Yoga for Depression and Chronic Pain: Choose to Change Your Life

Natural remedies for depression and anxiety are a hot topic and for good reason: Anxiety disorders affect more than 40 million adults in the United States. If you’re suffering, you are not alone. Maybe you have clinical depression, or, like many, you’re just pissed about always being sick and in pain.

Despite being diagnosed with depression and anxiety as a preteen, which I discuss here, I’m actually happy most of the time. Sometimes, I’m really happy. I have a strange and special life with many unique experiences. But since I’m trying to keep my identity anonymous here, I won’t get too into all of that. I’ll just say that in some ways, life has been brutal on me, but I am extra blessed in others.

Still, I’ve suffered from bouts of PMDD, which can be horrifying, and I’ve been known to occasionally spiral downward when it all becomes too much. Along with an awareness of the law of attraction and my relationship with God, the biggest factors I can credit for helping me pull through the hard times are exercise and yoga.

Yoga and Chronic Pain: Soothing a Stressed Brain

Studies have shown that chronic pain causes changes to your brain structure. It messes with your grey matter and makes it hard for parts of your brain to communicate. When I learned this, I felt kind of hardcore. Pain has been a huge part of my life. I’ll choose to believe that means my brain is strong.

In a 2008 study from the University of Utah, researchers discovered that people who have trouble handling stress might also be extra sensitive to pain. The study compared the pain responses of fibromyalgia patients, yoga practitioners, and healthy people who did not practice yoga. The fibromyalgia group demonstrated the greatest pain response, which is no surprise, since an increased sensitivity to pain is a characteristic of the disease. The yoga instructors had the easiest time handling the pain. This could be because yoga modulates stress response by helping you stay in a more relaxed state of mind. This helps your body respond to stressful indicators, including physical pain, with more efficiency.

This is exciting stuff, and it shows us why yoga is so important for those of us suffering from ovarian problems, endometriosis, fibromyalgia, or any other chronic-pain conditions as well as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. It’s impossible to say that one treatment is perfect for everyone, but yoga comes close.

Yoga and PTSD: Improving Symptoms

I’m thankful to say my condition has been improving thanks to all the emotional work I’ve done with EFT therapy. 2016 was hard, but I went through a lot of growth. I hope this will be the year my PTSD will diminish entirely. Taking a break from the world of romance and staying single is giving me the energy I need to heal. I want to grow strong in yoga and build other aspects of my life before I share myself with someone again. And there’s good reason to believe that doing so can help me.

A randomized controlled study found that doing yoga can have a healing effect on PTSD. The study featured 64 women between the ages of 18 and 58 years old, all of whom suffered from PTSD that wasn’t responding to other treatments. The women were asked to complete either 10 weeks of yoga or 10 weeks of a health education class. When these classes were completed, the yoga group demonstrated a major decrease in their troubling PTSD symptoms, including dissociation. 52 percent of that group no longer met the criteria for PTSD at all, compared to only 21 percent of the women from the health education group.

Yoga headstand in beautiful blue light

Yoga and Self-esteem: The Power of Feeling Beautiful

When you suffer from a health condition that has a negative effect on your weight, skin, hair, sex drive, energy levels, mental capacity, or anything else that might factor into the way you feel about yourself, maintaining strong self-esteem is a challenge.

If something triggers inflammation in my system, one of the first symptoms I get are huge, painful cysts on my face. These cysts often take weeks or months to fully heal and leave bad scars if I don’t care for them properly. They make it difficult to smile or look people in the eye. It’s gross, and it sucks. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen often, and when it does, it’s almost always related to gluten exposure. Once that’s done, it’s done, and there’s nothing I can do but wait it out.

I’ve already talked about how yoga helps with the pain response as well as the depression and anxiety that can accompany health situations like this. But there’s another important aspect to it: Yoga makes you feel beautiful. It sculpts and stretches your body. It builds muscle. And maybe most powerful of all, it gives you grace. One of the most exciting things about my practice is seeing the way my balance has improved.

Yoga Instead of Medications: A Legitimate Option

There are probably many people in your life who  rely on pharmaceutical medications for depression and anxiety. Maybe you do as well. While I’m personally against medication for myself, and my experiences with it were unpleasant, I say do whatever works for you. Whether you take medication or not, yoga will still be amazing for your life!

A study from the International Journal of Yoga found that yoga could “reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain, improve sleep patterns, and enhance overall well-being and quality of life.”

Also from the study:

“Yoga leads to an inhibition of the posterior or sympathetic area of the hypothalamus. This inhibition optimizes the body’s sympathetic responses to stressful stimuli and restores autonomic regulatory reflex mechanisms associated with stress”

I love that word: optimize. It just feels good. I am optimizing more and more with every practice.

Yoga for Fatigue: Choose a Slow and Soothing Style

If you deal with fatigue or the dreaded brain fog, you already know that there are some days when it’s hard to move, let alone stretch your body into a bunch of weird positions. You also know how depressing it can be to suffer from a chronic condition, especially one that’s not very well understood or easily diagnosed by doctors, such as endometriosis. When you’re angry and suffering, the last thing you want to hear is that you should go do yoga—even if you know that it can help your pain response.

However, this is one of those times when pushing yourself can be rewarding. If you can manage getting out of bed, you can do a little yoga in most cases. It doesn’t necessarily have to be challenging to be beneficial. If you suffer from a condition that makes physical exertion difficult, look into yin yoga, a super-relaxing style that involves holding each position for minutes at a time while focusing on deep breathing. Yin yoga has helped me a lot, both with my PTSD and with my neck problems.

My Yoga Life: Where I’m at With My Practice

I’ve done yoga on and off for over a decade, but I’ve never been super serious about it. I would like this to be the year I take my practice to the next level. I’ve already been working on flexibility and learning new poses over the last six months. This year, I want it all. Handstands. Splits. All the fancy poses.

Yoga isn’t about being the best–but I’m motivated by the quest for greatness, and I’m down with whatever gets me practicing. Find what motivates you and let it guide you through your practice. You put in the time and effort, and you will get benefits. It’s that simple. It could be something as low key as committing to spending a few minutes in child’s pose before bed every night.

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