There's No Such Thing as the Yoga Blues
What are the yoga blues? You’ve probably never heard of it, because it doesn’t exist! Yogis have known for centuries that yoga helps with focus and mood. Now it looks like research is backing up what we yogis have always known. Let’s face it, yoga does wonders and the proof is in the pudding, so to speak.
According to Yoga Journal, “Yoga actually changes our brain chemistry, which in turn helps improve mood and decrease anxiety.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine reports that yoga triggers the release of the brain chemical GABA. This is also known as gamma-aminobutyric acid, a chemical in the brain that helps to regulate nerve activity. What’s the verdict? Yoga equals higher levels of GABA and improved mood. Yabba-GABA-doo!
So now it just may be that the medical community backs up what the yoga community knew - that yoga can be a powerful tool for prevention and treatment of depression or anxiety. Not to say that medicine doesn’t have its place, but yoga definitely helps.
From a yogic perspective, depression can be an actual lack of life force (prana) or inertia. To remedy this, you’ll want to get moving in your yoga practice and focus on the breath. Some of the best practices for depression are sun salutations (Surya Namaskar A and B), focusing on the breath, taking deep inhalations, backbends, heart or chest openers, and inversions like forward fold, down dog, or legs up the wall.
Meditation or pranayama exercises will also be very helpful in combating the blues. Pranayama like alternate nostril breathing or humming bee breath will be very calming and soothing. Some of these tips and techniques I recently demonstrated on the local KHQA morning news here in Quincy, Illinois:
Those who struggle with anxiety may find it difficult to stop their racing minds and breathe deeply. They may find their eyes darting around while lying in shavasana meditation. Some people will not feel comfortable meditating with their eyes closed. If you find that’s the case for you, remember meditation can also be done seated at the wall with the eyes open while focusing on a candle or a point on the floor.
So if you find yourself having the blues, give yoga a try and see how it works for you. I recommend practicing whenever, wherever, as often as possible. Commit to at least 15-20 minutes per day and then increase from there. Can’t do that much? Try 5 minutes. Something is better than nothing.
Here are a few different practices you can try to combat the blues:
Laughing yoga - Lay flat on your back and cycle your arms and legs like you’re riding a bicycle. Start laughing and continue until you’re really laughing. It’s hysterical! I tried this exercise in a cancer survivor yoga class in Savannah, Georgia. I felt really silly at first, but it completely changed my mood.
Pranayama - Try opposite nostril breathing to slow down the breath and decrease anxiety. You can also try something called the bee humming breath. This is where you place your thumbs in your ears and hands over your eyes while making a humming sound like a bee. This represents the “om” sound without actually sounding it out with your mouth. Or try a lion’s breath where you stick out your tongue and bug your eyes out. Have you seen the movie Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure with the character Large Marge? If you mimic that face, you won’t be depressed for long.
Inversions - Try an inversion like downward facing dog, forward fold, or legs up the wall. Inversions should be practiced daily and will help to calm and relax.
Chest and Heart Openers - Try relaxing on your back over an exercise ball or a bolster to open up your chest and heart. You can also try this move with a yoga partner if they are in child’s pose.
Sun Salutations - Try some sun salutations like Surya Namaskar A and B.
Next time you're feeling low on energy or in a bit of a blue mood, give yoga a try. Some simple breathing practices and getting your body moving can make all the difference.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.