas and pranayama affect the autonomic nervous system, which has a big effect on one’s mood.
Photo by Dave Rosenblum on Flickr
An article in Forbes magazine was published last year that focused on how yoga can help with depression, and showed research that has been done to prove this. The article states that the Netherland’s Center for Integrative Psychiatry took 12 adults that suffer from depression and put them through a program that included weekly yoga classes that consisted of asanas, pranayama, and meditation.
At the end of the nine-week study, all of the adults that took part in it had lower levels of depression. The same article also talks about research that was done at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Centre. This study proves that veterans who took part in an eight-week yoga course were more content and happy, as well as being less depressed than before they took the yoga course.
An article in Time also talks about how yoga can help with depression and the benefits that it has on it. They conducted an interview with Dr. Chris Streeter; associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, who agreed that yoga does in fact help with depression. He even went one step further and stated that he believed that yoga has much fewer side effects than medication, making it a better option for some. The only side effect from yoga is muscle soreness, which is temporary. Furthermore, yoga balances the auto-immune system. If you have a balanced auto-immune system, then the rest of your brain will perform better.
5 Yoga Poses for Depression
There are thousands of yoga poses that work for all types of ailments, but these are the 5 best poses to help with depression.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
Adho Mukha Svanasana is the ultimate all-over stretch. It also energizes the body, improves digestion, and helps to calm the brain and relieve depression.
- Go on all fours and make sure that your arms are the same width as your shoulders, and fingers are stretched open with your middle fingers facing forward.
- Make sure that your knees are hip width apart, and your wrists are under you shoulder blades.
- Inhale and curl your toes under.
- Exhale and push your sit bones up to the sky.
- Open your shoulders and let your head hang.
- Stay like this for 5 breaths and then inhale and go back down to all fours.
- Repeat 3-4 times.
Utrasana (Camel Pose)
Photo by Zoltán Gál on Flickr
This pose helps to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Utrasana also helps with insomnia, migraines, and back pain.
- Kneel on the floor with your knees hip-width apart. Make sure that your feet are also following suit and not too close together.
- Engage your thigh muscles, and press your shins and the top of your feet on the floor.
- Put your hands to your hips, inhale and open your shoulders and bring your elbows behind you.
- Exhale and bend you back as far as you can, allowing your neck to stay in line with your spine.
- Be sure to keep pressing your pubic bones forward, using your legs to support you. Your legs should not move, they should stay forward.
- If you are able to touch your heels while still keeping your pubic bones and legs forward, then do so. If not, keep your hands at your hips.
- Stay like this for 5 breaths.
- Inhale and come up, using your legs to support you. Exhale and go to child’s pose and rest.
Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)
Photo by Elsie Escobar on Flickr
This back-bending pose strengthens and elongates your spine and activates your abs. It is also known to relieve depression, stress, and fatigue.
- Lie down on your stomach.
- Put your hands directly underneath your shoulders, with your fingers facing forward.
- Keep your shoulders back and down away from your ears.
- Inhale and lift your upper body off the ground, keeping your hips down on the floor.
- Come up as high as you can, so long as your hips remain on the floor. If need be, go on your forearms.
- Make sure your shoulders stay back and down.
- Stay like this for 5 breaths.
- Exhale and lower your upper body back down to the ground.
Janu Sirsasana (Head-To-Knee Pose)
Janu Sirsasana gently calms the brain and helps relieve depression. It also improves digestion, relieves anxiety, and stretches the spine, shoulders, hamstrings, and groin.
- Sit with your legs together, directly in front of you.
- Flex your toes to engage your leg muscles, and make sure you are sitting straight and on your sitting bones.
- Bend your right knee so that your heel is in your groin and your toes are on your thigh.
- Inhale and bring your arms up.
- Exhale and fold forward so that your navel is in line with your left knee.
- Touch your toes or the sole of your foot. If you can’t reach then use a yoga strap.
- Stay here for 5 breaths.
- Inhale and bring your arms and body up, exhale and arms down.
- Repeat on the right side.
Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
Photo by Free to Breathe on Flickr
Not only does Tadasana improve your posture, but it also strengthens your knees, thighs, ankles, and buttocks. It has been a proven aid in depression, as it helps to clear the mind.
- Stand straight with your feet together.
- Lift your toes so that you are on the balls of your feet, spreading them and then place them down again.
- Press the outer ridges of your feet to tighten your ankles.
- Slightly pull up your kneecaps to engage your leg muscles.
- Lift your chest and sternum up, bringing your tailbone in.
- Make sure your chin is parallel to the floor.
- Curl your shoulders back and press your shoulder blades down.
- Finish by hanging your arms down at your sides.
- Soften your eyes and stay like this for 5 or more breaths.
If you suffer from depression and are looking for alternative ways to help you cope with it, then yoga is a step in the right direction. Make sure to practice under the guidance of an experienced, well-trained teacher that understands how yoga can help with depression. Better yet, find one in an exotic location like Bali and take a break from it all by enjoying a yoga retreat.
If you feel like you’re struggling with a bad mood that doesn’t seem to go away, we urge you to get help. Even if it doesn’t seem very serious yet. Also, you can always go on a restorative yoga retreat to soothe your mind and your body.