Yoga and Depression – Breathing Based Yoga Helps to Significantly Relieve Major Depression

Breathing Based Yoga Helps to Relieve Major Depression

Depression is a major problem, and when it chooses a life to shadow, its hold can be fierce. The most popular treatment for depression is antidepressant medication. Though antidepressants seem to bring relief to many people, there are at least as many who do not respond to treatment. Thankfully, researchers are working hard on finding a more effective way to manage depression, and the world is edging ever so closer to finding a cure. 

With the research steering in new and promising directions, there has been an overwhelming amount of evidence to find that certain lifestyle factors have great potential to alleviate the symptoms of depression. A combination of exercise and mindfulness has been found to reduce the symptoms of depression by up to 40%. As well as this, gut health has been found to play a critical role in mental health, particularly in relation to the symptoms of depression. 

Whether medication is part of the healing or not, exercise, meditation, and gut health clearly have enormous capacity to strengthen the mind and body in a way that can protect them against depression. Now, new research from the University of Pennsylvania has found that a breathing-based meditation practice known as Sudarshan Kriya yoga (‘SKY’) can provide significant relief from the symptoms of severe depression and anxiety. 

What are the symptoms of major depression?

People are diagnosed with major depression if they experience at least five of the following symptoms for nearly every day for at least two weeks. The symptoms need to cause significant intrusion into day-to-day living, and need to not be the physiological effects of a substance problem or other medical condition. The symptoms include:

  • Feelings of sadness, emptiness, hopelessness, or tearfulness or irritability;
  • Loss of interest or pleasure;
  • Weight changes or changes in appetite;
  • Sleep changes – difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much;
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation. This needs to be noticeable to others, not just feeling restless or slow;
  • Fatigue or loss of energy;
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt;
  • Diminished ability to think, concentrate or make decisions;
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide, an established suicide plan or suicide attempt. 

Let’s talk about the research.

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, involved people who had been diagnosed with major depression. On average, participants were in the severe range. All participants had been on antidepressant medication for at least eight weeks and had seen no significant improvement in symptoms.

As part of the study, the participants were randomly placed into either a Sudarshan  Kriya yoga group, or a ‘waitlist’ group. Participants in the waitlist group did not practice Sudarshan Kriya yoga for the duration of the study, but were offered the yoga intervention at the end of the eight weeks. 

After two months, the group who practised the Sudarshan Kriya breathing technique had 50% lower depression scores. There was also a significant reduction in anxiety scores. The waitlist group showed no improvements. The depression scores were measured using the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale – the most widely used clinical-administered depression measurement and it measures scores on various criteria such as mood, interest in activities, energy, suicidal thoughts, feelings of guilt, as well as other symptoms.

The SKY group also showed significant reductions in their scores on the Beck Depression Inventory and Beck Anxiety Inventories, which both involving the self-reporting of relevant symptoms. 

‘With such a large portion of patients who do not fully respond to antidepressants, it’s important we find new avenues that work best for each person to beat their depression … Here we have a promising, lower-cost therapy that could potentially serve as an effective, non-drug approach for patients battling this disease.’ Anup Sharma, MD, PhD, lead author and Neuropsychiatry research fellow in the department of Psychiatry at Penn University.

Yoga and Depression: How does it work?

Sudarshan Kriya involves a series of rhythmic breathing experiences that bring on a deep, restful, meditative stage.

‘Sudarshan Kriya yoga gives people an active method to experience a deep meditative state that’s easy to learn and incorporate in diverse settings.’ – Anup Sharma, MD, PhD.

According to a paper presented at the 2016 International Conference on Emerging Technologies in Engineering, Biomedical, Management and Science SKY has a 68-73% success rate in treating depression regardless of severity, and produces positive effects on brain and hormone function. SKY works in a number of ways including:

  • removing stress from the body by flushing negative toxins from cells;
  • releasing neuropeptides which help to strengthen the immune system;
  • within 90 days of SKY, the brainwave patterns which are abnormal in many people with depression are returned to normal;
  • increasing levels of plasma prolactin, a hormone in the blood that is believed to have a central  role in easing the symptoms of depression (an increase was seen after one session of SKP);
  • significant decrease in levels of cortisol (the stress hormone);
  • increased defence against oxidative stress. Specifically, SKY has been found to produce an increase in antioxidant enzymes, superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione which are the major defence against oxidative stress. Research has found a link between oxidative stress and depression 

Previous research suggests that yoga and other techniques that involve controlled breathing can potentially calm the nervous system and reduce cortisol, the stress hormone. Some stress is motivating and healthy – it can help us to be more alert and more responsive in certain situations. When stress is too high, or when it lasts for too long, it can cause a chemical reaction that can slow down or stop neurogenesis – the growth of new brain cells. When this happens, we become vulnerable to all sorts of mental health issues, such as depression. It is thought that one of the reasons exercise, mindfulness, and other lifestyle factors can help with depression is because of the way they stimulate the healthy growth of new brain cells and protect existing brain cells from dying.

Exactly what is Sudarshan Kriya yoga?

For a demonstration of the Sudarshan Kriya yoga, see here.

But first, a warning: This link is intended only as a general guide, and is not intended to replace the guidance and expertise of experts or medical professionals. This meditation is not to be used by any person in any stage of pregnancy, or by people with high blood pressure. This breathing-based meditation is best done under the supervision of an experienced yoga practitioner. This meditation is not intended to be a substitute for medication. If you are on medication, it is critical that you do not decrease or stop your medication without close consultation with your doctor. Your own circumstances need to be considered before engaging in the activity, so as not to do harm or injury. If you have not practiced this type of yoga before, it may take time to work up to the full 48 beats demonstrated in the video. As with any physical activity, go gradually and do not do more than is comfortable for your body. Please consult your medical professional if you are unsure about the suitability of this activity for you.

And finally …

There can be no denying that the connection between the mind and the body is a critical one. Increasingly, research is finding that depression is not a ‘disorder’ of the mind, but a physical illness that has its origins in other parts of the body, such as the gut or at more systemic cellular level. It makes sense then, that a powerful way to manage the symptoms of depression has to involve strengthening both the mind and the body. Meditation, specifically Sudarshan Kriya is one way to strengthen the mind, the body and the spirit and maximise the potential for health and healing to be restored.

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Sometimes we all just need space to talk to someone who will listen without giving advice, or problem solving, or lecturing. Someone who will let us talk, and who can handle our experiences and words and feelings without having to smooth out the wrinkles or tidy the frayed edges. 

Our kids need this too, but as their important adults, it can be hard to hush without needing to fix things, or gather up their experience and bundle it into a learning that will grow them. We do this because we love them, but it can also mean that they choose not to let us in for the wrong reasons. 

We can’t help them if we don’t know what’s happening in their world, and entry will be on their terms - even more as they get older. As they grow, they won’t trust us with the big things if we don’t give them the opportunity to learn that we can handle the little things (which might feel seismic to them). They won’t let us in to their world unless we make it safe for them to.

When my own kids were small, we had a rule that when I picked them up from school they could tell me anything, and when we drove into the driveway, the conversation would be finished if they wanted it to be. They only put this rule into play a few times, but it was enough for them to learn that it was safe to talk about anything, and for me to hear what was happening in that part of their world that happened without me. My gosh though, there were times that the end of the conversation would be jarring and breathtaking and so unfinished for me, but every time they would come back when they were ready and we would finish the chat. As it turned out, I had to trust them as much as I wanted them to trust me. But that’s how parenting is really isn’t it.

Of course there will always be lessons in their experiences we will want to hear straight up, but we also need them to learn that we are safe to come to.  We need them to know that there isn’t anything about them or their life we can’t handle, and when the world feels hard or uncertain, it’s safe here. By building safety, we build our connection and influence. It’s just how it seems to work.♥️
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#parenting #parenthood #mindfulparenting
Words can be hard sometimes. The right words can be orbital and unconquerable and hard to grab hold of. Feelings though - they’ll always make themselves known, with or without the ‘why’. 

Kids and teens are no different to the rest of us. Their feelings can feel bigger than words - unfathomable and messy and too much to be lassoed into language. If we tap into our own experience, we can sometimes (not all the time) get an idea of what they might need. 

It’s completely understandable that new things or hard things (such as going back to school) might drive thoughts of falls and fails and missteps. When this happens, it’s not so much the hard thing or the new thing that drives avoidance, but thoughts of failing or not being good enough. The more meaningful the ‘thing’ is, the more this is likely to happen. If you can look behind the words, and through to the intention - to avoid failure more than the new or difficult experience, it can be easier to give them what they need. 

Often, ‘I can’t’ means, ‘What if I can’t?’ or, ‘Do you think I can?’, or, ‘Will you still think I’m brave, strong, and capable of I fail?’ They need to know that the outcome won’t make any difference at all to how much you adore them, and how capable and exceptional you think they are. By focusing on process, (the courage to give it a go), we clear the runway so they can feel safer to crawl, then walk, then run, then fly. 

It takes time to reach full flight in anything, but in the meantime the stumbling can make even the strongest of hearts feel vulnerable. The more we focus on process over outcome (their courage to try over the result), and who they are over what they do (their courage, tenacity, curiosity over the outcome), the safer they will feel to try new things or hard things. We know they can do hard things, and the beauty and expansion comes first in the willingness to try. 
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#parenting #mindfulparenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparent
Never in the history of forever has there been such a  lavish opportunity for a year to be better than the last. Not to be grabby, but you know what I’d love this year? Less opportunities that come in the name of ‘resilience’. I’m ready for joy, or adventure, or connection, or gratitude, or courage - anything else but resilience really. Opportunities for resilience have a place, but 2020 has been relentless with its servings, and it’s time for an out breath. Here’s hoping 2021 will be a year that wraps its loving arms around us. I’m ready for that. x
The holidays are a wonderland of everything that can lead to hyped up, exhausted, cranky, excited, happy kids (and adults). Sometimes they’ll cycle through all of these within ten minutes. Sugar will constantly pry their little mouths wide open and jump inside, routines will laugh at you from a distance, there will be gatherings and parties, and everything will feel a little bit different to usual. And a bit like magic. 

Know that whatever happens, it’s all part of what the holidays are meant to look like. They aren’t meant to be pristine and orderly and exactly as planned. They were never meant to be that. Christmas is about people, your favourite ones, not tasks. If focusing on the people means some of the tasks fall down, let that be okay, because that’s what Christmas is. It’s about you and your people. It’s not about proving your parenting stamina, or that you’ve raised perfectly well-behaved humans, or that your family can polish up like the catalog ones any day of the week, or that you can create restaurant quality meals and decorate the table like you were born doing it. Christmas is messy and ridiculous and exhausting and there will be plenty of frayed edges. And plenty of magic. The magic will happen the way it always happens. Not with the decorations or the trimmings or the food or the polish, but by being with the ones you love, and the ones who love you right back.

When it all starts to feel too important, too necessary and too ‘un-let-go-able’, be guided by the bigger truth, which is that more than anything, you will all remember how you all felt – as in how happy they felt, how loved they felt were, how noticed they felt. They won’t care about the instagram-worthy meals on the table, the cleanliness of the floors, how many relatives they visited, or how impressed other grown-ups were with their clean faces and darling smiles. It’s easy to forget sometimes, that what matters most at Christmas isn’t the tasks, but the people – the ones who would give up pretty much anything just to have the day with you.
Some days are great days. We want to squeeze every delicious moment out of them and keep them forever somewhere safe and reachable where our loved days and precious things are kept. Then there are days that are truly awful - the days we want to fold in half, and then in half again and again and again until those days are too small to hurt us any more. But days are like that aren’t they. For better or worse they will come and they will go. Sometimes the effects of them will stay – the glow, the growth, the joy, the bruises – long after those days have gone. And despite what I know to be true - that these are the days that will make us braver, stronger, kinder and wiser, sometimes I don’t feel any of that for a while. I just see the stretch marks. But that’s the way life is, isn’t it. It can be hard and beautiful all in sequence and all at once.
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One of the tough things about being human is that to live wholeheartedly means to open ourselves to both - the parts that are plump with happiness, and the parts that hurt. We don’t have to choose which one can stay. They can exist together. Not always in equal measure, and not always enough of the beautiful to make the awful feel tolerable, or to give it permission to be, but they can exist together - love through loss, hope through heartache. The big memory-making times that fatten life to full enough, and the ones that come with breakage or loss. The loss matters and the joy matters. The existence of either doesn't make the other matter any less. 
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What I also know to be true is that eventually, the space taken up by loss or heartache changes space for enough of the beautiful to exist with it. This is when we can start to move with. Sadness still, perhaps, but with hope, with courage, with strength and softness, with openness to what comes next. Because living bravely and wholeheartedly doesn't mean getting over loss or denying the feelings that take our breath away sometimes. It means honouring both, and in time, moving with.♥️

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