B.K.S. Iyengar said “Yoga allows you to find a new kind of freedom that you may not have known existed. “ After over a decade of practice I have to concur on Iyengar’s truthful, wise words. A steady yoga journey addresses a multitude of toxic mindsets and other struggles that contribute to human suffering such as anxiety and depression. It’s important to begin by establishing baseline definitions of these three important subjects. There are many misconceptions and varied interpretations of yoga. Many newly certified teachers have beautiful intentions but are in the infancy of their own yoga journeys and unknowingly disseminate unsound information. Other variables have to do with marketing, creating profitable studio models and less to do with educated, full understanding of yogic studies. Two predominant misconceptions of yoga are that it is religious or an extreme physical exercise fad. Yoga postures (asanas) are what many believe all yoga is therefore interpreting yoga to be merely a form of physical exercise. Yoga is not merely physical exercise but includes pranayama, meditation combined with asana. Much is lost when you only have one piece of the puzzle.
Rumi wrote “Seek the wisdom that will untie your knot. Seek the path that demands your whole being.” Anxiety and depression are states of mind that have presented challenges to quantify because there is no measurable (molecular or otherwise) particle to indicate a patient’s level of anxiety or depression. It’s also worth noting that fear is different from anxiety. Generally speaking fear relates to a known or understood threat, whereas anxiety occurs from an unknown, weakly or vaguely defined perceived threat.
Depression is a condition marked by feelings of sadness, worthlessness, or hopelessness, as well as problems concentrating and remembering details. Anxiety is often a comorbidity with depression because one’s thought content is a part of their state of mind. Sleep disturbances and insomnia are also comorbids for anxiety and depression; they are all variables and factors for mental and cognitive dysfunctions and disturbances. Addiction to alcohol or substances can also be a result of struggling with anxiety and/or depression.
YOGA AS A TREATMENT INTERVENTION
Research indicates that yoga has a consistent, positive effect on anxiety and depression. Much of anxiety and depression surrounds unrestrained, challenging, and dysfunctional thought patterns and yoga directly teaches us methods specific to establishing stable thought patterns. Harvard Medical school has been conducting studies specific to yoga as a treatment for anxiety with successful results.
Harvard Medical school research study using Harvard physicians. Research link to full content: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?tab=rm&ogbl#inbox/WhctKJWJJdcZRXHZVRxhQxbxdPtTqmXvhdnpPMPPHkTPTkqfLMhsQHTgrrrVcqVdKgNzFjV?projector=1&messagePartId=0.1
YOGA FOR ANXIETY lINK TO FULL TEXT: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5116432/pdf/nihms788847.pdf
THE RESEARCH MAKES IT CLEAR
The research makes it clear that yoga is beneficial because it helps with developing and refining self regulation directly linked to one’s thought patterns and state of mind. Most research and data are gathered via structured interviews, measured scaled results and/or data tabulation or scaled questionnaires.
The success of a yoga practice on your state of mind will be different but research does support that when a participant only does physical asana you will experience minimal positive results. Pranayama is a necessary ingredient and element for yoga benefits. Hatha Yoga Pradipika states “When the breath wanders, the mind is also unsteady. But when the breath is calm, the mind too will be still and the yogi achieves a long life. Therefore, one should learn to control their breath.“ It’s critical to point out that Hatha yoga is a very general yoga term so there is a wide variety of different interpretations by teachers who describe their classes and teaching styles as Hatha based.
STATE ANXIETY OR TRAIT ANXIETY?
State Anxiety or Trait Anxiety can affect results It is worth mentioning that there are variations based on if an individual functions from “state anxiety” or “trait anxiety”. Trait anxiety can be explained as when one’s anxiety is an aspect of their personality. Those who experience “state anxiety” tend to benefit from yoga at a more rapid rate due to the anxiety issues being less ingrained in their personality.
Since it’s not a pill, how do you “dose” yoga? Please understand in our pharmaceutical first/instant gratification culture that yoga is the oldest of the old school methods. It does not work like a pill. So here is a reminder to be pragmatic and do not expect yoga to be similar to a pill that you take and post digestion, you experience an approximate measured result. Honestly, yoga treatment like anything else can fail for many reasons.
How do you avoid failure? A beneficial, positive yoga practice hinges upon choosing the appropriate style of yoga, the right regiment of quality yoga, to safely address the different degrees of your specific issues. As much as these questions may seem overwhelming, a seasoned educated yogin will help you find all of the right answers. Choices matter and the sincere yogi will guide you to measuring what constitutes a healthy, specific practice to becoming your own guru. It is important to do your research and find that teacher for you,trust that you will know when you find the right teacher.
Swami Vivekananda said “He alone teaches who has something to give… No one was ever really taught by another; The external teacher offers only the suggestion which rouses the internal teacher to work to understand things.” I wish I could say that after 1,008 hours of yoga you will be magically “undepressed” but truthfully it will take steady effort and your personal accountability, awareness and commitment. If you have been using pharmaceutical interventions such as antidepressants it is perfectly fine to add a yoga practice when you are adapted to the intervention and are experiencing no adverse side effects.
It’s important to mention that if your approach ends up being three random yoga classes a month you will probably not have any benefits from that yoga practice (especially if it’s under poor instruction) . Balance is important and extremes should be avoided so just as 3 classes a month is too little of a commitment, the opposite extreme of shifting from no yoga to 5 days of physically advanced yoga would also be destructive. Generally speaking, depending on overall health two classes a week (at the right level) for 36 weeks to a year can be a good start. When choosing the physical asana style consider your physical history, how injury prone you are and your current level of activity.
As an intervention, how does yoga compare to pharmaceutical intervention?
One issue resulting with pharmaceuticals as an intervention is that they only work for 1/3 of patients. So roughly 70 percent of people on pharmaceuticals for depression are not experiencing progress. Sadly, antidepressants do not treat underlying factors that affect the brain and negative side effects that result from pharmaceuticals impact your whole human system. A profoundly rational argument can be made that yoga works on risk factors and underlying issues. If someone is already using antidepressants yoga can still be added and effective. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a well known and accepted type of psychotherapeutic treatment that helps people learn how to identify and change thought patterns that have a negative influence on behavior and emotions. Cognitive behavioural therapy is considered a constructive tool to address anxiety and/or depression. That is a shared principle between CBT & yoga. View yoga as an oldschool CBT method of mind-body connection. Bottomline When engaging in a safe, healthy, consistent, quality yoga practice, the most positive benefits are that it shifts brain structure and impacts the nervous system and neurochemistry of the practitioner. When you reduce or address your anxiety and/or depression via a yoga practice, the disorder may subside, become manageable or go away.
“The very heart of yoga practice is ‘abyhasa’ – steady effort in the direction you want to go.” ~Sally Kempton
“If we practice yoga long enough, the practice changes to suit our needs. It’s important to acknowledge that the practice isn’t meant to be one practice for everybody. The beautiful thing about yoga is that there are so many different approaches. As we go through our life cycles, hopefully we are able to find a practice that suits us. And if you practice yoga long enough, that will change many times. What exactly that looks like is going to be different for each person.” ~ Tiffany Cruikshank
“Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and to endure what cannot be cured.” ~B.S.K. Iyengar
“True yoga is not about the shape of your body, but the shape of your life. Yoga is not to be performed; yoga is to be lived. Yoga doesn’t care about what you have been; yoga cares about the person you are becoming. Yoga is designed for a vast and profound purpose, and for it to be truly called yoga, its essence must be embodied.” ~ Aadil Palkhivala
“If you listen, the breath and the body always tell the truth and creating honest contentment is always the cure.” ~Diane Lazic
Please email me if you would like more links to additional research studies or if you have questions about Re3″s therapeutic yoga programs at Diane.Lazic@re3healing.com