Can Yoga Help With Anxiety & Depression? The Answer is YES!


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.


Savasana using a bolster to take pressure off the lower back

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.



Pose of The Week: Legs Up The Wall  509 Bloor St. W., Toronto

Hello Yogis,

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged! I really didn’t think that anyone was reading my posts but I see there are 168 people subscribed so I promise I will do better.

Starting this week I will be posting a weekly yoga pose, tip or article I think would be of value to you. I hope you enjoy them. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments at




This restorative pose is a stress-reliever which helps open the chest, slowing the heart, breath and brain waves, bringing relaxation.

•Relieves tired or cramped legs and feet
•Gently stretches the back legs, front torso, and the back of the neck
•Relieves mild backache
•Calms the mind

Here’s how to do it:

1. Place a folded blanket about 5 inches away from the wall (further if you have tight hamstrings). Sit sideways on the blanket with your knees bent and the side of your body against the wall.

2. As you exhale, shift and swing your legs up against the wall, lowering your shoulders to the bed or floor. The back of your pelvis should be supported on the blanket and your shoulders now on the bed/floor. Bring your arms to rest at your side, palms up and a little below shoulder level. This will give you an open chest to allow for free deep breathing.

3. Roll your head from side to side two or three times to release tension in the neck and shoulders. Relax your legs, face and jaw.

4. Close your eyes, allowing the muscles around your eyes to release. Breathe and let go for 5 to 15 minutes.

5. To get out of the position, slide back off of the blanket and roll onto your right side. Stay here for a few breaths before slowing sitting up.

Check Out This Awesome Review of YogaZonePLUS! (lots of pics!)

YogaZonePLUS offers Yoga Classes for Bigger Bodies in Toronto

Review written by Karen Ward –
Curvy Canadian – A Blog About Canadian Plus Size Clothing and Fashion
A short while ago, I was invited, by owner/creator Suzanne Gracan, to attend a complimentary yoga class at YogaZonePLUS, a yoga class designed specifically for those with bigger bodies. It was a fantastic experience.
The studio was bright, open, and clean. It was a lovely night out, and so the windows were open and a lovely breeze came into the studio. Suzanne lit candles and placed them at each of the windows and dimmed the lights so that the atmosphere was very relaxing. All the equipment was laid out for us before we entered the studio, and the uses of each piece was explained to us in case we were unfamiliar with it.
It was very comforting to be in a body positive space while practising yoga. Often times, I have been to yoga studios and I feel as though some of the slimmer students are looking at me (even though they’re probably not) and just knowing that I am in a non-judgemental space helps me to focus on my practice instead of what other people might or might-not be thinking about me and my body.
Both Suzanne and Mary (the instructor) were very welcoming and made me feel totally at ease. They both demonstrated each of the asanas (yoga poses) so that you could see what the posture should look like from the front and the side.
We started the class with shavasana, a pose where the student lies on their back with their eyes closed and meditates on their upcoming practice.

Mary came along and gave us each a couple of drops of peppermint essential oil to help invigorate us and our practices. It was lovely!
Then we began some of the more active poses.

Owner/Creator – Suzanne Gracan (left), Instructor – Mary (right)
Mary giving me some gentle posture correction
Warrior Pose

And for our final shavasana, Mary came around, gave us some lavender essential oil to ease us in to a very relaxed state, put a bolster underneath our knees to ensure our backs were making perfect contact with the floor, and tucked us in under a blanket to make sure we were nice and warm. I could have fallen asleep right there! It was like mixing a yoga class with a spa session. I can’t remember the last time I was so relaxed!

All in all it was a really great yoga session, and I think that uniting plus size women for exercise in a body positive space is a wonderful idea. If you are interested in taking yoga or other fitness classes with Suzanne, check out her page here. Many thanks to Suzanne and Mary for a wonderful class!

Health Benefits of Yoga

I came across this phenomenal piece at (California Association of Education of Young Children) It lists the physiological, biochemical and psychological benefits of yoga based on regular practice. This is truly incredible information and explains why I’ve been feeling fantastic lately. I’ve been practicing for one hour at least 3 times a week. Even once a week will provide many of the health benefits below. To view the article online visit:

Health Benefits of Yoga

This information is grouped into three categories—physiological benefits, psychological benefits, biochemical effects—and is based on the regular practice
of traditional âsana, prânâyâma, and meditation. Please note that while pulse rate, etc., may increase during the practice of various âsanas, some forms of
prânâyâma, and some stages of meditation, but overall benefits to general health are as listed below. For information on the physiological changes that occur
during the practice of specific âsanas, etc., please see James Funderburk’s Science Studies Yoga and other resources cited at the end of this article.

Physiological Benefits

􀂃 Stable autonomic nervous system equilibrium, with a tendency toward parasympathetic nervous system dominance rather than the usual stressinduced
sympathetic nervous system dominance

􀂃 Pulse rate decreases

􀂃 Respiratory rate decreases

􀂃 Blood pressure decreases (of special significance for hyporeactors)

􀂃 Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) increases

􀂃 EEG – alpha waves increase (theta, delta, and beta waves also increase during various stages of meditation)

􀂃 EMG activity decreases

􀂃 Cardiovascular efficiency increases

􀂃 Respiratory efficiency increases (respiratory amplitude and smoothness increase, tidal volume increases, vital capacity increases, breath-holding time increases)

􀂃 Gastrointestinal function normalizes

􀂃 Endocrine function normalizes

􀂃 Excretory functions improve

􀂃 Musculoskeletal flexibility and joint range of motion increase

􀂃 Posture improves

􀂃 Strength and resiliency increase

􀂃 Endurance increases

􀂃 Energy level increases

􀂃 Weight normalizes

􀂃 Sleep improves

􀂃 Immunity increases

􀂃 Pain decreases

Psychological Benefits

􀂃 Somatic and kinesthetic awareness increase

􀂃 Mood improves and subjective well-being increases

􀂃 Self-acceptance and self-actualization increase

􀂃 Social adjustment increases

􀂃 Anxiety and depression decrease

􀂃 Hostility decreases

􀂃 Psychomotor functions improve:

       o Grip strength increases

       o Dexterity and fine skills improve

       o Eye-hand coordination improves

       o Choice reaction time improves

       o Steadiness improves

       o Depth perception improves

       o Balance improves

       o Integrated functioning of body parts improves

􀂃 Cognitive function improves:

       o Attention improves

       o Concentration improves

       o Memory improves

       o Learning efficiency improves

       o Symbol coding improves

       o Depth perception improves

       o Flicker fusion frequency improves

Biochemical Effects

The biochemical profile improves, indicating an antistress and antioxidant effect, important in the prevention of degenerative diseases.

􀂃 Glucose decreases

􀂃 Sodium decreases

􀂃 Total cholesterol decreases

􀂃 Triglycerides decrease

􀂃 HDL cholesterol increases

􀂃 LDL cholesterol decreases

􀂃 VLDL cholesterol decreases

􀂃 Cholinesterase increases

􀂃 Catecholamines decrease

􀂃 ATPase increases

􀂃 Hematocrit increases

􀂃 Hemoglobin increases

􀂃 Lymphocyte count increases

􀂃 Total white blood cell count decreases

􀂃 Thyroxin increases

􀂃 Vitamin C increases

􀂃 Total serum protein increases

􀂃 Oxytocin increases

􀂃 Prolactin increases

􀂃 Oxygen levels in the brain increase

I LOVE YOGA! – 509 Bloor Street West, Toronto ON (steps from either Spadina or Bathurst subway stations)

Today we had 2 yoga classes and both went so well and the feedback was so great that it’s really reinforced I’m doing the right thing. Not a moment too soon because I quit my full time job earlier this week, my last day is April 27th. I want to be able to put everything I have into YogaZonePLUS and make it a success, not just for myself, but for all the wonderful plus size people who will benefit. I’ve truly met some great women already. YogaZonePLUS is not just a yoga class, it’s a healthy community for plus size people.

Yoga has given me my health back, improved my confidence, made me a much more calm and centred person and it’s soon to be my sole source of employment. I’ve never been happier. I’m so excited for the future!

I. Am. Blessed.

Come and check out a class!