Contribution by Denise Middlebrook, PhD.

At least half of our BH2I programs have embraced the use of yoga to treat anxiety and depression in young people and adults. Some grantees are also offering yoga to their patients with chronic pain and alcohol and drug problems. They hold classes in their clinics or their hospital complexes.

So, what is yoga?

Most of you know what yoga is about. It is hard to avoid knowing as it has become such a popular form of exercise. However, just in case you are not familiar with yoga, it is a physical exercise that involves different body poses, breathing techniques, and meditation. Yoga is a great activity for you if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or heart disease. It gives you strength, flexibility, and mind-body awareness.

Many use yoga in combination with doing something aerobic (like walking, biking, or swimming) if they are not doing a fast-moving type of yoga. Yoga for seniors is a great, low-impact form of strength and balance building, a necessary element in helping seniors reduce falling accidents.

In addition to the physical benefits, yoga may help with depression and symptoms, such as difficulty concentrating or loss of energy. Clinics, hospitals, and gyms around the country have added classes to their wellness programs, acknowledging the powerful mind-body connection in practicing yoga, a holistic and health-promoting activity.

Many people use yoga therapy to manage:

  • mental and emotional problems, such as stress, anxiety, or depression
  • conditions and disorders, such as ongoing low back pain or sleep issues
  • chronic or long-term pain
  • overall health and well-being

So, how does yoga affect depression?

According to the Harvard Mental Health Letter (see link below), recent studies suggest that yoga can:

  • reduce the impact of stress
  • help with anxiety and depression
  • can reduce pain in those who have chronic pain
  • be a self-soothing technique similar to meditation, relaxation, and exercise
  • improve energy

To improve mood and relaxation

As an exercise, yoga is a natural way to increase serotonin production. According to the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience Trusted Source, serotonin production plays a role in the treatment of depression. Serotonin is believed to play a major role in happiness. That same study also suggests people with depression have lower serotonin levels.

To reduce stress and anxiety

Yoga also increases heart rate variability (HRV), or change in the time between heartbeats, by increasing the relaxation response over the stress response in the body. A high HRV means that the body is better at self-monitoring or adapting, particularly to stress.

Yoga can also:

  • reduce resting heart rate
  • lower blood pressure
  • ease breathing
  • increase pain tolerance

What are the pros and cons of yoga therapy?

Yoga complements traditional therapies, such as medication and psychotherapy. But it is not meant to be a sole treatment.

Yoga is:

  • generally safe when practiced properly
  • beneficial for people who want to improve concentration
  • available in many styles for all levels

Yoga can be:

  • challenging for beginners and people with limited flexibility
  • uncomfortable, depending on the pose
  • expensive, depending on where you go (not a problem for our BH2I grantees!)

Resources Cited