Does Yoga Really Help With Depression
13 November 2017
Depression is the world’s most widespread illness today and Yoga continues to provide a safe haven for those suffering through the combination of physical exercise, meditation and breathing exercises.
Depression is the world’s most widespread illness. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) more than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression (status February 2017). The condition has seen a rise of more than 18% between 2005 and 2015. WHO also states that almost 800 000 people with a history of depression commit suicide every year.
These are shocking numbers! And behind every figure stands a suffering human being. These figures also indicate that treatment is not simple, and it’s especially difficult to heal depression long term. Through numerous studies, scientists have discovered that yoga can play a great role in getting rid of depression. This research is incredibly important, as less than half of the people suffering from depression are able to receive proper treatment. This data has been collected only from high income countries. If you happen to live in a country with low income, chances are 80-90% that you are not receiving treatment at all.
The reasons behind this are a lack of resources and of trained health-care providers. Additionally, the stigma associated with mental health issues is a major factor for many people not to seek help. Despite the advanced health care system in Western countries, many cases of depression are not recognized. On the other hand, people receive prescriptions for antidepressants who have no signs of depression.
Mental health has not been on government's' radar for a very long time. Just in recent years, as could be seen in the UK, awareness has grown and the budget for mental health has been increased. It has become impossible for both politicians and society alike to ignore the tremendous spread of psychological illnesses any longer.
While there are good and effective treatments out there, it's worth considering a more gentle and permanent approach, that can substitute or accompany a long term intake of antidepressants. Antidepressants, often seen as a 'cure all,' and are handed out too quickly. We need more prescriptions that don't have any side effects and are low in costs. Like yoga!
Thankfully, the thirst for alternative healing measures - when it comes to both physical and mental illnesses - has increased over the last years. With the effect that health care providers are recommending yoga and meditation to their patients more frequently now. Giving them the power to find out for themselves what makes them feel good. Be it in order to cure their illness, to lessen their fear that any severe disease can cause, or to ease any side effects medication has on their body and mind.
Our society has become more sensitive to vulnerability, people are more ready to speak up and admit a mental instability. Mental illnesses often origin from or are intensified by the immense pressure we live under in today’s world. It becomes more and more difficult to handle – and I don't even say 'live up to' – the current stream of expectations.
So yoga has become a safe haven for many people due to its stress reducing effects, due to the combination of physical exercise, meditation and breathing exercise. Especially the last two elements are activating the parasympathetic nervous system in our body which is responsible for relaxation and healing.
And here’s the good news:
A recent study from the Boston University (published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in May 2017) has shown that yoga really helps to ease the symptoms of depression.
All 30 participants of the study have lowered their depression scores by at least 50% after a three months-period of regular Iyengar yoga practice. The participants practiced two (group 1) and three times a week (group 2) in class, plus added home practice. So it's official now! Yoga can help with depression.
The study also confirmed that the group who practiced yoga more often showed better scores in terms of their wellbeing than the other group.
It's been common knowledge for a very long time that sports and any outdoor activity is good for our health and mental wellbeing. So it doesn't surprise too much, that yoga has a positive effect on our body, mind and soul. Yoga helps us to connect to our body, to feel what is going on inside, understand how we’re feeling in this exact moment and allows us to only do what feels good for us.
The field of study is still underexplored, but the Boston University’s study gives us a trustworthy indication that yoga works. I hope many more studies will follow in order to make this beautiful tradition even more popular in the West, for people with and without mental health issues, as everyone can benefit from a regular yoga practice.
It was very important for the study to show the healing potential of yoga though, as for a long time it was considered to be just some spiritual hippy practice.
While the internet and the constant stream of information might be one of the culprits of today's startlingly high numbers of people with mental health issues, it also makes yoga easily accessible for everyone. Visiting a yoga studio has become insanely expensive in some cities. But more than that, it can be frightening. Especially for people who are not feeling well, but are in desperate need of relaxation, attending a public yoga class alongside strangers can take too much energy or even provoke anxiety.
Therefore it's great that you can find now so many yoga videos on youtube and special yoga websites so even beginners can practice at home. Many platforms even offer the streaming of videos for free, like Do Yoga With Me. Everyone can find the right yoga style for her- or himself, in the comfort of one’s own four walls. A soothing yoga practice suited for beginners like Adriene provides , traditional Hatha yoga, Kundalini yoga with focus on the breath, or a vigorous Vinyasa class. There are even classes designed for people suffering from depression. There are so many Yoga and wellbeing resources out there today, to help those suffering from depression! And don’t worry: You can't chose a wrong style, if it makes you feel good.