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Ease depression with yoga: Kelley Colihan explores the mind/body connection of posing.

Today, it's likely that you know someone who is depressed or even that you're depressed yourself. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now finds that more than one in 20 Americans age 12 and older are depressed.

While medications and therapy can be effective paths to travel in the treatment of depression, it's increasingly being seen that daily yoga practice may help ease symptoms as well.

According to Amy Weintraub, author of Yoga for Depression and founder of the LffeForce Yoga Healing Institute, "Yoga provides a safe and effective treatment, not only for depression and anxiety, but also for the effects of trauma." Plus, there are no side effects. Amy recently released her own study on the benefits of yoga, specifically a blend of postures, meditation, visualizations, breathing and vocalizations (or the use of sounds, such as mantra and toning, to help slow down the breath and calm the mind) that she calls LffeForce Yoga.

In the study, participants were asked to rate their mood and level of depression before starting a five-day course in LifeForce Yoga. Fifty-four participants who completed the course and continued to practice at home showed a significant lifting of their mood.

But, it's not just Amy who's noticing yoga's positive effects. Other leaders in the field, like Timothy McCall, M.D., also suggest that yoga can be used to complement talk therapy and medications. It's thought that practicing yoga lowers levels of the major stress hormone cortisol and boosts levels of the brain's main neurotransmitter responsible for communication between the cells and neurons known as GABA. Low levels of GABA are associated with both depression and anxiety.

Dr. McCall, Yoga Journal's medical editor and author of Yoga as Medicine, says there have been "hundreds" of studies involving yoga, but that they usually aren't well funded. But, regardless of studies and findings, if people who suffer from depression feel better after a yoga session, why not take to the mat, Dr. McCall asks.

Amy recommends practicing your preferred method of yoga for a minimum of 20 minutes a day to help balance your mood. She also adds that learning mantras (chanting) for various postures can help deepen the breath and further impact your mood. "Universal tones and sounds vibrate the fluid body (we are at least 80 percent fluid) and help people who may have difficulties remembering to use deep diaphragmic breathing."

Any type of yoga practiced with mindfulness can benefit the body and mind. But the operative word here is "mindfulness."

According to Amy, "You can practice yoga in a driven, compulsive way and actually come out more restricted. As long as you pay attention, cultivating the witness state, you'll be less reactive off the mat."

She stresses that it's especially important for people who suffer from depression to pay attention to the sensations in their body. "For people who are depressed, anxious or traumatized, it's not safe for them to live in their bodies. They are living from the neck up. When you begin to practice, you are, in some cases, re-occupying the body. You are coming home to yourself."

It can be tricky to standardize a yoga program, since depression can take many forms and show up as anger, lethargy or anxiety. If you're interested in pursuing yoga to help ease feelings of depression, a qualified yoga therapist can individualize a program that fits you.


Dr.-McCall notes, "People want something that is going to make them feel better. Often people will notice after a single yoga practice that they feel better. Sometimes it's the memory of the last practice that brings them back to the mat. Yoga cultivates the science of direct experience."

Now that's something to feel good about.

Amy Weintraub will be teaching a yoga for depression workshop entitled LifeForce Yoga: Blues to Bliss at Jai Shanti Yoga in Atlanta, November 21-23. Amy's evidence-based yoga protocol is featured on the DVD series LifeForce Yoga to Beat the Blues. Visit her website at for more information.

Sources: NCHS Data Brief.. Depression in the United States Household Population, 2005-2006, Donald Malone, M.D. (; Yoga for Depression by Amy Weintraub

Atlantian Kelley Colihan is a registered yoga instructor and journalist for WebMD. She has produced medical documentaries for CNN and written for ABC News, National Public Radio and NBC Radio. She can be reached at or through her website

Three Tips to Help Elevate Your Mood During Practice

(From Yoga for Depression by Amy Weintraub)

1. Breathe. Always breathe deeply and slowly through the nostrils while entering, holding and releasing a pose. The postures themselves are not magic positions; it is your breathing that gives them the power to heal.

2. Listen to your body. Let your body be your first teacher. If you're paying attention to the sensations you feel as you practice, you will know when to release a pose or modify it.

3. Sequence your poses. Each pose has a stimulating or soothing effect on the body. Following a basic routine, preferably established by a qualified yoga instructor, can help you effectively move through negative emotions to a more positive place.
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Title Annotation:breathe in
Author:Colihan, Kelley
Publication:New Life Journal
Date:Nov 1, 2008
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