How Yoga Helps to Relieve Depression

*Depression and other mental health issues are serious and should be evaluated by a professional. For counseling in Indianapolis or Greenwood, call Sunstone Health & Wellness today.

Today’s post is the second in a 4-part series on how yoga can help with depression.  It is brought to you by guest blogger, Jennifer Minchin.  Jen is a yogi, constant explorer, and lover of the written word.

People worldwide suffer from depression and its incidence is on the rise. In many cases, depression and stress go hand-in-hand. If you just look around at how over stimulated people are today, it’s no wonder. Thanks to technology, you’re always accessible, you’re constantly being hit with more information that anyone can possibly digest, and that’s just life with your smart phone.

Chronic stress can do incredible damage to your body starting with your sympathetic nervous system. That’s the one that kick starts your “fight or flight” system and releases the hormone cortisol. If cortisol is chronically high, it can do some real damage to your body, including a lowered immune system, gastrointestinal disorders, endocrine system disorders and cardiovascular issues. And since everything in our bodies is interconnected, you can bet the damage doesn’t just stop there. Chronic stress can also reach out to your limbic system causing memory damage. All of this, and it can cause or worsen your depression. Many findings show that people suffering from depression have higher levels on cortisol, which is a stress hormone.

How can we take back our health and our mental wellness? For one, studies have shown that yoga can have a measurable impact on those with depression, even after just one class. Just what makes yoga so good for depression?

Yoga helps in several ways. It asks that you focus on your breathing, which calms your system and lowers adrenaline. As you move through your yoga practice, one of the goals is to focus on your breath and try to keep it as calm and steady in the hardest poses as it is in the easy poses. It also gives your mind something to focus on instead of the hundreds of thoughts that are constantly running through your head. Steadying your breath can also lower your heart rate.

The opening and closing chants that sometimes take place also help to lower your heart rate and blood pressure. One study showed that participants had their lowest heart rate of the day while chanting. (Not into chanting? Why not sing in the car or the shower? It’s the vibrations that do a body good.)

Certain poses activate your parasympathetic nervous system, helping your body to relax. Your parasympathetic nervous system is your rest and digest system. It’s the opposite of the sympathetic and it’s the one that is active when you are calm. Cortisol levels are lower when you’re in “rest and digest” mode.

Yoga releases muscle tension. If you’re upset or stressed, your muscles tense. Releasing that tension automatically helps to relax the body. That’s why massages feel so good! The stretching and lengthening of your muscles in yoga has that same relaxing affect.

Tension isn’t the only thing that your muscles store—a lot of emotion is also held deep within your muscle tissue. Certain yoga poses can even trigger deep-seated feelings and you may find yourself in a pose, suddenly crying or completely elated. So, a regular yoga can also help you work through things that are stored beneath the surface.

Like anything, the effects of yoga are cumulative, so if you can really stick with it, you’ll definitely see lasting results.

If you are so someone you know is depressed or looking for counseling in Indianapolis or Greenwood areas, contact us to learn how we can help.

Yoga Can Help You Journey Back From Depression

*Depression and other mental health issues are serious and should be evaluated by a professional. For counseling in Indianapolis or Greenwood, call Sunstone Health & Wellness today.

Today’s post is the first in a 4-part series on how yoga can help with symptoms of depression.  It is brought to you by guest blogger, Jennifer Minchin.  Jen is a yogi, a constant explorer, and a lover of the written word.

It finally occurred to me that there was a real problem when I woke up with four two-inch long cuts in my left arm. Taking a knife to myself the night before somehow, somewhere in my brain seemed to be the answer to the crushing weight of my depression. At that point, the only thing I could force myself to do was yoga. With a will that came from somewhere deep inside me I didn’t even know that I had, I would get up each day and head to a yoga class. It took several months, but at one point, I realized that I had started to feel better.

Yoga helped me get to a place where I wanted to work on the things I had shied away from in the past. It made me dig deep and really look at myself to find what I was really missing—happiness. After spending a lot of time on the mat, and subsequently in teacher training, I started to understand that wellness, both mental and physical, is one of the many gifts of yoga.

Just how does yoga help with depression? Practicing yoga postures help cleanse your organs by moving stale blood and delivering fresh blood. Studies have shown that chanting activates certain systems in your body, helping to balance hormones. At the beginning and end of many classes the word “Om” is chanted. Depending on which style of yoga you choose, there may be additional chants. (Don’t let the idea of chanting scare you. It’s actually fun! But if you’re still sketched out by the idea, it’s totally okay to just skip that part of class and listen.) Breathing practices help to calm your sympathetic nervous system and activate your parasympathetic system. These are just a few of the ways yoga helps get your body and mind moving in a healthier, happier direction. We’ll take a deeper look at these benefits in the other posts for this series.

But for now let’s look at how yoga helps you be present and why that’s important. Depression makes you want to hide. You could be hiding from people, yourself, or issues that are too hidden or too difficult to bring to light. I hid in alcohol, in partying, in bad relationships, and just flat out hid in my apartment. In a yoga class, you will focus on the movement of your body, your breath, and how you feel in each pose, which slowly but surely, will teach to you start paying attention to the present moment.

You’ll begin to find that different poses can bring up different feelings. Your practice becomes a journey into self-exploration and self-study. How do you react when you come upon a new challenge? Do you shy away from your edge? Or do you stay there and face what’s coming up for you? During my time working through the deepest part of my depression, one of my biggest challenges was camel pose. Camel is a deep backbend, also known as a heart opener. Heart openers make you feel exposed. For me, that was the hardest thing in the world, and getting into that position would send me into a near panic attack. My heart would race, my breathing would become shallow, and I’d have to come out of it. One day my teacher said to me, “Just drop back. Nothing is going to happen to you.” I realized he was right. Soon thereafter I was ready to face a piece of my own insecurity and the pose became one of exhilaration instead of a place of fear.

Just like I did in camel pose, you can begin to work with your own range of emotions and get to know yourself better. The way you think about poses will change. You will begin to feel stronger on your own two feet and want to start applying the lessons learned in yoga to other areas of your life. It’s a slow process and hard work at times, but getting to know yourself outside of your depression is an important step to realizing that depression doesn’t have to dictate the rest of your life.

It’s these little lessons, these little achievements that are going to help you learn that everything you need to be okay is inside of you. Soon you will feel strong enough to take the next step—whatever that may be for yourself.

If you are so someone you know is depressed or looking for counseling in Indianapolis or Greenwood areas, contact us to learn how we can help.