How to use Yoga for Depression
Depression is a prevalent mental health condition that many people struggle with either chronically or for a shorter period of time throughout their life. While therapy or medication are common recommendations for treatment, there are also other adjunct treatments that can be used alongside traditional mental health treatment.
Adjunct therapies are not recommendations that are made necessarily as an alternative to traditional therapies. Adjunct therapies for depression are intended to function as supportive methods to compliment primary therapy. While seeing a therapist or psychiatrist for treatment of depression, your treatment provider may also recommend that you engage in activities such as yoga, mindfulness practices, meditation, breathing exercises, or other massage to help you develop a healing mindset and a healthy mind-body connection.
Our bodies are deeply connected to our mental health. Many who have suffered from depression know that your body often responds to depression with symptoms such as fatigue, aches and pains, muscle tension, and sleeping difficulties. Yoga is an adjunct therapy that can be used to both promote and help sustain healing in these areas.
A recent study on depression and yoga from the journal PLOS One found that after 8 weeks, participants with depression who attended a 90-minute hatha yoga practice twice a week had significant reductions in their symptoms of depression. The participants also showed improvement in measures of self-efficacy and self-esteem.
If you want to try using yoga as an adjunct treatment for depression, consider using a similar strategy to help manage your symptoms and see if you find a benefit in the practice. If you have never tried yoga before, don’t be intimidated. You do not have to do any poses that seem too difficult, and there are many resources for beginners. Take the following steps to create a sustainable plan that helps you feel better and doesn’t overwhelm you.
- Commit to trying the practice for at least 8 weeks.
- If you already do yoga, consider whether you can increase the number of sessions you do currently. Twice a week is a good goal to start with.
- Think about time versus number of sessions in regards to what works best for you. If you can only fit in 30 minutes at a time, aim for 3-4 sessions a week. If you can commit to a 90 minute session, twice a week may be fine. Or, consider doing a quick 15 minute practice twice a day if that fits better for you. Whatever you choose, just make sure it feels feasible for you. Some is better than none, so don’t stress too much about it too much, just focus more on being consistent.
- Decide what kind of practice setting works best for you:
- Home yoga with video instruction
- You can buy yoga DVDs to use at home, or you can use a streaming service like GAIA that has yoga instructional videos. Also, YouTube has channels and instructors that do yoga videos, so you can search and find videos that interest you and are at your level.
- Attend a class with an instructor and other students
- Class attendance will usually cost you a fee for studio membership or a per class rate, so you will need to evaluate whether the costs at your chosen studio are affordable to you. However, many gyms now offer classes that are included in your membership, you if you do belong to a gym, check and see if they have classes that work for your schedule. Some communities offer free of reduced rate classes, so check your local magazines or Facebook groups to see if you have any close by that you can attend.
- Independent practice
- If you are advanced or have been practicing yoga for a while, you can always guide yourself through poses. If you are a beginner, get a book that can provide some instructions for beginner poses, or look for articles online that provide pictures to demonstrate poses.
- The benefit here is that you can choose which poses you need for that practice and pick your own music and ambiance. Another benefit is that you can practice anywhere, indoors or out. Pick a location that works for you, whether that is your bedroom, a nearby park, or your backyard, or a porch.
- Pick a hatha-style practice that fits your abilities
- Hatha yoga is a gentle style of practice that has been demonstrated in research to reduce symptoms of depression. Many yoga resources use hatha yoga, so look for this specific type of practice, or look for the terms “for beginners, for relaxation, for stress-relief” when reading descriptions. Other types of yoga are also fine to do if you like, but hatha in particular has been shown to be effective.
- Go for the level that best suits your personal experience, whether that is beginner, intermediate, or advanced.
- Set intentions for practice that promote healing from depression
- Many instructors will encourage you to set an intention for your practice. This is just a way of creating a mental note about where you want your mind to be focused as you practice. When you feel your mind drifting to other thoughts, try to use your intention to center your mind back on just concentration on your breathing or your body.
- You can use a specific phrase or a mantra as your intention. Examples include “Healing”, “Just Breathe”, “Letting go of sadness”, “Letting go of grief”. Repeat your chosen phrase or mantra when your mind is wandering during your practice. For more tips on building a personal mantra, check out this post.
- Journal how you feel throughout the 8 weeks to determine if the practice is helping or if you need to make any adjustments
- Any kind of journaling will do. Just record how you feel and make notes about your mood throughout the day on the days that you practice and try to notice any changes that you feel. The fact that you are taking the time to take care of yourself is therapeutic in itself, so think of journaling as your own personal notes on your progress.
Yoga can be a great addition to your therapeutic efforts towards managing your depression. While it is not a substitute for traditional therapy or the advice of your doctor, it has been shown to be effective in managing symptoms, and therefore can be a beneficial part of an overall plan to manage your depression.
Plus, if you have trouble finding time for yourself, you can know that yoga is part of your symptom management and therefore not just another exercise routine. This might be helpful if you need to let family or others know that you need this time to devote to your practice as part of your need to manage your depression. Put your sessions in your calendar or on the family calendar if it helps you to prioritize your practice.
You can also ask your doctor or therapist for a written recommendation for a yoga practice. That may help if you need to have a personal reminder to commit to your practice, and depending on your insurance you could get reimbursement for class fees, discounts on gym fees, or potentially use your Health Saving Account to help with costs. Just make sure to check your policies to see if that is an option for you.
If you have been struggling with depression, remember that depression is a condition that can treated with strategies including therapy, medication, and adjunct or alternative treatments. Yoga can be an effective strategy to help manage your symptoms and bring some relief from your depression. It can be hard to feel motivated to take care of yourself when you are depressed, but giving yourself the time and attention to focus on your breath and your body can help bring healing to your mind as well.