Anxiety disorders, including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, are the most common mental illness in North America, affecting about 40 million adults. If current trends continue, it’s estimated that by the year 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of disability throughout the world. A significant amount of research has been conducted on yoga as a therapeutic tool, and evidence supports the findings that yoga can help treat depression and anxiety.
Depression and anxiety are diseases in which people experience being stuck in a cycle of negative self-talk, obsessive rumination on the past or anxiety about the future. Physical exercises that increase awareness of sensations arising from within the physical body can help people heal. Yoga connects the mind and body through the breath, creating presence and mindfulness. Mindfulness in the body is the ability to inhabit the body and be present with bodily sensation as they fluctuate from one moment to the next.
Most people aren’t aware that inside each of us, there’s a mind-body communications network that contributes to the patterns of anxiety and depression. This network includes (but is not limited to):
The autonomic nervous system: The part of the nervous system responsible for control of the bodily functions not consciously directed, such as breathing, the heartbeat, and digestive processes.
The enteric nervous system: Often called ‘the second brain’ which controls the gastrointestinal system and is the reason we get ‘butterflies in our stomach’ or need to use the restroom more frequently when we are nervous and/or under stress. The Immune System: Made up of a network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to protect the body.
The Connective Tissue Matrix: A group of tissues in the body that maintains the form of the body and its organs and provides cohesion and internal support. The connective tissues include several types of fibrous tissue that vary only in their density and cellularity, as well as the more specialized and recognizable variants—bone, ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and fascia.
To really effect change, we need to access this mind-body network and change patterns in these bodily systems.
Mindfulness may be a doorway to healing many anxiety disorders, and yoga, specifically Restorative Yoga incorporates practices to strengthen this quality. With the aim of awareness in mind, Restorative Yoga is not like the typical hot, sweaty Westernized forms of yoga that are prevalent. Restorative Yoga is a gentle, therapeutic style of yoga that uses props such as bolsters, blankets and yoga blocks to fully support the body in restful, still positions held from 5 – 10 minutes. The focus of the practice is to completely relax the muscles and very gently stretch the body, letting go of tension in the connective tissue, which includes bones, ligaments, tendons and fascia. Long holds allow time for stillness, presence, guided meditation and mind body connection and give practitioners an experience of present and safe in the moment. All of the poses are done on the floor, no standing or kneeling postures – you go down to the mat once and get up from the mat once, thus making Restorative Yoga accessible to anyone that can get up and down to the floor.
At FitZonePLUS, while in poses we use specific questions and cues that serve to increase a person’s awareness of the sensations in his or her body. For example, a Restorative class begins and ends with Savasana. Lying on the back, the arms and legs are spread at about 45 degrees, the eyes are closed and the breath deep. The whole body is relaxed onto the mat with an awareness of the chest and abdomen rising and falling with each breath. All parts of the body are scanned for muscular tension of any kind, which is consciously released as it is found. All control of the breath, the mind, and the body is then released for the duration of the pose, typically 10 minutes. The pose is released by slowly deepening the breath, flexing the fingers and toes, reaching the arms above the head, stretching the whole body, exhaling, bringing the knees to the chest and rolling over to the side in a fetal position. After a short time and a slow inhalation, the practitioner takes a seated position.
After completing this pose, we ask practitioners to check in with their bodies. Without judgment, how am I feeling physically? Is there any pain, tightness or tension in my body, if so, where is it? How am I feeling mentally? How deep is my breath? During final Savasana a second check in is done. This time we ask practitioners to notice any changes. To notice how their body and mind may feel different after 60 minutes of practice. Most clients notice that their body feels less tense, elongated, more open and flexible. The mind usually feels less cluttered and a sense of calm is present.
The more consistently you practice, the longer this feeling stays with you.
All types of yoga and exercise can help to ease anxiety and depression, however Restorative yoga provides more time for stillness and releasing tension from connective tissues. If you’re experiencing anxiety, depression or stress, give it a try, it may change your life!
Click here to view the FitZonePLUS class schedule. Restorative type classes on the schedule include: Happy Knees, Yin Yoga, Yin/Restorative Yoga, Reiki Restorative and Restorative yoga.