International Yoga day 2019: Practicing yoga can help combat mental, physical illness

Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self”

Yoga is an ancient Indian practice that embodies the unity of body and mind; restraint and fulfilment; thought and action. In the west, yoga was initially considered just as a form of physical exercise, but now is being increasingly studied as a healing modality or medical intervention. There has been a significant growth in the number of research studies to investigate yoga practices to treat a variety of physical and mental health conditions, especially depression.

 International Yoga day 2019: Practicing yoga can help combat mental, physical illness

Representational image. Image credit: Flickr

Depression is a very common mental ailment and negatively affects how a person feels, thinks and handles everyday activities. As per NMHS (National Mental Health Survey), 2015 -16, one in every 20 people over 18 years of age in India have suffered from depression at least once in their lifetime. This amounted to a total of 45 million persons suffering from depression in the year 2015. The burden of depression is not only high in India, but people around the globe are affected by this debilitating illness.

Mystical yoga to the rescue

A major focus is laid on practicing yoga postures, meditation and breathing exercises that help patients to improve their health status and reduce the symptoms of depression.

Until now no particular cause of depression can be deduced, but stress is predicted to be one of the major contributors. Chronic stress tends to increase the risk of depression which further leads to the activation of neural pathways. These pathways influence the basal ganglia (structure deep within the cerebral hemisphere) involved in controlling motor activities and mood. Stress also enhances susceptibility to peripheral and neural inflammation, thereby leading to symptoms of depression.

A potential mechanism by which yoga may be working to reduce the symptoms associated with depression is by decreasing the physiological burden and consequences of stress. According to several pieces of research, yoga may be influencing the inflammatory process involved in depression by influencing the vagus nerve (the tenth cranial nerve which plays a major role in regulating the working of GI tract and heart rate).

Different forms of yoga

Different forms of yoga. Image credit: News18

Yoga may also be particularly helpful because it can be easily adapted to daily mood, is easily available and can be self-administered. The yoga components of relaxation practices, slow breathing, yoga postures and mindfulness of sensation in the body may influence the neural pathways involved in mood regulation. The slow breathing exercises have also been seen to have a positive impact on the HRV (Heart Rate Variability) and decrease blood pressure apparently via enhanced efferent parasympathetic response.

Various researches have indicated that yoga interventions can help people in improving their perception of stress and well-being. According to the Journal of Affective Disorders[i], the effectiveness of meditation based yoga in treating depression was tried on 50 female university students who were randomized to either a group that practised yoga of 30 minutes in 30 days or to a group that had no intervention. A significant reduction in depression was observed in the yoga group but not in the control group. However, there is very little information on whether yoga can improve the physiological or neurological mechanisms that affect mood or symptoms in depression.

Summing it up

Yoga is a spiritual discipline and is based on a concept of bringing mind and body in harmony. Scientifically robust evidence is not yet available to explain the manner in which yoga might be helping patients to combat depression and other mental ailments. However, various Randomized control trials (RCTs) have been conducted in various parts of the world to ascertain if yoga practices help to alleviate the symptoms of depression and the results have been positive.

Yoga at Sunset. Image credit: Flickr

Yoga at Sunset. Image credit: Flickr

International Day of Yoga is celebrated every year on 21 June to raise awareness about yoga practices and their benefits. Let us incorporate yoga practices in our daily routine and live a stress-free life that we all deserve.

The author is a Senior Consultant to the Medical Team at docprime.com

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Updated Date: Jun 21, 2019 09:29:50 IST