Have you picked up Yoga International or Yoga Journal lately; Men’s Health, Huffington Post? If so, you have read about the growing body of evidence that supports the opinion that yoga is great for the body, and it is so much more than just “stretching” as some might like to believe.
When you take part in a regular yoga practice – even just once a week – you experience a multitude of benefits you cannot get from other “workouts”. We hesitate to use that word “workout” because yoga is meant to be so much more than a fitness goal. Improved health and fitness is surely a benefit of a regular yoga practice, along with greater flexibility and mobility, but one of the other miraculous benefits of yoga – greater happiness and lower rate of depression.
Depression is rampant in our society today, effecting nearly one out ten adults who reported being depressed – close to 15 million Americans. The World Health Organization predicts it will become “the second most devastating illness in the world” before 2020. While the shear number of people suffering from depression today is shocking, so are the expenses related to its treatment (and the side effects on said treatment in many cases, which sometimes seems worse than what it is being used to treat).
According to Scientific American magazine:
“Every dollar spent treating depression, an additional $4.70 is spent on direct and indirect costs of related illnesses, and another $1.90 is spent on a combination of reduced workplace productivity and the economic costs associated with suicide directly linked to depression – both from those suffering from the ailment and the treatment that may be required.”
The average person spends about $200 a month on medication alone to treat depression, that doesn’t include office visit or copays.
But there may be another way, a healthier, more holistic way to combat the many common forms of depression and you just have to unroll your yoga mat. There are several different types of depression, but just this a collective study from Boston, Columbia and Harvard University (among others) revealed a study which analyzed the effect of yoga of those suffering from “major depressive disorder”. It’s true, people who do yoga are generally happier people, and they are paying a lot less for their “mental health”, on average about $60/month for a full time membership at a gym or yoga studio.
“Through a regular yoga routine, we can pull ourselves out of the pit of depression and rise once more to enjoy vitality and inspiration in our day-to-day lives”
Aside from the fact that a regular yoga practice can save us money what are some of the other reasons why yoga can make us happier? We thought you’d never ask.
We learn to breath again. And we are not just talking about pranayama, or yogic breathing including anuloma viloma, kapalbhati, ujjayi breath, and dirga pranayama. Learning to breath again has many benefits, first and foremost it cleans out the breathway, the nose the mouth, it helps slow and regulate the heart. But this yogic breathing is more than that, it also about learning to pause, and breath before you react and respond to negative sensory influences in your life. Breathing leads to mindfulness which leads to a calmer state of mind.
“[Inhaling and exhaling] by themselves would be considered yoga interventions because they direct attention to the breath and help unhook people from thoughts, emotions and impulses that are negative or destructive.”
We feel, look and are healthier. A regular yoga practice is going to help feel better because our spine, bones, lymphs, all the major systems that help our body function – respiratory, digestive, etc. It also helps your metabolism and immunity. And when we feel healthier, we look healthier in a physical sense in our bodies. In fact, Sadi Nardini, of the Huffignton Post reports that taking part in just 3 60-minute semi-vigorous yoga sessions a week can help you appear about 9 years younger! And we feel and look healthier we are more inclined to put good things into our body, and avoid toxins and poisons like alcohol or drugs (of any kind), and many people who do yoga are more likely to maintain weight loss, or maintain a healthy weight.
“[With the practice of yoga] There would likely be less obesity and Type-II diabetes, and people would be less aggressive, more content and more integrated.”
We get out of our heads. We all have environmental stressors in our lives – relationships, parenting, jobs, school. No one is immune from this. The practice of yoga gives us an outlet where we can “forget” even briefly about the constant worry, and become more present and focused on what is happening right now, not regret for what happened yesterday or worry about what could happen tomorrow. This is even more effective when combined with mantra, or meditation – which we will go into more detail about in future posts.
“Yoga [reduces] the stress response, which includes the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The practice enhances resilience and improves mind-body awareness, which can help people adjust their behaviors based on the feelings they’re experiencing in their bodies.”
Connections, Guidance and Community. As you emerge into the world of yoga you’ll quickly discover the teachers, guru’s and community members of your local yoga environment. Then you may quickly discover how they are all connected to a wider sphere of “influence”…pretty soon you are on a Yoga Retreat or Bali or Costa Rica with your favorite yoga instructor. Depression on the other hand can lead to isolation. When describing the effects of yoga in combating this, PHD professor Sat Bir Khalsa, states:
“That acting in synchrony with others—be it while walking, singing or dancing—can increase cooperation and collectivism among group members.”
By joining a regular yoga practice you may find an entirely new world that you didn’t know existed – a sangha, or community that you can become a part of.
Just remember, yoga is for every body and every body…it is common to be misled by the head stands and pretzel like contraptions some people are able to move into – you don’t have to be able to do this to take a yoga class (if you find the right studio and teacher). Yoga can be modified and adjusted to accommodate any shape, size, body type, almost any physical limitation, age or mobility. There is yoga for kids, teens, adults, elderly, those in wheelchairs, pregnant women and more.
We’ll be going into these topics in future blog posts, but the next time you are feeling a little down, or blue, sign up for a yoga class. Check with your local studio or instructor to find a class that works for you. And if you are want to learn more about how to bring yoga into your life, or teach it to others, to discover these, of many amazing benefits, check out our 5 hour online yoga teacher training.