Yoga: A Natural Antidepressant for Depression


justraisethebar.comI’m a late convert to yoga. I’ve known since I was about18 that lotus pose and other positions seem to help with emotional problems, or at least that’s what my first therapist told me, but it’s taken me about 24 years to come around to it.

The research is on yoga is substantial and keeps growing. Two are my faves: In a German study published in 2005, 24 women who described themselves as “emotionally distressed” took two 90-minute yoga classes a week for three months while women in the controlled group continued normal activities. At the end of the three months, the yogis declared improvements in stress, depression, anxiety, energy, fatigue, and well-being. In fact, the well-being scores improved by 65 percent. In a recent study by Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy at Duke University Medical Center, a group of 69 older adults with mild depression took weekly yoga sessions while another group of adults did nothing. The depression scores of the group that participated in yoga were decreased by 40 percent at the end of six months.

What’s going on inside the brain of a yogi? I read about a study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine where researchers recruited eight longtime yogis who practiced twice a week for at least four months and 11 other folks who can’t touch their toes. Both groups had a baseline brain scan done. The control group read books or magazines for the same time, and all participants were rescanned immediately after. The yoga volunteers showed a 27 percent increase in GABA levels compared with the baseline. There was no change among the slacker readers.

That study is significant because now we know WHY yoga is such an effective antidepressant. Low levels of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) has been associated with depression and anxiety. Regular practice of yoga raises those levels.

But you have to find the right kind of yoga for you. Had I done a little soul searching before I purchased my mat, I would have saved myself some cash and frustration. Everyday Health’s Diana Rodriguez explains six different kinds of yoga:

Hot yoga. Also called Bikram yoga, this form of yoga is done in a very hot room — at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit — to help purify and cleanse the body by sweating, and by building stamina. While Bikram is a trademarked 90-minute class that follows a specific series of poses, other hot yoga classes incorporate different principles and can vary in length.

Ashtanga yoga involves set of core poses that are done in quick succession while you breathe deeply. It’s a high-intensity workout that tones and strengthens muscles and increases endurance.

Power yoga. Also known as Vinyasa, power yoga is derived from Ashtanga yoga. It’s another form of fast-paced, high-intensity yoga, focusing on stamina and flexibility.

Iyengar yoga highlights the importance of precision and form while you execute different positions and poses.

Kundalini yoga. Alternate yoga moves and poses, deep breathing, meditation, and chanting are a part of this type of yoga.

Gentle and restorative yoga. These yoga disciplines are done at a slower pace than other forms of yoga; the focus is on slow stretches, improving flexibility, and relaxation.


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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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