Yoga practice can help alleviate depression by reducing the physiological manifestations of stress and by raising the levels of endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals in our bodies that can produce a feeling of well-being.
Yoga exercises put pressure on organs and glands helping them to produce a healing chemical balance causing us to feel well. The strengthening and stretching movements flush toxins from our bodies as well.
Yoga positions commonly recommended for depression are sun salutations, shoulder stand and relaxation position.
Meditation is increasingly seen as a useful treatment for depression. The current view medical science holds on meditation is that it can be at least a complementary method of treating depression. This view has also been supported by the Mayo Clinic.
Meditation techniques recommended for depression are mindfulness meditation (full awareness of the present moment) and loving kindness meditation (wishing well to oneself and others).
Both yoga and meditation are contraindicated with severe depression or other serious mental disorders. Severe depression and bipolar disorder must be treated by a medical professional. However, yoga and meditation may help to avoid the recurrence of depression, once the depression has moderated.
Benefits and Challenges
Meditation and yoga have these benefits comparing with other depression treatments:
- Low cost (lessons or books) or no cost to learn and practice,
- Low dependence on third parties like therapists or insurers,
- Freedom from undesirable side-effects,
- Reducing health care costs for society.
A challenge for practicing mediation or yoga is that the practice requires strong motivation, and that is not always easy when someone is depressed. Also, when incorrectly practicing yoga people can get pulled muscles or sprains. Yoga shouldn’t be practiced if you have a serious lung, heart, or bone condition; significant spine problems or if you have had surgery recently; or are pregnant.
The current scientific research confirms what for some spiritual teachers have been saying throughout history, that meditation and yoga strengthen and heals the body, mind, and spirit.
These are some studies on effects of yoga for depression:
Woolery A, Myers H, Sternlieb B, Zeltzer L.
Pilkington K, Kirkwood G, Rampes H, Richardson J.
There has been a lot of research recently to determine how meditation affects the brain. The research has shown that meditation produces a calm and rational state of mind that can be a great tool against depression.
Teasdale JD, Segal ZV, Williams JM, Ridgeway VA, Soulsby JM, Lau MA.
1. Learn to Meditate, David Fontana
This is an excellent beginner guide to meditation. There are numerous exercises helping you learn different meditation techniques. The visual aspect of the book is very engaging and encourages meditation itself.
2. Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn
Based on scientific research this book explores the relation between mind and body. It teaches that mindfulness is crucial for balanced living and dealing with difficulties of life. It is healing and powerful.
3. Peaceful Mind: Using Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioral Psychology to Overcome Depression, John McQuaid and Paula Carmona
Authors recommend a combination of meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Using meditation practices achieve awareness, readers can develop recognize factors that can trigger depression and then combat them with CBT techniques. That process can help them to move beyond depression and develop lasting peace of mind.
4. Yoga for Depression, Amy Weintraub
Intent of this book is to explain the relation between our emotions and bodies and how yoga can help us become more aware of this relation. It is not an introduction to yoga, but explanation of the way various yoga methods can be applied to depression, anxiety and stress. Some previous knowledge of yoga is desirable.
Both meditation and yoga require a long-term commitment since they do not produce fast results. But if persistent these arts of self-acceptance and calming of mind and body can be wonderful complementary remedies to get at the root of depression and help healing.