Those who practice yoga, even the first time, can attest to the fact that the cleansing feeling yoga brings practitioners after a class isn’t simply in the accomplishment of using muscles and tendons together to become physically stronger. Yoga brings forth an entirely different sense of triumph, in the cleansing of the spirit. Yoga is embedded in the idea that we are constantly practising, improving, and moving towards the individuals we hope to become.
Carrying this attitude with us through our practice and beyond means not only are we giving ourselves the opportunity to mature into the best versions of ourselves, we are also giving our bodies – even our brains – the tools necessary to help us maneuver through the everyday pitfalls and trials of life, including helping to mitigate depression.
The Benefits of Yoga
The regular practice of yoga changes us. Our bodies become stronger, and our muscles more flexible, and while this is happening, our brains begin to alter as well. As we become focused on bettering ourselves physically, yoga additionally creates within us the means necessary for betterment neurologically. This manifests itself most in a release from feelings of depression and inner turmoil.
The Demons Within
No matter how our lives look on the outside, there are always demons that can be found within. Even if those are deeply buried and often ignored, they are still carried around in all of us, making us question ourselves, our choices, and giving us over to sadness. Depression comes in all forms, ranging from severe to mild, from a constant part of every daily interaction to a small part of our day – or week – in which we feel simply depressed. Yoga is a phenomenal tool to add to our toolbox in battling depression. Yoga helps us battle this depression most clearly in three ways.
Acceptance of Who We Are
First, yoga alleviates some of the symptoms of depression by allowing us to accept the idea that we are not yet the individual we are going to become – the word ‘practice’ alone lends itself to the knowledge that we are trying to get better. As we accept that we are not perfect, nor should we be, we give ourselves two very powerful gifts. The first is the awareness that we are allowed to make mistakes. The second is the idea that we are moving towards the people we want to be. While the lucky among us were taught these lessons as children, they are easy to forget as we begin sifting through the responsibilities and pitfalls of adult life.
Yoga Practice Makes Us Better
As we accept these lessons, the second prong in battling depression comes as an extension of the first. Yoga fights depression by giving us the gift of accepting that practice can’t make perfect – only better. A common source of depression for us comes in the form of feeling like we aren’t good enough. We are trained to compare ourselves to others, and with that comes the thoughts of ‘I’m not as skinny,’ ‘I’m not as successful,’ or simply ‘I’m not as good.’ As we continue our yoga practice, it is a constant reminder that we are never perfect – nor are we supposed to be. As individuals practice yoga regularly, that feeling actually embeds itself into the physical aspect of the brain.
Yoga Gives Us Focus
Finally, yoga helps depression by giving practitioners a focus. As we work towards getting better at yoga, each new milestone and class gives us a feeling of accomplishment, one of the best responses to depression. Setting and attaining goals in our yoga practice translates to strength on and off the mat. Depression flourishes in a closed system, one that is focused inward, on flaws. Yoga is the embodiment of an open system, giving positivity to each practitioner. Allowing for the focus to shift from what we perceive are our glitches to our improvements modifies the conversation. We’re opening ourselves up to healing and discussion, to movement and growth, and through that, we don’t simply shift physically through our salutations, but neurologically we shift as well.
Being aware and focused means that our systems have an opportunity for change. Yoga helps us focus this opportunity into improvement and strength. As we keep these ideas in mind, that alone gives us a weapon as we battle depression. The knowledge that we are actively doing something to help battle back our personal demons manifests itself in a powerful way. This gives us back some of the power that depression has over us. We are no longer a passive bystander in our lives, subject to our thoughts, but a soldier in the battle for our own neurological health.
Yoga is predicated on the idea of maintaining that each and every person has the potential to improve. While the improvement we have in mind might be purely physical – flatter abs, stronger arms, or a more toned core, the tangential improvements change us even more profoundly. Knowing that we are not perfect, and accepting that we are never going to be perfect, gives us far more reaching results than merely looking better in our yoga pants.
Author Bio: Kosta Miachin is the creator of VIKASA Yoga method – a unique, challenging and effective approach to yoga. He is also the founder of VIKASA Yoga Academy. You can find him online: http://www.vikasayoga.com