Yoga is far more than just a form of physical exercise consisting of elegant postures designed to build strength and improve flexibility. It’s a total mind-body practice that can do wonders for your mental and emotional health in addition to your physical health.
A recent study has shown that yoga can help ease symptoms of depression. Although this isn’t anything new and previous research has shown yoga has similar effects on depression, it’s worth the reminder for people who are willing to make lifestyle changes to ward off depression symptoms.
If yoga is something worth considering, here’s what the research has shown to be the most beneficial for combatting depression.
1. Do 2 to 3 yoga sessions a week.
In the above mentioned study, participants with major depressive disorder were divided into two groups for yoga — a high dose group and a low does group. The high dose group took three 90-minute yoga classes per week while the low dose group took two 90-minute classes per week. Both groups showed a significant reduction in their depression symptoms with the high dose group seeing the greatest results. Researchers however noted that taking classes twice a week, which may be a more practical commitment than three, can still be very effective.
2. Practice at home on days you don’t go to class.
Both groups mentioned in the study above also combined their yoga classes with home practice. The high dose group practiced at home for 30 minutes, four times a week while the low dose group practiced at home for 30 minutes three times a week. So if you really want the mental benefits of yoga, you can aim to practice every day of the week (consisting of three classes and four sessions at home), but practicing five times a week (consisting of two classes and three sessions at home) can also help make a significant difference.
3. Focus your practice on Iyengar yoga.
In the study above, participants followed a certain style of yoga called Iyengar yoga. This is a yoga style that emphasizes precision of alignment. Rather than practicing at a quicker pace, postures are often held for long periods in Iyengar yoga, which has therapeutic benefits and can help cultivate greater mental awareness.
4. Include a period of relaxation at the end of your practice.
At the end of their practice following the main postures, study participants spent 10 minutes in corpse pose (savasana) while they performed traditional ujjayi breathing, which helps control and slow the breath rate. This transitional period was meant to encourage relaxation.
5. Finish your practice with coherent breathing.
Study participants finished their Iyengar yoga practice with 20 minutes of coherent breathing. This involved continuing with the ujjayi breathing or shifting toward gently breathing in through the nose and using pursed lips resistive exhalation at about five breaths per minute.
While the above methods were shown to offer significantly positive results for reducing depression symptoms, bear in mind that it’s also important to tailor your yoga practice to your own preferences and lifestyle. Taking one class a week may be better than none at all while a quicker vinyasa flow style may be more preferable than Iyengar even if it’s not quite as relaxing.
Use above methods as you experiment with your own practice and make tweaks where necessary. Chances are any consistent yoga practice at all will bring both mental and emotional benefits to some degree.
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