Yoga and Depression

10 Poses to help with Depression and Anxiety: Photo by Jennifer McClelland

I enjoy Yoga. I often look up poses, and I find articles like “10 Yoga Poses to Fight Depression and Anxiety” fascinating. Yoga is one of those practices that helps you recognize what your body and mind needs physically, and most instructors patiently guide their students through the movements.

The other day, I came across an article in the Toronto Star the other day, about how Yoga saved the author from depression and helped her regain her confidence. What I first thought was just a standard pro-yoga health article actually had some information about studies of yoga and mood disorders. CAMH (The Centre for Addictions and Mental Health) in Toronto performed the most recent study. According to the article:

Ravindran and da Silva looked at a mixed population of 72 patients suffering from various forms of depression. Prior to the study the patients had been on medication and undergoing various psychotherapies, but were dissatisfied with these forms of treatment.

The 72 patients were randomly assigned to either eight weeks of yoga — which incorporated postures and meditation, but emphasized breath regulation — for one and a half hours twice a week, or eight weeks of the equivalent number of hours of ‘psycho-education.’ In psycho-education, patients met in groups led by a trained therapist who provided education on depression, treatment and coping strategies. After eight weeks the two groups switched treatment forms, for a total of 16 weeks…

…“Both groups reported comparable improvement,” says da Silva, “but when we looked at the clinician rated assessments, the clinician noted a significant difference between the improvement within the psycho-education group versus the yoga group. They found that the yoga was significantly superior, produced significant benefits over the psycho-education.”

“Just from an objective standpoint,” says da Silva, “when the patients were not self reporting, when we were actually looking for more distinct symptom changes, the clinicians definitely saw a change (with the yoga patients).” ~ Yoga saved me from depression and my bully boss, by Elizabeth Warkentin

I find this fascinating. CAMH clearly did too, as they are now pursuing the study for people suffering from Anxiety Disorders. They’ve also begun incorporating Yoga into their suggestions for Natural Healing. This is the kind of treatment that can help minimize dependency on drugs and boost the endorphin levels, confidence and awareness of people suffering from depression.

However, like when depressed patients first use medications, yoga brings an increased awareness of oneself that can do more harm than good. As the article points out:

Despite yoga’s healing potential for those afflicted with depression, some say that in instances of major depression, yoga can sometimes be harmful if not supervised by a professional.

Dr. Eleanor Criswell, a psychotherapist on the advisory board of the International Association of Yoga Therapists and author of How Yoga Works: Introduction to Somatic Yoga told Yoga Journal that “Without proper supervision, a student can have increased sadness or suicidal ideation, so you’d want to be really on top of whether the yoga experience is beneficial or not. Sometimes the higher sense of alertness enables acting on bad impulses . . . depressed people can feel more depressed with relaxation.” ~ Elizabeth Warkentin

It’s therefore important that anyone suffering from depression and seeking treatment tell their professional so that they help the individual process the new emotions coming from that awareness. As the article points out:

Always consult a physician or counsellor if you are having ongoing feelings of depression or anxiety and before trying any new exercise program. ~ 10 Yoga Poses to Fight Depression and Anxiety, by Jo McClelland

So, in designing facilities for recovery from mental health, should we develop rooms or areas for this type of physical and spiritual activity? Could this be incorporated into hospitals?