Depressed? Yoga Helps Balance Mood-Regulating Hormones

Everyone has had those moments where life no longer feels worth living. Many can, after a good cry or a few rounds with a punching bag, pick up and move on. Sometimes, however, it’s just not that easy. Over 15 million adults in America can tell you this, and they should know: they are suffering from major depression.

Symptoms of depression span from fatigue, lack of interest in life and weakened immune system, to suicide risk, chronic illness and even death. What is more, this trend is not diminishing; instead, depression appears to be becoming more common in younger parts of the population as well. One heart-breaking fact: children under the age of six are the fastest growing population prescribed antidepressants.

With drug companies putting warning labels on antidepressants, alerting consumers to a potential increased suicide risk from taking their medication, conventional methods don’t exactly look like an automatic ticket to well-being.

Amy Weintraub, a former depression sufferer herself, offers a solution: yoga. “When the mind is absorbed in a negative spiral of thoughts,” Weintraub, author of Yoga for Depression  and founder of LifeForce Yogaexplains, “whether it is anxiety based or depression, the mind needs something to focus on that takes it away from that negative spiral.” Yoga for depression, she explains, does just that.

It turns out there is plenty of scientific evidence to support her case. Studies have shown that the levels of cortisol (a major stress hormone) in the body are significantly lowered after the practice of yoga. In addition, studies have found that yoga raises levels of serotonin, the “feel good” hormone.

On top of this, Weintraub holds, many yogic breathing exercises stimulate the vagus nerve, which is a known treatment for depression. In fact, one breathing exercise has been shown to have as high as a 73% recovery rate for major depression.

Weintraub says that it doesn’t matter what yoga style you do; find the practice that’s right for you. “Find a teacher,” she advises, “which makes you feel, when you walk out the door, like your life has changed in that moment. That you are fresh and alive.” Weintraub also cautions that while you may feel better immediately following yoga practice, you should wait until after at least 9 months of continuous daily practice before considering going off anti-depressants. 

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