Yoga for anxiety and depression
Jonathan Levy LCSW: Co-founder and Marketing director at Psychotherapy Associates Chicago.
Since the 70s, meditation and other stress-reduction techniques have been studied as possible treatments for depression and anxiety. Although it has become much more popular, yoga, has received less attention in the medical literature. One national survey estimated that about 7.5% of U.S. adults had tried yoga at least once, and that nearly 4% practiced yoga in the previous year.
Yoga classes can vary from gentle and accommodating to strenuous and challenging; the choice of style tends to be based on physical ability and personal preference. Hatha yoga, the most common type of yoga practiced in the United States, combines three elements: physical poses, controlled breathing, and a short period of deep relaxation or meditation. As an experienced Chicago therapist I have long advocated for yoga and stressed to my clients the benefit of it. It is nice to have the research finally back up what we knew all along.
Natural anxiety relief
Available reviews of a wide range of yoga practices suggest they can reduce the impact of exaggerated stress responses and may be helpful for both anxiety and depression. In this respect, yoga functions like other self-soothing techniques, such as meditation, relaxation, exercise, or even socializing with friends.
By reducing perceived stress and anxiety, yoga appears to modulate stress response systems. This, in turn, decreases physiological arousal which, reduces the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and slows breathing. There is also evidence that yoga practices help increase heart rate variability, an indicator of the body's ability to respond to stress more flexibly. If you struggle with anxiety, stress, nervousness, and worrying there are other beneficial things one can do.
A small study completed at the University of Utah provides insight into the effect of yoga on the stress response by looking at the participants' responses to pain. The researchers noted that people who have a poorly regulated response to stress are also more sensitive to pain. Their subjects were 12 experienced yoga practitioners, 14 people with fibromyalgia (a condition many researchers consider a stress-related illness that is characterized by hypersensitivity to pain), and 16 healthy volunteers.
When the three groups were subjected to more or less painful thumbnail pressure, the participants with fibromyalgia — as expected — perceived pain at lower pressure levels compared with the other subjects. Functional MRIs showed they also had the greatest activity in areas of the brain associated with the pain response. In contrast, the yoga practitioners had the highest pain tolerance and lowest pain-related brain activity during the MRI. The study underscores the value of techniques, such as yoga, that can help a person regulate their stress and, therefore, pain responses.
Benefits of yoga
While many forms of yoga practice are safe, there are some strenuous versions that we would not recommend to the elderly, those with mobility issues, and so on. Please consult with your doctor before choosing yoga as a treatment option.
But for many patients dealing with depression, anxiety, or stress, yoga may be a very appealing way to better manage symptoms. Indeed, the scientific study of yoga demonstrates that mental and physical health are not just closely allied, but are essentially equivalent. .
About the author: Jonathan Levy LCSW is an experienced Chicago therapist, counselor, and life coach. He is a graduate of The Ohio State University and Smith College. He is the Marketing Coordinator and co-founder of Psychotherapy Associates of Chicago. Jonathan Levy LCSW has tremendous success helping patients and most attribute his success to his warm touch and friendly demeanor.