Yoga For Depression: 9 Tips For Maximizing Your Workout Flow
Updated July 13, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Kimberly L Brownridge , LPC, NCC, BCPC Counsel The Mind, LLC
Living with depression can be stressful and draining. While there is no single cure for mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, there are a variety of fitness and lifestyle changes you can adapt to alleviate them. Yoga is one of the most popular exercises for treating anxiety and depression. Many mental health professionals recommend adding a workout like yoga to your fitness routine. Its deep breathing techniques and challenging poses help students manage both their physical and mental health.
What Is Depression?
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), depression is “a common but serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act.” Depression can cause a myriad of mental health and physical illnesses for someone. It can even affect one’s performance at work or their ability to complete essential functions at home.
Symptoms of Depression
Experiencing bouts of sadness or losing interest in activities are common symptoms in people with depression. But for mental health professionals to give the official diagnosis for depression, these symptoms must last at least two weeks. Other symptoms, including:
- A change in appetite
- A decrease in energy or physical stability
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Thoughts of death or contemplating suicide
- Sleeping too much or too little
Some medical conditions mimic the symptoms of typical mental health conditions, such as thyroid issues or even brain tumors. Therefore, your physician must rule out any other medical problems behind your symptoms when examining your mental health.
Risk Factors For Depression
Mental health disorders – including depression – can affect anyone. Even someone who seems to have a perfect life may be battling their own demons. Mental health cannot always be observed and examined the same way as physical health.
There is no singular cause of depression. Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, often develop from a variety of risk factors, including:
- Biochemistry Of The Brain – Certain chemical imbalances in your brain may negatively affect your mood.
- Genetics – Depression sometimes runs in families, as specific genes are responsible for influencing the body’s stress response.
- Personality – Your temperament and outlook on life can increase or decrease your chances of developing depression.
- Environmental Factors – Abuse, trauma, and violence can leave long-lasting emotional effects on its victims, making them vulnerable to developing depression.
- Other Medical Issues – Medical conditions, including cancer, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s disease, are sometimes accompanied by mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
9 Effective Yoga Poses And Tips To Incorporate Into Your Next Workout
Mental health counselors and therapists often encourage their patients to follow a regular exercise routine to manage their mood. Many people choose yoga for its relaxing but firm teaching style and unique challenges. These yoga poses and tips can help you manage your anxiety and depression, whether you are a beginner student or a seasoned yogi.
- Practice At Least Twice A Week
Yoga offers both physical and mental health benefits to its students. In a research study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, participants with depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions found that attending a yoga class at least twice a week improved their mood.
A regular, 90-minute studio class isn’t mandatory-you can practice in your living room, bedroom, or backyard as long as you can fit a session in your schedule and budget. Just 30 minutes of focused yoga can help you manage your mental health and alleviate your anxiety and depression. Either way, maintaining a regular yoga schedule is essential for anyone practicing yoga for depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions.
If you are just starting, make sure you attend beginner yoga classes where you can learn proper techniques and safety tips. Expect soreness from moving your body around in unfamiliar poses after your first several classes.
- Take It Easy In Downward-Facing Dog
AdhoMukhaSvanasana – also known as Downward-Facing Dog – allows fresh blood to flow throughout your body. The pose’s downward position stretches out the neck and cervical spine, thereby releasing any stress and anxiety you may be holding. Aside from its numerous mental health benefits, Downward Dog also strengthens the upper body muscles, promotes circulation, and improves digestion.
Beginners and experts alike can practice different variations of Downward Dog while reaping the same mental health benefits. Students who are still working on their flexibility may need to bend their knees a little. As they continue to practice and improve, they can try more challenging variations such as Downward Dog with a Scorpion Kick or Transverse Twist.
- Remember To Keep Breathing
Proper breathwork is essential. Not only does it help you sink deeper into the yoga poses, but it also increases your energy and focus. Pranayama, the practice of controlling one’s breath, is often overlooked or forgotten during class. But it is the foundation of both your yoga practice and mental health care routine. When you forget to breathe in yoga class, you risk injuring yourself. So remember to keep taking those deep breaths.
You can take many of the breathing techniques you learn in class and incorporate them into your mental health care routine. Practice basic breath awareness by taking a few minutes each day to observe the inhalation and exhalation of air through your nose. Mindful breathing practices such as this one are effective in improving your mental health and helping you focus.
- Relieve Your Mind In Child’s Pose
Balasana – or Child’s Pose – is a resting pose that usually precedes or follows a classic asana pose. For instance, your instructor might have your class rest in Child’s Pose for a couple of minutes before popping up to Downward Dog and into a Chaturanga. This temporary rest allows you to breathe, focus, and reset your mind before starting the next sequence. It can also be great for managing your mental health.
Many yoga students enjoy Balasana because of its calming effects. As you rest your head on the ground, it becomes easier to relax and focus. Child’s Pose can also help you stretch out your hips and relieve any upper back and neck pain.
- Pick The Right Yoga Class
Not all yoga classes follow the same teaching style and practices. Hatha is slow-paced and gentle. In an Iyengar class, strict attention to the posture and alignment held in each pose. Vinyasa, on the other hand, focuses on the quick movement between poses to increase body heat.
No matter what the teaching style or focus is, yoga classes can improve your mental health. The best yoga class for helping you manage anxiety and depression is the one you enjoy going to the most.
Fusion yoga classes such as yogalates, yoga and pilates, and yoga with biking are also starting to grow in popularity. Consider trying one of these classes the next time you feel like changing up your fitness routine. The mental health benefits are still the same, but your body is in for a unique challenge.
- Challenge Yourself In Plow Pose
Halasana or Plow Pose stretches out the back, subdues headaches, and blocks insomnia. Many students also find that Plow Pose helps them clear their heads and focus on their mental health.
However, Halasana does require a bit of back flexibility. As you lie on your back, you must try to lift your legs over your head and plant your feet onto the ground. You may need to practice simpler back stretches before attempting to tackle the Plow Pose.
- Integrate The Meditations Into Your Everyday Life
Manage your mental health by incorporating simple meditations into your daily routine. You can meditate in the morning when you wake up or at night before you fall asleep. Combining yoga and regular meditation can help students recover from a wide array of mental health conditions.
As we said before, breathing plays a critical role in your yoga practice. Without breathing, there is no movement. Meditation also requires breathing. Deep, slow breaths allow the mind to focus. Make sure you focus on your breath as you meditate.
- Wake Up With Upward-Facing Dog
Upward-Facing Dog, or UrdhvaMukhaSvanasana, is an excellent addition to any yoga routine designed for alleviating mental health conditions. It is also great for strengthening the upper body. As you breathe and relax into the pose, you may feel the stress and tension in your back start to disappear. While you are in the pose, make sure to let your shoulders relax away from your ears. Keep your torso lifted, and the tops of your feet planted firmly in the ground.
- Resting Pose
Every yoga class finishes with Savasana. The resting Pose can reduce blood pressure and relax the body after a vigorous class. It can also strengthen the effects of the previous poses, thus increasing the mental health benefits of the class itself.
Physically speaking, Savasana might be the most natural pose to perform. You lie on the ground with your arms out and palms facing up. By the end of yoga class, you’re probably looking forward to the resting pose. Instead, take this time to practice mindfulness and deep breathing techniques. Your mental health will thank you.
What Can You Do In Conjunction With Practicing Yoga?
Yoga offers a wide variety of mental health benefits for both teachers and students. In addition to practicing this popular and fun workout, you may want to reach out to a mental health professional online for guidance on managing anxiety and depression. Licensed mental health professionals can provide online therapy to residents no matter the location or time.
The mental health therapists and counselors at BetterHelp are available 24 hours a day online. If you are considering online therapy, contact the BetterHelp team today.