Yoga for Depression

How is a yoga practice beneficial for someone with a history of depression?

Here is what I think, or at least what I have noticed in my personal experience.

First of all, depression is defined as experiencing feelings such as worthlessness, hopelessness, lethargy or an overall feeling of sadness that lasts more than two weeks.  Most of us feel down from time to time, but clinical depression is a completely different animal and is very serious.  I am not suggesting that yoga replace medical care for clinical depression.  I am simply acknowledging how yoga has helped me personally as someone with a history of depression and that yoga can prove very helpful as a preventive measure.

When you exercise, as in a yoga class, your body releases chemicals called endorphins.  These endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain.  This can help ease anxiety and feelings of depression.  Regular exercise has also been proven to reduce stress, boost self esteem, improve sleep, and increase energy levels.

In addition to the physical benefits and the boost to your self esteem beginning an exercise regimen brings, there are more subtle ways in which yoga might help with depression.  The mind-body connection is something which most people agree exists.  The most immediate way of expressing emotion and communicating is through our body.  The term “body language” refers to how we react physically to our emotions.  I believe this to be at the root of yoga’s benefits for assisting in overcoming depression.  Many yoga postures (asanas) place your body in positions which open the front side of the body.  Take a backward bend like Ustrasana, Camel Pose, for example.  This position with the chest lifted and arms extended is the physical expression of joy and gratitude.  Practicing this posture will trigger an emotional response which, as you might imagine, can bring immediate hope and relief to someone experiencing a depressed state.

There is another way yoga might prove useful.  Something I also consider to be a key element in yoga’s ability to ease depression is the way in which yoga practice reveals to us how we treat ourselves.  Listening to that internal dialogue can be extremely helpful.  Are we accepting of our self?  Are we critical?  Is this thought or this way of thinking useful to me?  One of my favorite yoga quotes really sums this up:

“Yoga is the perfect opportunity to be curious about who you are.” -Jason Crandell

Yoga eliminates hiding from yourself by bringing forth confrontation of both physical and emotional blockages during asana practice.  While the physical blockages may seem obvious (the tight hamstrings, shoulders, etc.), the emotional experience in your yoga classes might be confusing at first.  You may find yourself feeling angry, scared, or disappointed during class, and sometimes it may seem completely out of place.  Great!  Take this as an opportunity to acknowledge, accept and feel your emotions completely.  Allow yourself to be curious and to practice not judging yourself.  Simply ask yourself, “I wonder where that came from?” and let the healing begin.  For once you ask the question, or perhaps it is simply the act of asking the question, your mind is opened and your heart is opened as well.  Yoga class can offer such wonderful and much needed emotional release.

So please, take these 60-90 minute classes and get to know yourself, accept yourself, love yourself and heal yourself.


Lindsay Fields



11 thoughts on “Yoga for Depression

  1. lindsay says:

    The key word here is “practice.” Yoga asana is a practice in accepting ourselves just as we are. We cannot force ourselves to do a posture that our bodies are simply not ready for. However, we can be excited and proud of what we ARE able to and how we are progressing. We cannot always feel good about circumstances in our lives but we can feel good about taking care of ourselves. In the meditative environment of a yoga class, we can notice those thoughts that are judgmental or negative. We practice letting them go. We practice and in turn, what we practice, we use. This includes our life outside of the yoga room!

  2. lindsay says:

    Here is a related excerpt from BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga: “In the example of triangle pose (Trikonasana), we notice that, because of the relationship of the posture with our anatomy, we all fall into the same traps. Our body seems to be trying to collapse forward to the floor. Our body does not want to open itself in the way we see in a perfectly expressed asana. So we apply ourselves and learn the adjustments that will cause the whole body to open. We extend and redress our arm, lengthen the chest, and open the pelvis. But we also, in the process of applied learning, open our mind and intelligence.”

  3. Lindsay Fields says:

    Alzena – The above information is, of course, my opinion based on personal experience. Here are some links to some more information about the benefits of exercise and yoga for relieving symptoms of depression:

    From Scientific American

    From Mayo Clinic

    From Harvard Medical

    From Yoga Journal Magazine

    Hope this helps! Feel free to contact me directly for more specific questions. Thanks!

  4. tim says:

    There is an achievement aspect to Yoga which is important. Yoga is not competitive like some pursuits, but the first time one achieves a perfect ustrasana, for example, gives one a certain confidence. This can be helpful for building self esteem.

  5. Tena says:

    Thank you Lindsay! I have been fairly depressed since moving to a new town (AVL) 2+ years ago. I move in and out of depression, but I’m in it more often than not. It’s like a dark cloud moves into my world and sometimes it’s challenging just to walk to the mailbox.

    When I’m depressed, it is REALLY hard to make myself do yoga, or be social, and sometimes I tend to hibernate in my house and do things like watch movies and nap. It’s been interesting to explore my depression lately (through writing and reaching out to others), to find the root of my issue. I really needed to hear this…because I haven’t been to yoga in months! Thank you for the encouragement and insight!

  6. Chris says:

    What a great, uplifting article! Thank you for sharing that! I have been feeling blue lately and I can not wait to get back into some yoga.

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