Yoga for Depression – The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

Overview

In this article we’ll explore how practicing yoga regularly can be a powerful therapy for reducing depression. People suffering from depression can often benefit from a combination of yoga practices such as postures, meditation, breathing exercises, yogic diet, and yes, even mudras and mantras! Yoga is a powerful mind-body practice that science is now catching up to. In fact, recent research has shown that yoga practices can not only significantly reduce and treat depression long-term but also stimulate neurotransmitters, increase blood flow to brain regions, and improve the function of brain cells including cells that produce serotonin and dopamine.

What is depression? Causes and Symptoms

Depression is a disease that affects approximately 264 million people worldwide, and is often accompanied by anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain. Common symptoms of depression include sadness, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, feelings of guilt and hopelessness, which negatively impact a person’s quality of life, and the lives of family members and loved ones. Common causes of depression are primarily linked to a person’s mental health and may include genetic factors, stressful life events, or a chemical imbalance in the brain (E.g. Serotonin & Dopamine).

Depression can often accompany other physical diseases, as well as cause a person to experience a higher risk of developing a physical disease such as chronic fatigue, changes in appetite, sleep disturbances, and difficulty concentrating.

Antidepressants or Yoga, which is better for depression?

Current depression treatments focus on drugs that alter the level of monoamine neurotransmitters in the brain, which are chemicals that regulate mood. While these drugs are effective, they have significant side effects, including weight gain, insomnia, sexual dysfunction, and gastrointestinal problems.

Yoga on the other hand, has no side effects, is non-addictive, and can be practiced at home. In addition to the psychological and physical benefits, yoga also helps to alleviate stress and anxiety, which are common causes of depression. This may play part in role why the past decade has seen a rapid rise in yoga for depression and the growing number of scientific studies on this topic, confirming the effectiveness of yoga for for reducing depression.

How is Yoga good for Depression? – The Science of Yoga

Yoga has been shown to reduce depression by increasing the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. Serotonin and dopamine are neurotransmitters that are responsible for regulating mood, appetite, sleep, memory, cognition, motor control, and sexual desire. These two neurotransmitters are found in most of the central nervous system of the human body.

Yoga has also been found to increase the levels of GABA, which is a neurotransmitter responsible for reducing the excitability of the brain and the nervous system. GABA therefore induces a state of relaxation while reducing levels of stress and anxiety. This means that yoga helps you naturally reduce depression because it produces a calming effect on your mind and body.

Additionally, research demonstrated that yoga increases the levels of so called “BDNF” (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) in the brain. BDNF is responsible for the growth and survival of neurons, and it also protects the brain from stress and negative thoughts. This is because it encourages the growth of new brain cells also known as nerve cells, or neurons as well as encouraging the growth of new blood vessels. Most importantly BDNF protects the hippocampus, which is responsible for your memory.

A study showed that a group of yoga practitioners demonstrated a substantial improvement in the quality of their lives and significant reduction in depression symptoms, when compared to a control group not practicing yoga. The participants in the yoga group reported an improvement in their life not just in terms of physical health but also mental health, social relationships, and spiritual well-being after just 8 weeks of practicing yoga.

7 Key Benefits of yoga for depression

  1. Yoga can help you to be more mindful as it teaches you to be present, which will help you to be more aware of your feelings and thoughts.
  2. Yoga can help you to be more active. Depression can cause you to be passive and sedentary. Yoga will help you to be energetic and take the initiative to do the things you need to do.
  3. Yoga can help you to fall asleep faster and sleep better. This will help you feel more rested, which will help you feel better during the day.
  4. Yoga can help you to be more flexible in your thinking. Depression can cause you to be rigid and stuck in your ways. Yoga will help you to be more open to different ways of thinking, seeing things from different perspectives, and being more accepting.
  5. Yoga can help you to be more present and mindful. Depression can cause you to be stuck in the past and worry about the future. Yoga will help you to focus on the present moment and to enjoy your life.
  6. Yoga can help you to be more introspective. Yoga will help you to listen to your feelings and acknowledge what you are going through. This will give you a better understanding of your emotions and will help you process and heal.
  7. Depression can lead to addiction. Yoga can help you to stay away from addictive substances and maintain better control over your impulses.

Depression types according to Ayurveda

The Ayurvedic system recognizes three constitutions (prakruti) based on the three doshas which are imbalances of the gunas or energies: vata, pitta and kapha. Each dosha is associated with a particular constitution and a person’s constitution is determined at the moment of conception. A person of vata constitution has an abundance of vata, a pitta constitution has an abundance of pitta, and a kapha constitution has an abundance of kapha. You can take our free quiz here to assess your physiological constitution.

Similarly to physiological constitution, ayurvedic principles allow for assessing your depression symptoms too, which means you can correlate specific symptoms of your depression with elemental imbalances in your constitution. According to Ayurveda there are three archetypes of depression which are: Airy Depression (Vata), Burning Depression (Pitta) or Earthy Depression (Kapha). Understanding your unique constitution will help you and your yoga therapist manage your depression much more effectively. To determine your unique depression type, we have created this handy quiz, which takes only 2 minutes to complete.

Airy Depression

When the Vata dosha is out of balance it causes a type of depression characterized by a loss in enthusiasm and anxiety as the dominant secondary emotion. Individuals have trouble falling asleep, and they feel overwhelmed or out-of-control. A lack of stability in your life is most likely the root cause of the problem. This archetype of depression can be caused by difficulty in sustaining major life changes. The main therapies are to nourish the physiology and stabilize the nervous system.

Burning Depression

When Pitta is out of balance, symptoms of frustration and irritability can sometimes mask sadness. Because the mind wakes up before the body is fully rested, disrupting sleep often accompanies this type of depression. Internal perceptions are based on the belief that your possibilities in life are blocked. The root cause of this type of depression may lie in an excessive intensity towards life and a tendency to overdo things. This type of depression can be treated by cooling down the aggravated Pitta. Recovering from depression requires a reduction in intensity towards life, leaning back and having a deep rest.

Earthy Depression

When the Kapha dosha is disrupted, your excessive solidity and stability may cause inertia and a feeling of being weighted down. The individual feels stuck because of lethargy, lack of interest, and sentimentality. This archetype of depression is often characterised by excessive sleep, and it can be challenging to overcome inertia. Interventions need to address the feeling of heaviness at all levels of the body and mind. This type of depression can also be helped by Ayurvedic purification therapies.

Ayurvedic Depression Type Quiz

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8 Beginner friendly Yoga Poses for Depression

While there is no one-size-fits-all yoga practice for depression, there are a variety of yoga poses that fit all 3 doshas to a certain extent. We have tailored these poses to ne tridoshic, but please note that neither the practice of yoga nor the practice of Ayurveda are rigid. Yoga and Ayurveda are both fluid and dynamic in nature and what works for one person in one set of circumstances may not work in another set of circumstances.. Be sure to read each poses contraindication before starting.

1. Easy Pose (Sukhasana)

yoga for depression easy pose sukhasana

Moving into the position

  • Sit on the ground or a yoga mat with crossed legs making sure that your buttock is evenly spread so that your sitting bones have a firm foundation.
  • Keep your head, neck and back upright and straight without putting too much strain on your back.
  • Move your shoulders back and down, open your chest and relax your shoulders.
  • Rest your hands on your knees, with your palm facing upwards.
    • This pose can be effectively combined with Jnana Mudra (The sign of knowledge) by joining the tip of your index and thumb finger together while keeping the rest of your three fingers slightly extended.
  • Keep your arms relaxed with your elbows slightly bent and make sure your shoulders are not raised or hunching.
  • Make necessary adjustments by moving forward and backward until you find your balance.
    • Concentrate on your physical balance, equalizing the weight on the right and left side of your body.

Holding the position

  • Close your eyes, take a deep breath and relax your whole body from head to toes. Let everything go and focus on the natural flow of your breath.
  • On each inhalation, visualize or feel radiating and nourishing breath coming into your body.
  • On each exhalation, visualize your body being cleansed by the breath. Remain in the pose as long as you like.
  • Remember to keep your attention on the in-and out-breath for the duration of practice.

Yoga Therapy for Depression

Yoga therapy is unique in that it’s not just a single methodology treatment (E.g. prescription or vocal counselling) for depression but instead, a holistic therapy that incorporates the entire person, their physiology, psychology, emotions and even diet. It explores the connection between the mind and body, and how a change in one affects the other. Yoga therapy also recognizes the differences among individuals and how the same activity may affect different people in different ways. An individual with depression may find that certain yoga poses are a great way to relieve stress and gain a sense of calm. However, the same activity might make another individual with another type of depression feel more anxious or overwhelmed.

In terms of depression Yoga therapists personalize their programs and sequences so they can address a person’s unique being or so called prakruti (Ayurvedic constitution). For example, they might recommend a Yoga program that is specifically tailored to help balance vata type of depression with a unique mix of postures, breathing exercises and meditation techniques.

By assessing each person’s unique constitution (prakruti) and considering their reactivity to certain activities, yoga therapists can tailor a unique program, which makes yoga therapy the best choice for people looking to heal depression naturally.

In terms of contraindications yoga therapists must take into consideration whether their patient is pregnant, suffering from high blood pressure, back, neck or shoulder problems, glaucoma, retinal diseases, diabetes, osteoporosis, or inflammation of the joints. Yoga therapist can modify the practice to accommodate people with physical limitations, for example, people with arthritis may not be able to do inversions or people with lower back problems may need to avoid the forward bends. Those who are prone to fainting or dizziness may benefit from the use of blocks, belts, and straps.

Additional Yoga Styles Suitable for Depression

Besides yoga therapy there are many other forms of yoga that are beneficial for managing depression such as Kundalini and Iyengar yoga. Kundalini yoga focuses on meditation and breathing and was introduced to the west by Yogi Bhajan, who was famous for his quotes on mental health, one of them being: “When you do not consciously relate to your body, your mind does not relate consciously to you”. Iyengar yoga on the other hand is a form of yoga that is more physically focused and uses both meditation and physical poses to improve and maintain physical and mental health, as it believes physical postures to be an extension of your mental state. The main difference between Kundalini yoga and Iyengar yoga is that Kundalini yoga focuses on the spiritual aspect of yoga, while Iyengar yoga focuses on the physical aspect and posture alignment.

Kundalini Yoga for Depression

Kundalini yoga is a form of yoga that involves practicing yoga postures, controlled breathing, chanting, meditation, and other techniques. Its purpose is to activate your Kundalini energy and chakras to bring your consciousness to a higher level. It can be very effective in managing depression as the Kundalini energy is the main energy that activates all of your chakras along your spine. The word “Kundalini” is derived from the Sanskrit word “kunda” which means “coiled”. This refers to the coiled-up energy at the base of your spine that needs to be awakened or activated in order to move up to the top of your spine. When your Kundalini energy is activated, it will help to improve the communication between your left and right brain hemispheres, as well as the communication between your conscious and subconscious mind. This will help to balance your emotions, improve your mood, and reduce your anxiety level.

Iyengar Yoga for Depression

Iyengar yoga is a form of yoga that mainly focuses on the physical body. It uses physical poses, breathing techniques, and meditation to improve your physical and mental well-being. It was developed by B.K.S. Iyengar in the 1950’s in India. It is one of the most widely practiced forms of yoga in the western world. It has many different variations in form, with each one focusing on a different set of poses. In the Iyengar variation of yoga, the focus is on proper alignment in each pose. The philosophy behind this is that the physical body is an expression of your inner being, so it is important to be physically correct in each pose. Doing each pose correctly will then help to improve your physical and mental health as according to Ayurveda mind and body are interconnected.

These are just two of many different forms of yoga which will help you to manage your depression. There are many different variations you can try, so it is important to find the variation that is best suited to your needs. Before you start practicing yoga, you must have a basic understanding of the various poses and breathing techniques. A certified yoga therapist will be able to help you to develop this knowledge so that you will be able to regularly practice the right yoga techniques based on your unique dosha.

Additional Yogic Practices effective for Depression

Yoga consists of many practices of which Asanas (body postures) are the most widely practiced. However, there are many other practices like pranayama (breathing exercises), meditation, mantras (chants) and mudras (hand gestures) which are also commonly practiced. These practices have been shown to have a significant effect on reducing depression, especially when combined with each other. One study found combining yoga poses with meditation increased mental well-being by 30% on top of the 40% that have already been gained by doing yoga poses alone. Many of these practices have been found to have a positive effect on reducing stress which can further reduce depression. Here we will explore some of these practices and how they can have a positive impact on your mental health in combination with asanas or meditation.

Yogic Breathing for Depression (Pranayama)

Breathing exercises have been found to be very effective for people suffering from depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and other mental ailments. It has also been shown to improve the quality of sleep, improve focus and concentration.

Pranayama (yogic breathing exercise in Sanskrit) is one of the eight classical parts of the Yoga Sutras. The purpose of pranayama is to calm and focus the mind and to achieve a state of Samadhi. Samadhi is the final goal of yoga and is a state of total awareness and focus. To practice pranayama, you must learn and master the basic pranayama techniques and then practice them daily. Ideally to get the most out of pranayama for depression, it is recommended to combine it with asanas (yoga postures) as well as meditation for depression. When you are first beginning, start with simple techniques like alternate nostril breathing and then transition into more advanced pranayama techniques like kapalabhati.

Breathing techniques like kapalabhati are generally considered more advanced, but they do offer many great benefits. Kapalabhati is said to cleanse the body of toxins and improve the function of the lungs, heart and the circulatory system. After practicing kapalabhati for a while, you will start to notice that there is a deep connection between breathing and your state of mind. You will start to experience a sense of calmness and clarity that will have a positive impact on your depression symptoms (E.g. reducing anxiety and stress). To learn more about pranayama for depression, you can read our article here.

Meditation for Depression

Meditation has been shown to have a positive impact on the central nervous system and can help you reduce the activity of your sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is the part of the nervous system that activates the “fight or flight” response. It is activated when we feel threatened or stressed and causes our heart to beat faster and our breathing to become shallow. This system is what causes our blood pressure to rise and our heart to beat faster when we are in danger. When this system is activated the body is unable to regulate its own stress response, which can be very damaging.

Meditation helps to relax the sympathetic nervous system by reducing the brain’s response to stress. Meditation has been shown to reduce stress hormones, reduce heart rate, reduce blood pressure, and lower blood sugar. These responses help the body to return to a healthy state and reduce the harmful effects of stress.

When practicing meditation for depression, it is important to find a technique that works well for you. If you have never meditated before, it is a good idea to try a few different approaches before settling on one. For example, you can practice mindfulness meditation, loving-kindness meditation, and the yoga breathing exercises mentioned above. The goal of meditation for depression is to calm the mind and body, which is why it is so effective for people suffering from depression. It has been shown to reduce depression symptoms, anxiety, stress, and improve the quality of sleep.

The most common form of meditation is known as focused attention. Focused attention is where the meditator focuses their attention on a single object, thought, or sensation. For example, you can use a mandala or a candle flame to meditate. You can also use a mantra or a sound to focus your attention. The purpose of focused attention meditation is to keep your mind focused on one thing. When thoughts or sensations distract you, you simply acknowledge them and then return your focus to the object of meditation. With practice, you will be able to keep your mind focused for longer periods of time.

Another common form of meditation especially for mental health is Kundalini meditation. The goal of this kind of meditation is to awaken the inner energies of the body. This is done by first visualizing the energy in the body and then stimulating it with breath, sounds, and movement. This practice is very physical and may cause the meditator to shake or tremble as the energy is stimulated. Kundalini meditation is very powerful and should only be practiced by someone who has been trained in this kind of meditation. It is meant to move the energy up the spine which is done in stages. The kundalini energy is awakened in the lowest chakra, the base of the spine. Then it moves up to the next chakra until the meditator reaches the crown chakra. The process of releasing energy through chakras helps with depression, anxiety, and stress as it releases blocked energy.

If you are looking for meditation to resolve depression, then our free guided meditation audio tracks are a great place to start. They are designed to help you achieve self-awareness, relaxation, and improved focus. If you want to learn more about meditation for depression read our full article here.

Mudras for Depression

You can combine mudras with meditation, pranayama, and mantras. Mudras are hand gestures that are used in yoga to direct energy. The most common mudra is known as the “mudra of peace” and is done by placing the tips of the thumb and middle finger together while keeping the other fingers straight. This mudra is very effective for reducing anxiety and stress. The mudra of peace can be combined with breathing exercises for a powerful effect and more concentrated effect. To learn more about mudras for depression, you can read our article here.

Mantras for Depression

Mantras are basically chants that are repeated, usually in rhythm with your breath. In a study of patients with chronic anxiety, patients who repeated a certain mantra showed a significant reduction of stress and anxiety, while patients who repeated a meaningless word did not receive the same benefits. The word or phrase that is repeated in this type of meditation is referred to as a mantra. A mantra is any word or phrase that is repeated, sometimes in rhythm with the breath, as part of a meditative practice. These mantras can be as simple as “OM” or as complex as a phrase that is meaningful to the person practicing. The repetition of the mantra often helps to calm the mind, which then helps to reduce stress and anxiety, therefore reducing symptoms of depression. It is important that one finds a mantra that is meaningful to them, as the word or phrase is repeated in order to calm the mind. Certain mantras, such as “OM” or “Rama”, are associated with specific religions or spiritual practices, while other mantras are secular. To read more about mantras for depression read our article here.

Yoga Nidra for depression

Yoga Nidra, also known as Yogic sleep, is a type of guided meditation that incorporates breathing techniques and visualization. It is a great way to relax the body and eliminate stress, thereby reducing depression. Yoga nidra can be very effective in helping to eliminate insomnia (which often goes hand in hand with depression), and help to reduce stress and anxiety, which are both contributing factors in depression. The practice of yoga nidra involves closing the eyes and visualizing a safe place. The practitioner then takes a few deep breaths in order to relax, and the guide will then guide the practitioner through a number of visualizations. These visualizations include imagining that one is floating on water, or that one is moving through space, or that one is dreaming (in the same way that one dreams while sleeping). It is important to note that the practitioner does not leave their body, but simply imagines that they are out of their body. The ultimate goal of yoga nidra is to reach the deepest level of sleep, known as the “dreamless sleep state”. This state is the same state that one is in during deep meditation, and is considered to be a very healing state.

Yogic diet for Depression

A yogic diet is one that is plant-based and whole-foods based and consists mainly of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes. This kind of diet is one that is recommended for overall health. However, it is also a diet that can be beneficial for depression. The microbiome, or the bacteria and other microorganisms that live within the gut, is very important for maintaining health. This is becoming more and more well-known as we learn more and more about the microbiome and its effect on the body. It is also becoming more and more well-known that the microbiome is very susceptible to diet. This is why diets that are high in processed foods and artificial ingredients can cause imbalances in the gut, which in turn can cause a person to become depressed. Naturally, a diet that is high in artificial ingredients and processed foods is not a healthy diet and should be avoided. The yogic diet is an anti-inflammatory diet and is one that is whole-foods based and plant-based. It consists mainly of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes. This kind of diet is one that is recommended for overall health. However, it may also be beneficial for people who suffer from depression. Many scientists believe that chronic inflammation in the body can lead to depression. Therefore, it stands to reason that an anti-inflammatory diet, such as a yogic diet, can help to reduce the symptoms of depression. Eating the right food according to your prakruti is a great way to keep your body and mind in harmony. To read more about yogic diet for Depression read our article here.

Final words

As you see yogic practices can have a pretty big impact on our mental health. So if you have some free time, you should definitely try some of these exercises. If you are suffering from depression, don’t hesitate to give yoga, pranayama or meditation a try. Pick out 3-5 practices to start with and make sure you are practicing in a safe and welcoming environment. Give yourself a few weeks to feel the differences and remember to breathe and enjoy the process. If you want to learn more about yoga, meditation or pranayama for depression, feel free to reach out to us any time. We hope that you found this article helpful! If you did, please share it with your family and friends!

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