Exercise is an effective antidote for depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Yoga uses an holistic mind-body approach to movement, with poses, breathing exercises and meditation to stretch, strengthen and balance body and mind, and to create inner harmony. Yoga offers many benefits but it is not a replacement for psychological or psychiatric help. Many forms of anxiety and depression require medical attention, so check with your healthcare provider if you are anxious or depressed.
Feel Good on Your Mat
Yoga boosts feel-good endorphins by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. On a more holistic level, the poses and meditation move prana, or life energy, back into balance in the body and mind, according to "Yoga Journal" columnist, teacher and author Rod Stryker. Some specific poses relieve depression and anxiety symptoms. The Anxiety Disorders Association of America affirms that physical activity alleviates stress and produces endorphins in the body.
Styles of Yoga
A typical yoga class includes a variety of poses -- all designed to twist, fold, balance, restore or strengthen the body. Some yoga styles, such as Ashtanga, rigorously challenge the body by linking poses together with the breath to provide a cardio session; experienced students are challenged by increasingly complex poses. Restorative yoga classes use props, blankets and pillows to support students in gentle stretching poses for minutes at a time. People with anxiety may benefit from gentler styles of hatha yoga, while depressed people might enjoy a faster-paced class that includes inverting and twisting poses. Those suffering from both anxiety and depression should try a variety of yoga classes to find the style or combination of styles that relieves their symptoms.
Poses may serve the body in more than one way. For example, Bridge, a back bend, energizes the body by relieving fatigue, but also calms people with anxiety. Dolphin pose, which looks like an inverted V, with elbows on the floor under the shoulders, simultaneously relieves depression and fatigue. Inversions, such as Handstand, serve as the ultimate poses for depression. Being upside-down stimulates the brain, builds confidence and provides students with a change of perspective. If Handstands or Headstands are too challenging, begin with half inversions such as Standing Forward Bend and Downward-Facing Dog.
Some of the yoga poses most suited for relieving anxiety are Bow pose -- grabbing ankles from behind with belly on the floor, Child's pose -- seated on calves and ankles with head face down and arms stretched out straight in front, and Triangle pose, a simultaneous standing twist and stretch. A simple combination of poses that acts as a warm-up and easy stretch for the spine is Cow and Cat. Begin on hands and knees, inhaling as you scoop the back for Cow, then arch the spine up on the exhalation for Cat. Continue to alternate scooping and arching slowly with focus and control.
Breathing for Balance
Meditation and breathing exercises alleviate anxiety and depression. The Anxiety Disorders Association of America recommends meditation as a stress-relieving activity. Many yoga classes use meditation and breathing in a combined practice. Controlling the length of inhalations and exhalations is centering and calming. Focusing on the breath is a traditional technique for entering a meditative state. Concentrating on inhalation and exhalation helps students to become more present, and stills stressful mind chatter.