Depression is one of the most common mental health issues that my patients come looking for help with. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 1 in 10 adults in the US suffer from depression or depression-related illnesses. Did you know that you can use yoga to assist in depression treatment? In fact, yoga is a practice that has long been used in the treatment of all kinds of mental illnesses. Quieting the mind and focusing on the breath are built into the practice of yoga, and they are essential practices for freeing the body of stress, anxiety, and paranoia. Yoga can bring about the release of many natural chemicals in the brain and body that work to make us feel good, fight disease, and relieve stress. It helps you provide more oxygen to your brain, increases your circulation, helps to flush toxins from your body, improves your muscle strength, and is all-around one of the best things that you can do for yourself.
Because of all of these great benefits, yoga is one of the best treatment aids when you are fighting depression. There are several yoga poses that can help you fight off depression and simply feel better about yourself.
Generally done near the beginning of a yoga practice session, the practitioner places the hands under the shoulders with the arms extended with the outer elbows pointed away from the body and the knees under the hips. For cat pose, the practitioner will exhale and round the spine toward the ceiling, tilt the pelvis toward the belly button, and drop the head toward the floor. For cow pose, the practitioner will inhale and drop the belly toward the floor while arching the back, tilting the pelvis back, and looking up toward the ceiling. These poses have a very calming effect. It is said that five rounds of cats and cows can make you feel as focused as if you took a very productive nap.
To accomplish baby cobra pose, practitioners lie on the belly placing both hands under the shoulders with the elbows close against the sides of the body. The key to baby cobra is to keep the pelvis in contact with the floor. With all parts in place, the practitioner inhales letting the chest lift the front of the body and the head up while still keeping the pelvis stuck in place on the floor. In baby cobra, you should only let the chest lift as much as the breath lifts it. Keep in mind that you should not be clenching any part of your lower half. You should simply be gripping your pelvis into the floor. This pose reduces the pressure on the spine and increases blood circulation as long as you do not try to lift the chest up too much. It also gives your energy a natural boost.
Lotus is a pose you likely learned in kindergarten. The practitioner sits on the floor with the legs crossed and a foot tucked beneath each knee. In this pose, the hands will rest gently on the knees with the palms facing up toward the ceiling. This pose is all about connecting with the breath and forcing the mind of focus on nothing but your own breathing. It is the perfect pose for meditating as well. While the practitioner breathes in and out, he or she should count to five. Inhale for a five count and then exhale for a five count. Do this as many times as it takes to clear your mind of anything that you do not need to be there. As you get further into a yoga practice, you will notice that you can inhale and exhale for longer. If you can inhale and exhale for longer, do so. And while you are breathing, focus on the counting and the breathing and not external stimulation.
It is not recommended that you do too many yoga poses without warming up or stretching first. Taking a beginners yoga class can be a very good idea for people who are just starting out. These classes can offer a variety of different kinds of poses that might be helpful in fighting depression. Check out recovery programs, community centers, local colleges, or yoga studios for classes that are open to the public or are for beginners. Our yoga studio, Bamboo Garden Yoga, offers a number of beginners classes perfect for people struggling with depression. Regular yoga practices can do wonders for both your body and your mind.