feeling depressed? get off the sofa and get on your head with yoga.

By: Donnalynn Civello, CHHC, AADP
A true seeker of health and wellness, I am a happy vegan, gluten-free cupcake-munching yogini with a passion to inspire those around me to be the best they can be. As Executive Director of Ethereal ...

An Exploration into Emotional Healing with Yoga Therapy

As a society, the US is deeply entrenched in the throws of emotional instability. It is an unfortunate global epidemic and in terms of depression, over 17 million cases have been documented in our country alone. How did we get here and how have we been working to heal this malady?

In the past, our solution has always hinged around chemical substances but today there is a new therapy taking form; it is called consciousness. People are taking back control of their bodies and minds and choosing more natural and holistic therapies to help them heal. Yoga is one of these wonderful natural healing modalities and its positive affect on incidences of depression has been quite impressive.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the ways in which yoga naturally heals the body.

Yoga Heals the Mind and Body Holistically

Yoga is one of the few healing modalities that addresses not only the physical symptoms of depression but addresses the mental/emotional symptoms as well. According to Heather Mason, a UK based yoga therapy provider, “If you work only on the body (as with anti-depressants), you’re not addressing the thought patterns that cause stress. And if you deal only with the mental side of things, you’re ignoring the biochemical and physiological changes that emotional trauma can bring.

Yoga therapy addresses both aspects of the problem.” People generally underestimate the importance of bringing the body into complete mind/body balance but yoga inherently strives to achieve this primary objective. Once the body and the mind are brought into alignment, the healing process can begin.

Yoga Balances Stress Hormone Levels

In our overly time-impoverished lives, it is a wonder that today’s stress levels are running rampant. Stress can be seen to wreak havoc on our physical bodies. When the body is under stress, a message is sent to the brain indicating that we are in danger and as a result, the adrenals are signaled to release cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline (the major stress hormones) which help us cope. In and of themselves, these stress hormones (especially when over-taxed) contribute to ever-increasing levels of stress in the body as well as increasing blood sugar surges and rises in heart rate and blood pressure.

A dedicated yoga practice with emphasis on breathing techniques known as pranayama can help the body reduce as well as bring back into balance the body’s own stress hormones. This pranayama comes from the abdomen (belly breathing) as opposed to the upper chest (shallow breathing). Shallow breathing signals to the brain that danger lies ahead and as a result, stress hormones are dispatched to the rescue. On the other hand, deep yogic belly breathing assures the brain that there is no danger present thus reducing the level of stress hormones present in the body and reducing blood pressure and heart rate accordingly.

Yoga Balances Brain Chemistry

Studies have also shown that yoga helps to alter our brain chemistry. It is through the yoga postures, known as asanas, that the body undergoes a type of “healing massage” which stimulates blood flow, flushes out toxins and stale bodily fluids and circulates lymph giving the body and brain a much needed sense of clarity and rejuvenation. Yoga is also known to stimulate critical feel-good neurotransmitters such as GABA, Serotonin and Endorphins. These key neurotransmitters, when triggered by the movements of yoga, help to establish a better mood-enhancing outlook and aid in the treatment of depressive states.

For example, yoga provides the body with an increase in GABA, the body’s own natural tranquilizers, which provide us with a sense of calm, relaxation and stress tolerance. Yoga also stimulates the release of Serotonin, the body’s own natural anti-depressants which provide a positive outlook, emotional stability, self confidence and sense of humor. And lastly, yoga helps to stimulate Endorphins, the body’s own natural painkillers which provide a sense of pleasure, reward and psychological/physical pain relief and tolerance.

Yoga Balances Blockages in the Flow of Prana

We have discussed how yoga affects the physical body but a very important part of understanding the role of yoga for the treatment of depression is to understand that yoga also works on an energetic level (subtle body level) in the body. The yoga postures are perfectly constructed to help awaken the chakra system and release emotional blockages along the shushumna nadi (the main central channel where all 7 chakras reside).

Yoga restores the natural flow of prana (life force energy) and helps to release the heavy and negative emotions of hate, anger, depression, worry, anxiety, jealousy, envy, guilt, etc”¦ These stagnant emotions root themselves in the body and subsequently become severe emotional blockages. Through the practice of yoga, these emotional blockages are energetically released leaving the body and mind thoroughly relaxed and relieved.  

Yoga is a holistic therapy whose time has come. For the treatment of depression, we no longer need to resort to prescription drugs alone to bring about change in the human body, we can begin to re-introduce natural healing modalities such as yoga which can heal the body from within. This wisdom of ancient healing has been taught throughout the ages and the proof points of its success are continually being upheld in today’s modern world.