My Q Health | How Yoga Helps With Depression, Anxiety, and Addiction
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How Yoga Helps With Depression, Anxiety, and Addiction

How Yoga Helps With Depression, Anxiety, and Addiction

By Therese Borchard

Aerobic movement of any kind helps to relieve depression and anxiety by boosting our brain’s dopamine levels and providing endorphins. But some types of exercises are superior for healing chronic conditions, mood disorders, and addiction. Yoga’s therapeutic benefits have been studied in recent decades, with much of the research being in randomized controlled trials — the most rigorous for proving efficacy.

There are many types of yoga, of course — from the more aerobic power yoga to a meditative gentle yoga. Hatha yoga, the most studied, combines physical postures (asanas) and controlled breathing with short periods of deep relaxation. I have found the most benefit from Bikram yoga, or hot yoga, a sequence of 26 Hatha yoga positions and two breathing exercises designed by Bikram Choudhury to engage and heal all of the systems of your body.

According to Sara Curry, Bikram yoga instructor and creator of the Sober Yogis program in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, medical miracles can happen when a person commits to a regular practice. In her TEDx talk, she tells the story of David, one of her yoga students who had a pacemaker surgically implanted in his chest. Six weeks after surgery, he began to practice with her six days a week. After only four weeks of yoga, David returned for a checkup with his cardiologist, and the doctor took him off three of his six medications and cut the remaining dosage of the other three in half.

“Our bodies can recover from tremendous amounts of trauma and chronic abuse,” Curry explains in her talk.

Curry and a team of counselors work with addicts on using Bikram yoga, group therapy, and meditation to help them stay clean. According to her exploratory study, hot yoga appears to decrease the length and intensity of symptoms of post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). These protracted withdrawal symptoms that include depression, anxiety, irritability, and sleeplessness can last up to two years after a person gets clean, and are the primary reason for relapse. Participants reported significant reductions in PAWS symptoms that negatively correlated to the number of classes taken a week.

I was inspired by her talk not only because I struggle with addiction, but also because yoga is one of the critical tools I have employed to manage my depression and anxiety more naturally as of recently. In the last nine months that I have been practicing consistently (for the last five months, I attend class five or six times a week), I have been able to significantly reduce my psych meds, wean off of a medication to control growth of a pituitary tumor, and have decreased my medication for an underactive thyroid.

I’m fascinated by the science of yoga — what specifically is happening in our bodies that makes these changes in us. Why is yoga more beneficial in relieving depression and anxiety, and controlling addiction, than, say, running six miles a day like I used to? What about hot yoga, in particular, is so transforming?

Yoga Helps With Detoxification

“Ninety-five percent of all disease is a result of nutritional deficiency or toxicity,” explains Steven J. Saltzman, MD, an anesthesiologist with an interest in integrative medicine who practices Bikram yoga himself, in a question-and-answer session about the medical benefits of hot yoga that I recently attended. Most of our toxins are stored in fat cells just beneath the skin, so we release them by sweating the way we do in a 105-degree room.

It Gets the Blood Flowing, Boosting Your Health

To read full article, visit Everyday Health.

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