The past fifty years have been full of studies on how meditation and various other techniques for stress reduction can enhance treatments for depression and anxiety. It’s only fairly recently though that yoga has started to receive particular attention.
The steadying stretches and breathing techniques of yoga can perceivably reduce the amount of stress people are feeling by modulating their stress response systems. By moving through various stages – relaxed through to strenuous and back to relaxed – you can increase your heart rate variability, which helps your body deal with stress. Putting your body through stress in a relaxed environment acts as a self soothing technique and puts yoga alongside things like meditation and spending time with friends.
Yoga practise might also be able to help you cope with pain – a small but very interesting study at the University of Utah looked at people’s responses to pain under an MRI scanner, using a test group of yoga practitioners, people with fibromyalgia and an otherwise healthy group who didn’t practise yoga. The people with fibromyalgia experienced the lowest pain threshold and had the most pain-associated brain activity whereas the yoga practitioners had the highest pain threshold and the lowest pain brain activity. By regulating the body’s stress responses, yoga practise seems to help with people’s ability to cope with pain as well.
If you are thinking of trying yoga as medicine for your mind as well as body, you might want to check with your doctor first, and make sure you choose the right practise of yoga – some is a lot more strenuous than others! However, for people dealing with depression, anxiety, or stress, yoga might be a very appealing way to help manage symptoms alongside other more traditional methods. The evidence is growing that yoga practice is a relatively low-risk, high-yield approach to improving overall health, body and mind.
Are you a yoga fan?