Does Yoga Really Help With Depression?
To be depressed is to experience feelings of unending sadness. When we are depressed, not only do we feel hopeless, but we also beat ourselves up over our emotions, feeling shame at our situation. We constantly fill our heads with how we ‘should’ be feeling, and what we ‘should’ be doing to overcome our depression. Motivating yourself to do anything is a struggle – even the natural act of self-care becomes a chore. So how do we bring ourselves back to wanting to care for our bodies and our minds?
We are continuously told that positive thinking has the ability to change our lives. However, if you are emotionally negative (or depressed), trying to think positively simply hides how you are really feeling. This can be likened to hiding all the mess in your room under your bed. Although you cannot see it, the mess is still there. Over time you keep adding to the mess until eventually, you have to confront it, but at this point, there is so much mess that you’re not sure where to start.
In order to benefit from positive thinking, we first have to feel positive. This can only come through confronting our negative emotions and forming productive relationships with them – making us actually want to clear our rooms, rather than feeling like we ‘should’. The best way to do this is by reconnecting our bodies and our minds.
The Importance of Mind-Body Unity
Recently, there has been a reaction throughout the scientific world to the previously accepted idea of mind-body dualism. This has been coined “embodied cognition” – basically the theory that intelligence and learning are held in the body, and the brain is not the only resource we have to help us solve our problems.
Science is now beginning to realize something that yoga has known for thousands of years – our environment, actions, and perceptions play a vital role in our mental representations of the world around us. Simplified, the mind can influence our bodies, and our bodies can influence our minds. Not only are the two connected, but they are so intertwined that they cannot exist without the other.
Yoga For Depression
So let us understand Does Yoga Really Help With Depression? Yoga is an ancient holistic health system, believed to originate in India around 5000 years ago. Since then, it has evolved into a widely recognized mind-body practice, promoting physical and mental wellness. Similar to ‘embodied cognition’, yogic philosophy holds strong roots in ideas of mind-body unity. The physical postures combined with breath work are designed to have a profound influence on the mind.
Our sensory awareness – the ability to understand the internal needs of our body – is a vital part of our intelligence, but often overlooked because we cannot physically see it. Throughout a yoga class, you are taught how to cultivate sensory awareness by focusing on the sensations in the body from moment to moment. Increasing our sensory awareness also increases our capacity to understand and respond to the emotional needs of our bodies, breaking cycles of negative reactivity – the habit of hiding the mess. Through yoga, we can begin our journey to recovery by reconnecting with our bodies and re-learning how to respond to our internal needs.
Here are some ways that mind-body connection through yoga can promote recovery from depression:
Through awareness on the breath and the encouragement to focus on the physical sensations in the body, yoga forces us to connect with the present moment, giving the mind space away from negative thought patterns.
Over time, gaining greater control in the body leads to greater control in the mind, helping to alleviate depression by interrupting the cycle of reactivity.
A greater sense of control over the body also increases self-confidence, vital for overcoming depression.
Focusing on the breath and combining it with meditative movements reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety by promoting a sense of calmness and mental focus.
Through increased sensory awareness, we are able to recognize our emotional needs and respond accordingly.
Connection is also an important part of overcoming depression. A better understanding of our emotions makes it easier to communicate them. By displaying our vulnerability, we encourage connection by allowing others in.
In his book, Yoga and The Quest for the True Self, Stephen Cope claims through yoga we experience a “visceral re-connection with the needs of our bodies” and discover “a brand new capacity to love the self”.
As we explore this new found love for our own selves and connection with our bodies, we find that we intrinsically care more about our emotional needs, our diets, our time management and our energy. Becoming more in touch with our bodies removes the “should” from our self-care routine; we begin to want to tidy the mess in our room, caring for ourselves out of love and compassion, from a place of authenticity.
This wonderful article about Does Yoga Really Help With Depression was contributed by Kosta Miachin is the creator of VIKASA Yoga method – a unique, challenging and effective approach to yoga. He is also the founder of VIKASA Yoga Academy. You can find him online: http://www.vikasayoga.com