Yoga Therapy for Anxiety and Depression
Depression and anxiety can affect how we interact with life. Symptoms of anxiety can include feelings of agitation, racing thoughts, rapid and shallow breathing, insomnia, excessive fears and worries, feelings of inner restlessness. And a tendency to be excessively wary and vigilant. When suffering from depression, more often than not low mood predominates. It can feel really hard to motivate yourself to do daily tasks or activities that you once enjoyed. Getting involved in day to day tasks takes more strength and effort. Sometimes a sense of emptiness can be felt or feeling like you are devoid of feelings altogether. Concentration may be impacted, accompanied by low confidence. You may worry about what others think and fear being judged. It might be that you think and say negative things, feel irritable and be difficult to be around. You might experience feelings of shame or guilt and constantly trying to put on a brave face to cover up your illness can be exhausting. Depression and anxiety can hijack your life, leaving you feeling isolated and unhappy. Anyone can suffer from these conditions with symptoms varying from person to person. And there is increasing evidence that these illnesses seldom occur in isolation. The more stressed you get the worse depression and anxiety becomes. It’s important to learn how to take enough rest and self care.
How Yoga can help:
Yoga practices have been shown to reduce both situational and chronic anxiety within a period of 10 days. A regular Yoga practice can significantly reduce depression, anger, and mood disorders as well as heart rate variability. Meditation leads to positive changes in brain function and chemistry. Acceptance of present moment emotions and feelings can reduce fear and bring clearer thinking. Then one realises that these feelings are not permanent. Dedicating some regular time to some self care can feel empowering – an opportunity to take charge of your health and wellbeing.
A gentle asana (posture) practice can move energy around the body reducing feelings of stuckness and lethargy. Working with the breath helps to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, the relaxed response, to feel calm. Practicing mindfully, resting attention on physical sensations improves awareness and understanding of our physical body e.g. areas of tightness and tension etc. Yoga offers an ability to be in your body in a gentle and nurturing way. It offers a structured, supportive and self paced medium for people to make choices in relation to their bodies in a kind and gentle, caring way e.g making movements small or large, speed, fast or slow stop when ready, make choices to suit your experience. It’s also useful to give the mind something to focus on, taking you away from everyday worries and distracting thoughts. This can feel refreshing.
Breathing practices and pranayama helps to slow thoughts and clear mental activity. Observation of the breath can act as an anchor for the mind, to discover stillness within. Breathing practices can increase energy by improving the function of the lungs and heart. They also stimulate the vagus nerve, calming the nervous system, creating a more peaceful, and balanced existence. By calming the mind, sleep and energy can be restored.
Relaxation, visualisation, mindfulness and meditation to allow for a feeling of groundedness and calm emotions. A useful opportunity to explore the experience of “letting go” and to relax. Individuals can exert the power of “will” to release tightness in the body and let go of tension. When tension becomes chronic it becomes the new norm. Sometimes we need to give ourselves permission to stop “doing” and just “be”.
Visualisation can be highly effective for achieving your life goals. There is a massive link between thoughts and behaviours, a very important connection for achieving your best life. Athletes, organisations and businesses thrive on using these techniques and so can the average person to enhance their life experience. Visualisation harnesses the power of the mind, and the will, studies also show it can promote healing. It activates positive thinking, influencing function of the hypothalamus, endocrine system, body and organ function.
Mindfulness is designed to improve focus and concentration and improve awareness. Becoming more mindful of our thoughts and how they impact our emotions and behaviour can be the first step towards creating some better choices and coping strategies in life. Spending more time in the “Present Moment” can bring a sense of aliveness, and the ability to see the positives, opportunities and abundance of life. When feeling happier in ourselves we become more aware of our true selves, our unique qualities that make us who we are and how best to use them.
It’s been found that mental practices can enhance motivation, increase confidence and self efficiency, improve motor performance, prime your brain for success, all relevant to achieving your best in life.
Using Integrative Yoga Therapeutics in the Treatment of Comorbid Anxiety and Depression, International Journal Of Yoga Therapy, No18, 2008.