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Yoga and Mental Health

Stress, anxiety and depression are becoming more and more prevalent. As a result, patients and physicians alike are looking for new ways to combat these mental health conditions. But as we continue to delve into modern techniques, it has been noted that the ancient practice of yoga continues to present many of the same health benefits.

Anxiety is defined by a miscued internal alarm. Our bodies are built to respond to external triggers, but with anxiety, some wires may be crossed. This can mean that sufferers can interpret problems as much more serious than they are, leading to a panic response that can be incapacitating. As a result, patients tend to avoid their triggers to avoid these consequences. Exposure-based therapies help by presenting patients with their triggers in a safe environment so that they can relearn a proper response without fear and anxiety.

Yoga can help in similar ways. The poses are designed to put the body into stressful, sometimes uncomfortable physical positions. By pushing through this discomfort, practitioners are essentially creating their own exposure therapy, forcing their bodies to learn their limits and stay mindful of their body.

Depression can result in a lack of motivation. This can lead to a spiral, where patients don’t do the things they once found joy in because they aren’t in the mood. Then the bad mood deepens since there is no activity to snap the cycle. To break this cycle, doctors often recommend Behavioral Activation (BA). By this method, patients are taught to “act before they feel,” meaning they are encouraged to stay active despite their mood. BA therapy has been shown to break the cycle, helping patients create their own mood rather than waiting for it to change.

Yoga increases activity and helps patients break this cycle naturally. On top of the physical activity, which can activate portions of the brain affected by depression, the mindfulness techniques inherent in yoga can help patients regain their sense of hopefulness and personal accomplishment.

While yoga may not be a replacement for mental health therapies, it definitely has its place. Individuals can reconnect with their bodies, understand their feelings and begin to focus more on the moment. And when practiced in a group setting, yoga can also reduce the sense of isolation that can be a key component of anxiety and depression.

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Published on: September 27, 2017