Anti-Depression – Yoga and its Healing Agents- A Natural Way of Gaining A Positive Mind-Set
Many people in our world today struggle daily with the looming dark clouds of depression.
The World Health Organization reports that more than 300 million people suffer from depression
across the globe. With an estimated $17 billion USD growth projection over the next two years
(according to the New York Times) the pharmaceutical antidepressant industry continues to grow
exponentially, while a highly effective treatment, for a fraction of the cost (or even free with the
motivation of self practice), goes commonly overlooked. What is this mystery product you may be
asking yourself? It is yoga!
For many people, myself included, struggling with depression goes hand in hand with
crippling anxiety. As someone who never wanted to partake in the prescription medication
treatments for my depression and anxiety I found myself on the hunt for an alternate cure that
lead me onto the path of yoga. It has been proven many times through research that physical
exercise alleviates symptoms of anxiety and depression, and continued practice can also help to
keep your anxiety and depression from returning once you are healthy!
Yoga is a Hindu spiritual practice in its roots. A combination of body postures, breath
control and meditation. Beyond physical exercise, yoga is a unifying experience between mind
and body. A deep relaxation for all the senses and a release from the discomforts and pain (both
physical and psychological) inflicted by depression and anxiety. Unlike prescription
antidepressants or anti anxiety and stress medications often prescribed to those of us struggling
with mental health, practicing yoga does not come with a list of negative side effects. In fact, you
would be hard pressed to find any negative outcome of practicing yoga. Instead, you will only find
positive benefits! There are literally millions of poses available to the practitioners of yoga, and
many of them are effective in the treatment of mental health. I am going to take a moment to
highlight and explain three postures (traditionally known as asanas) in detail for you to try and
practice on your own!
The first posture I will describe is called Trikonasana, or Triangle Pose. This is a standing
asana that stimulates your nervous system alleviating nervous depression. As an added benefit, it
strengthens your pelvic floor, tones reproductive organs, and with regular practice will reduce your
waistline! Please be aware that some variations of this pose should not be practiced if you are
suffering from back problems. Start standing upright, with your legs open, feet farther apart than
shoulders width and your toes facing forward. Turn your right foot out so that your toes point
towards the right side. Straighten your arms out to your sides, bringing them to shoulder level in
one straight line. Engaging your core muscles with your back straight, take a deep breath in
through your nose. As you exhale out through your nose bend your waist to the right side, and
simultaneously, slightly bend your right knee. Keeping your arms in line with one another, place
your right palm on top of the right foot, and turn your left palm forward. Look up towards your left
hand for the full position. Hold here for a moment, focusing on your balance and the stretch felt
along the left side of your body. With inhalation through your nose, return upright and with
exhalation complete the same posture on your left side, bending the left knee slightly. Completing
this posture on both the left and the right side is considered one full round – Practice five to ten
A very common symptom that accompanies depression is fatigue, a general tiredness and
unwillingness to get out of bed to do anything. The second posture is a great cure for these
feelings of exhaustion while alleviating anxiety and tension as well. It is a relaxing pose that
reduces backaches, improves your posture by removing stiffness in the neck and shoulders,
increases energy and awareness, and loosens your legs as well!
Gomukhasana, Cow’s Face Pose, should be practiced for 10 minutes or more to receive the greatest benefit. Sit on the
ground with both legs straight out in front of you. Bend your left leg underneath the right leg, so
the left heel touches the right side of your buttocks. Bring your right leg overtop of your left leg,
and place your foot so that your right heel is against the left side of your buttocks. Your knees
should now be stacked, one directly on top of the other. Straighten your back by engaging your
core and relaxing your shoulders down and back. Your neck should be straight, your gaze looking
forward. Reach your left arm out to your left side, then bend your elbow to fold it behind your back. Straighten your right arm above your head, bend at the elbow and bring your right hand over your right shoulder, behind your back. The back of your left hand should be against your spine, with your right palm facing towards your spine, reaching for the opposite hand. If you can meet your hands behind your back, clasp your fingers. Finally, bring your raised arm behind your head, so that your head presses back into the inside of your top arm. Remember to keep your spine straight, core engaged, and your head back. Close your eyes and stay in this position for
two minutes and remember to breath deeply. When two minutes has passed or the pose becomes
too uncomfortable, release your hands, straighten your legs and repeat the pose on the other
side, with left leg on top and left arm over your shoulder!
The last and final pose I am going to tell you about is the Womb Pose, Garbhasana. The
benefits of this pose are personally my favourite, which make up for the fact that it is definitely
more difficult. This posture requires quite a bit of practice before it will be possible to do as every
element requires a flexible and strong body. Once you are able to achieve the posture however, it
has great benefits such as regulating the adrenaline glands so as to calm overly excited minds. It
creates emotional stability and gives a sense of security. I believe that this pose is a goal worthy
of aiming for. The posture also helps with digestion, increases appetite, restores a sense of
balance, and is very good for people experiencing uncontrollable anger. To achieve this position,
you must place your legs into Lotus Pose. Sitting with your legs outstretched in front of you,
slowly and carefully bend one leg and place your foot on top of the opposite thigh. The sole of
your foot should be facing upwards, with the heel close to your pubic bone. Once you are
comfortable, bend the other leg and place the foot on top of the opposite thigh in the same way.
Ideally both knees should be touching the ground in this position. Please note that Lotus Pose
should not be practiced until you have developed enough flexibility in your knees to comfortably
perform the posture. Now, to complete the Womb Pose, insert one arm between the thigh and the
calf of each leg, far enough so that the elbows can be bent upwards. Engaging your core, with a
straight back, bring your legs towards your torso and grab onto your ear lobes, balancing your
whole body on your tail bone. Stay in this balancing position for as long as comfortable and then
release your ears, lower your legs to the ground and slowly release your arms. Cross your legs the
other way, with opposite leg on top, and do it all again! This posture should be avoided if you are
pregnant, suffer from sciatica or have weak or injured knees.
Along with physical postures, a large part of yoga is breathing and meditation as well.
Pranayamas are the practice of breath control to effect the vital energy and life force that is found
in all things. These exercises are not simply about moving oxygen into your lungs, but are
practices to influence the flow of energy through your body. One such exercise that is beneficial
for people struggling with depression and anxiety is Bhramari Pranayama, Humming Bee Breath.
Sitting cross legged, close your eyes and relax the whole body. Bringing both hands to sides of
your head, use your index or middle fingers to plug your ears. Do not insert fingers into your ears,
simply use them to close the flaps and block any sound from outside of you. Bring your attention,
(with your eyes still closed) to the spot between your eye brows. This is commonly referred to as
your third eye. With your body absolutely still, inhale through your nose and as you exhale slowly,
back through your nose begin to make a humming sound from your diaphragm (located at the
bottom, centre of your rib cage). Keep your lips closed, and teeth parted during this practice. The
sound should be smooth and continuous for the entire exhale, causing reverberations in the front
of your skull. Inhale again through your nose, and exhale continuing the hum. Continue for
multiple rounds. Bhramari Pranayama should not be practiced while laying down, and people with
ear infections should not practice until the infection has healed.
This pranayama relieves stress
and cerebral tensions alleviating anger, anxiety and insomnia, while increasing the healthy
capacities of the body and strengthening your voice.
The position induces a meditative state by
harmonizing the mind and directing awareness inside, as the humming sound creates a soothing
effect on your mind and your nervous system.
I have highlighted a few of my favourite poses and one breathing technique to help
manage both depression and anxiety, but there are so many more poses available to alleviate
symptoms! If you are someone struggling with your mental health, begin your journey into yoga to
find the balance. Learn, experiment and discover what the world of yoga has to offer and find
what works best for your life. I promise you won’t regret it.
-An Article by Emily Rault, who completed her 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training at Yoga India Foundation in September 2018