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4 ways yoga can help with anxiety and depression

I’m currently going through a significant period of change and uncertainty. And although I’m discovering that change can be necessary – wonderful even – I’m also finding out that uncertainty can be unsettling.

I’m keeping a close eye on this feeling, as uncertainty and its regular bedfellow discontent are often at the core of two difficult emotional states that are neither wonderful nor necessary – anxiety and depression.

Over the years, throughout my personal struggle with anxiety and depression, yoga has helped me through.

Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but cultivating a regular yoga practice can help you cope with anxiety and depression and get back to surfing the inevitable waves of life.

1. Yoga can help rebalance your hormones
Asana practice reduces stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, and induces the rest-relax response in the nervous system. Once the relaxation response kicks in, you may find it easier to stay with your anxious or depressive feelings (rather than trying to escape them), which is essential to identifying the psychological factors that trigger them.

2. Yoga can help you harness your energy
Do you feel as if your energy is out of control? Take time to check in with where in the body you’re feeling your energy and choose postures from this space. Physically challenging poses such as downward-facing dog, handstand and sun salutation keep your mind focused and can help you burn off nervous energy and release tension. Standing poses such as warrior I and II and mountain pose are great for grounding your energy. Seated forward bends such as dragonfly and butterfly soothe the nervous system and help reduce anxiety. To combat depressive thoughts without over-stimulating the nervous system, try supported backbends, which help lift the spirits.

3. Yoga can help you breathe your way to calm
Anxiety and depression typically affect your breathing. Counteract shallow or fast breathing and a collapsed chest with a restorative practice that focuses on calming breath work. Include gentle or supported backbends and chest-opening asanas; these deliver oxygen-rich blood to your brain, which has a calming effect. For depression, focus on the inhalation, which draws prana into the body. For anxiety, focus on the exhalation, which promotes a calm, peaceful mind.

4. Yoga teaches awareness and helps you stay present
For those who struggle with anxiety or depression, awareness is an essential skill. In simple terms, anxiety is about fear of the future and depression is about re-living the past. Practicing yoga gives your wandering mind something to focus on, which keeps you in the present moment.

When you’re present, you’re more aware of your thoughts and feelings. Instead of getting caught up in and reacting to your emotions or mind patterns, you can simply be observe and accept them, which is half the battle in resolving them.

And the more you practice yoga, the better the effect. So get on the mat daily, or as often as you can.

Uncertainty and change are inevitable, but depression and anxiety don’t have to be. Talk to your teacher and cultivate a regular yoga practice that helps you deal with, and eventually embrace, life’s ebb and flow.

Author’s note: If you’re feeling depressed or anxious, yoga can be a great support but it’s not a band-aid solution. Make sure you check in with your doctor or health practitioner.