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By Samantha LeFave
The yoga industry has seen its fair share of fads—goat yoga, boozy yoga, and naked yoga, just to name a few—but there’s one thing that remains a constant: People always roll out their mats. That’s because it’s an excellent way to get sweaty and centered, whether you’re a total newbie or longtime pro. Plus, there are some seriously awesome health benefits of yoga that you can score from a daily practice. Here are just a few of the most impressive ones that are worth a pat on the back (because, yep, now you can reach that far):
This one may be obvious, but it’s worth mentioning because, hey, you may not have been able to touch your toes or connect your hands behind your back before practicing yoga. But being able to do that isn’t the only benefit to getting bendy.
Because yoga has a ton of postures that are performed to improve flexibility and build muscular strength, it also retrains our deep connective tissue, says Emilie Perz, a yoga movement therapist and teacher in Los Angeles. “Stress and anxiety can leave our tissues tired, tight, and stuck,” she explains. “[But] yoga focuses on whole body movement and awareness, so we can often use the poses to release and lengthen these chronically tight regions.”
Not only does this mean more flexibility on the outside, but you can also retrain how your body’s tissues hold together, Perz adds. The way to do that is with a consistent practice. “From more mobility to better posture, the poses themselves are a potent tonic that wakes our bodies up and moves them more freely through space,” she says.
If you’ve always thought that high-intensity yoga classes were the only way to lose weight, it’s time to retrain your brain. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with those styles—and research showsAshtanga, Bikram, and Iyengar varieties can be particularly effective thanks to their aerobic tendencies—a study from the American Journal of Managed Care found that a restorative practice can also be effective in lowering that number on the scale.
In the study, researchers divided a group of overweight women into two groups—those who took regular restorative yoga classes, and those who participated in stretching sessions, both of which lasted for 48 weeks. Those in the yoga group didn’t bust out any hard-core postures or speedy flows; researchers said the classes focused instead on relaxation and stress reduction. Poses were held for long periods of time, measured breathing was emphasized, and meditative music was played.
With all that in mind, you’d think weight loss wouldn’t really be the end goal. But this group lost significantly more subcutaneous fat (the kind that sits directly under the skin) than the stretching group did in the first six months and kept it off longer. So, this just goes to show that it’s not always about going hard-core all the time.
Listen, no human being is interested in one thing and one thing only. So it’s OK to love yoga but also love bootcamp. Or running. Or touch football. Whatever your passion is, Perz says, it’s likely that a regular yoga practice can help you perform better. “Repeating postures gives [deep connective tissue] more buoyancy and adaptability, which allows our muscles to fire more effectively,” she explains. “This means practicing yoga daily may also help improve our performance in other exercise modalities.”
Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you have to start doubling up your workouts all the time. On days you have another routine on the schedule, a quick 10-minute flow in the morning could be just what you need to get your body (and mind) in prime condition, Perz says.
Chronic, always-present pain isn’t something to mess around with. It can be seriously debilitating to your quality of life, and research shows it may even lead to depression. But multiple studies have found yoga to be an extremely effective treatment, especially for those suffering from chronic lower back pain, one of the most common forms, reports the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).
One such study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that those who had chronic lower-back pain self-reported better function and less pain after three months of weekly classes. They were also significantly more likely to quit pain relievers after a year. And with today’s opioid epidemic, that’s a great reason to give it a try.
All exercise is linked to lowering symptoms of depression, and yoga is no exception: A review of studies published in Frontiers in Psychiatry suggested that those with depression, schizophrenia, sleep problems, and other mental health conditions could all benefit from practicing yoga. Plus, Perz says that many people live for the mental benefits they experience. “When asked why we practice, both teachers and students alike tend to mention things like yoga being grounding, yoga [being] a tool to help them be ‘in their body,’ and yoga [being] the magic mood lifter,” she says.
Yoga can also have an immediate mood-boosting effect. “There are so many postures in yoga that help with depression and mood,” Robin Berzin, M.D., functional medicine physician and founder of Parsley Health, told mbg. Some of her favorites for this purpose: camel pose, pigeon pose, and legs up the wall, which help you quite literally open your heart and find new perspective.
“Even when the fog of depression seems impossibly thick,” says Berzin, “connecting with the body is an awesome way to find presence, and presence is like a headlight that lets you see a way forward and out.”
If you’re struggling to pull together that work presentation or hit a roadblock on your great American novel, it may be time to roll out your mat. “Research suggests that by practicing the mindfulness components of yoga regularly—including meditation, mantra, and deep breathing techniques—you can stimulate and increase your alpha brain waves, or the happy calm brain waves,” Perz says. “Through repetition of these mind-body techniques, you can alter the brain’s architecture that taps into your place of connection and creativity.”
You know it’s true: The way you think and act on the regular greatly affects your mood and how you feel about yourself. So it’s important to put yourself in a safe space where you don’t feel judged and can be in tune with your thoughts. Yoga is the place for that. “By setting intentions at the beginning of class and focusing on the present moment, you become more aware of negative thought patterns as they arise,” Perz says. “By understanding them and replacing them with a new activity, such as controlled breathing and mindful movement, you can reduce the psychological stress that onsets negative thoughts…and drastically improve your overall attitude and outlook.”
Heart health is more important than ever, with recent research from the American Heart Association showing that heart attacks, high blood pressure, and diabetes are increasingly more common in younger people—especially women. But it turns out yoga may help lower your risk. A review of studies published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that practicing yoga could help just as much as conventional exercise, like brisk walking. In fact, the studies analyzed various types of yoga—both athletic and more gentle flows—as well as a wide range of people with various health conditions. Overall, they saw that those who practiced lowered their blood pressure by five points and decreased their levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol by 12 points. What this suggests: It’s likely less about thetype of yoga you’re into and more about being consistent with your movement.
You don’t want to ditch your conventional care for treating asthma, but research shows that yoga could be a great complementary treatment to help ease symptoms. A small study, published in BMC Pulmonary Medicine, looked at 57 adults with mild to moderate asthma and found that those who added a yoga routine to their schedule for eight weeks dramatically lessened their symptoms and needed to use medication less often. This may be thanks to the breathing practices that are associated with yoga—often called pranayama.
Ah, sleep. It’s the thing we’re always told to get more of, no matter how elusive that concept seems. If you’re struggling to snag more shut-eye, yoga could help. In fact, according to a recent national survey from the NCCIH, over 55 percent of yogis report improved sleep, and more than 85 percent said they were less stressed. Marlynn Wei, M.D., a psychiatrist in New York City, told Harvard Medical School that a lot of the credit (again) goes to the breathing practices in yoga, which can help you relax and relieve tension after a crazy stressful day.
Worldwide over 300 million people are affected by depression: it is one of the most common mental health disorders and a leading cause of disability (WHO, 2018). Depression develops frequently during adolescence, between the ages of 18 to 25 (Eaton et al., 2008), resulting in poorer outcomes for people throughout their lives such as achieving a lower educational level, being unemployed and having other types of mental health problems (Fergusson, Boden, & Horwood, 2007).
Given that the numbers of young adults with depression is increasing (Mojtabai, Olfson, & Han, 2016) and that services to help them are not widely available, preventing people becoming depressed should be a top priority in any country. There are many published papers about what types of interventions work to prevent adolescents becoming depressed, but previous research has found no evidence to support the implementation of depression prevention programmes. A recent open access review by Breedvelt and colleagues from London and Amsterdam sought to summarise, evaluate and review the effects of such prevention interventions by answering the following questions:
The researchers searched a number of databases (Cochrane, PubMed, PsycINFO and EMBASE) for studies exploring the prevention of depression in young people. Their review included studies that used any type of therapeutic help, such as cognitive behavioural therapy or mindfulness aimed at preventing depression, but excluded medication. Those taking part in these studies had no previous diagnosis of depression or no symptoms of depression or symptoms that were considered to indicate a diagnosis of depression. The quality of each study was analysed to decide whether the methods used were likely to be effective. The effect of each kind of intervention was worked out by looking at the differences in the changes of depressive symptoms before and after the intervention between the intervention and control groups.
The protocol for this review was registered on PROSPERO as is standard practice. The reviewers performed a random-effects meta-analysis of the randomised controlled studies that compared an intervention for young adults (aged 18-25) without a diagnosis or history of depression and a control condition. Comparisons between intervention and control group outcomes were carried out at the post-intervention time point. They also compared intervention and control group outcomes at later follow-up time points where data were available.
The researchers conclude that it is too early to tell whether the interventions could prevent young adults from becoming depressed. They did, however, consider there is reason to be optimistic as they found some evidence to suggest that interventions could reduce the symptoms of depression in young adults. The finding that no specific type of intervention was more effective than any other suggests that the positive effect of a therapeutic intervention may be common to all types of preventative interventions and not specific to any underlying theory about depression.
Overall, this study was methodologically sound. The authors’ interpretation of the results was reasonable based on the available evidence. Firstly, they registered their study design in an online database before starting. This is an important first step, as it shows that the authors did not change their study hypotheses or statistical analyses based on their results. Secondly, they recognised that the included studies were of a low quality, which weakened their results. Thirdly, they accounted for publication bias. This term refers to how studies are usually not published if they do not find an effect, resulting in most of the research papers available reporting a successful intervention. However, this may not be the true picture. By measuring this bias, the authors took it into account when interpreting their results.
How confident we can be that the findings of such a review represent reality depends on the studies that are included in it. Unfortunately, the available research on this topic has many shortcomings. The researchers had to rely on studies that were of low quality, investigated only university students, only measured depressive symptoms reported by participants rather than diagnosed by a clinician, and failed to report on factors relevant to young people developing depression such as their socio-economic status. Because of these limitations, the researchers are clear that they cannot be confident that their results show a true effect. Additionally, the researchers excluded the majority of the studies they found after their first search: some reasons for this exclusion were not reasonably justified and perhaps could have been unnecessary. For example, nearly half of the final number of studies (11) were excluded because the researchers could not access them. For these reasons, the findings from this review should be re-examined more broadly.
The current research findings highlight the potential benefit of interventions in reducing depressive symptoms in young adults, giving reasons to be optimistic. However, the review suggests the available evidence base does not enable the researchers to conclude that currently available interventions could reduce the numbers of young people developing depressive symptoms. It emphasises the need for further good quality studies to be undertaken.
To effectively assess the benefits of different interventions, Breedvelt et al. (2018) emphasise that future studies need to provide information on the number of young people becoming depressed before and after the interventions. They also suggest that information about the participants such as their age and socio-economic status should be consistently reported. Furthermore, more studies outside university settings are needed with non-students. Future studies should also report clearly on the participants’ histories of depression and include long-term follow-up of outcomes for these young people.
The current review could not find any significant relationship between the characteristics of the intervention and its effect on reducing the young people’s depressive symptoms. In other words, the effects of the interventions used in these studies seem to be similar. This finding could suggest that the non-specific intervention characteristics, namely the factors that are shared across most interventions (e.g. better awareness of emotional experiences), might play a role in the interventions that prevent depression. However, even though not significant, it is essential to note that some characteristics showed a trend towards being more efficient in reducing symptoms. They are depression prevention focus, targeted prevention, online delivery and “other” (non-mindfulness, CBT or mind-body) interventions. Future studies could investigate the underlying factors that contribute to the preventive effect in order to create more effective interventions.
Thanks to the UCL Mental Health MSc students who wrote this blog: Ivana Hezelyova, Zsofia Dombi, Zsofia Sophansay, Karen Chan, Elnaz Gültekin, Stanislava Stashchenko, Isabelle Goehre, Jasper Ho – @Conscience_Psyc, Clementine Pizzey-Gray – @pizzeygray, and Mariam Riaz.
Breedvelt JJF, Kandola A, Kousoulis AA, Brouwer MW, Karyotaki E, Bockting CLH, Cuijpers P. (2018) What are the effects of preventative interventions on major depressive disorder (MDD) in young adults? A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Affective Disorders, Volume 239, Pages 18-29 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2018.05.010
Philip Moscovitch writes frequently on mental health and mental illness. He is working on a book about life with psychosis – for those experiencing it and those around them.
It’s nearly Bell Let’s Talk Day. You know, the one day of the year when social media is flooded with messages urging us to talk about mental health and to feel good about doing it.
But as the father of a young adult who has experienced mental illness, campaigns like this make me want to scream.
On its Let’s Talk website, Bell boasts about donating money to “mental health” – the words “mental illness” rarely appear – and uses inane slogans such as “Mental health affects us all.” Money from the campaign goes to causes including “fighting the stigma”, a vague-sounding goal that puts the onus on people facing prejudice to end the discrimination against them.
Canada has no shortage of mental-health advocacy and awareness groups. In my province, the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia holds an annual gala fundraiser, complete with local celebrities and politicians. The organization’s key platitude: “#changingthewaypeoplethink.”
And in late November, the Canadian Mental Health Association published a blog post encouraging readers to “keep your mental health top of mind” by putting together a “workplace wellness box including things that help reduce stress and put an accent on feeling well.” What kinds of things? Oh, you know: colouring books, essential oils, fidget spinners, tea. Leading mental-health expert Stan Kutcher, who has since been appointed to the Senate, tweeted in response: “You got to be kidding. Right?… Please tell us that this is not what our mental-health advocacy has become.”
It’s hard to argue with raising awareness and fighting stigma. But those things don’t do much to help people who are living in precarious housing or trying to find a way to pay for anti-psychotic medication, which can cost thousands a year.
There is little evidence that these kinds of campaigns have any significant effect on changing people’s beliefs or behaviour. A study published in the medical journal The Lancet in 2015 said that when it comes to medium- and- long-term effectiveness of anti-stigma campaigns, there is “some evidence of effectiveness in improving knowledge and attitudes, but not for behavioural outcomes.” In other words, people might change the way they think – but not how they behave.
Even worse, the campaigns could be counter-productive. “The more we emphasize how widespread the stigma of mental illness is,” said psychiatrist Ross Norman at a 2013 conference in Montreal on early psychosis treatment, “the more we may be reinforcing people’s stigmatizing responses.”
My son, who has been open about his recovery from psychosis, knows this flipside of fighting stigma and how appearances are inherently built into how people respond to someone else’s mental illness. “Even as a privileged person, you are marginalized when you have a mental illness,” he said at a 2017 talk at a coffee house in Nova Scotia organized by a group advocating for better funding, community support and more creative solutions in mental-health care. “There were nights when people I thought were my friends wouldn’t let me sleep at their place, I thought I was alienated from my family, it was minus-15, and I was just walking down the streets of Halifax with jeans that were frozen to the bone, unable to go anywhere and sleeping in underground parking lots.”
One mental-health professional – who has a diagnosed mental illness and asked to remain anonymous because of potential career repercussions – told me she used to appear at awareness fundraising galas but doesn’t anymore. “You become kind of a dancing monkey.” she said. “I’m there representing people with mental illness because I can put on a dress, look like a middle-class person, speak at a fancy event and not make people uncomfortable … Meanwhile, people who are not being served well by the system would not even be allowed into the room.”
Indeed, despite years of anti-stigma campaigns, most of the people I have interviewed about psychosis don’t want to use their real names, for fear of the personal and professional consequences. Asking people with mental illness to reduce stigma by telling their stories potentially exposes them to more discrimination.
I’m not suggesting groups devoted to raising awareness don’t also fund worthwhile programs and services. They do. But they don’t emphasize the kinds of fundamental change we need.
It does no good to raise awareness if you have an underfunded mobile crisis team that only has the capacity to go out on calls for 12 hours a day, or if patients wait months for assessment, or if you can’t provide stable, supportive housing for those who need it so they can recover and carry on with happy and productive lives.
Let’s talk about that.
Nicole Kordana on Living With High-Functioning Depression And Anxiety
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“It’s been 8 years since I was diagnosed with depression and 5 since I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety. For many people when I tell them, it comes as quite a shock. “Wow, you don’t seem depressed” or “I’ve never seen you panic about anything” is a rather common response. Reflecting on this, I can understand why it would come as a surprise. I graduated high school with above a 4.0 GPA because I loaded my schedule with Advanced Placement courses so I could get ahead in college.
I participated in sports, I volunteered, I had a job, and generally seemed to be doing pretty well. I was accepted into the colleges I applied to and started school in the fall, where I also excelled and became involved in many activities around me. I was functioning as a “normal” young adult, so how depressed or anxious could I be right?
My depression and anxiety seemed like a war going on inside my head, reeking havoc on my physical health and general outlook on life. You would never have known by looking at my grades, my endurance on the soccer field, my performance at work, or my interactions with peers. It was easy to go about my daily life and excel in public, my mind was too busy to be sad or nervous, but when I returned home I entered a different world.
I was inconceivably sad and overwhelmed reflecting on the day I had. I knew I had a list of things I needed to complete before I could fall asleep in good conscience, but I lacked all motivation to complete a single task. On the other hand, not completing anything made me irrationally fearful that I would not succeed. I was sitting in the shell of my body unable to do anything.
Do your homework. I can’t. If you don’t you’ll be a failure, you’ll never be accepted into a good college. I’m too tired to do anything tonight. If you don’t do anything tonight, your grades will plummet; your teacher will be disappointed with you.
I’d go back and forth with myself until I forced myself to agonizingly and poorly complete something.
The physical toll on my body was no less. My back hurt immensely, I experienced migraines frequently, my panic attacks made me feel like my heart was going to be ejected from my chest, and my outbursts of anger toward my family were uncontrollable. And despite my insisting “nothing was wrong” my mother took me to see a psychiatrist.
The psychiatrist informed me that I experienced high-functioning depression and anxiety, which is not uncommon, especially in teens and young adults. High-functioning illnesses are scary in the fact that its easy for people who experience them to convince themselves that everything is fine, that they are just going through a phase because every other aspect of their lives are relatively normal.
Due to the “normal” levels of functioning in people who experience high-functioning depression or anxiety (or both), these people often go undetected by themselves, family, friends, co-workers, even medical professionals, and therefore don’t receive the treatment they need. Prior to receiving treatment, I was excelling in my personal and academic life, which made me question: what was the point in seeking treatment at all?
Our society is becoming more aware and accepting of mental illnesses, yet it is too common that people put the symptoms of mental illnesses in a box. I want to be explicitly clear when I say mental illnesses affect each person differently, not one experience with mental illness is identical. From therapy to medication to natural remedies, many treatments exist to help people who have depression or anxiety — but not receiving treatment often worsens the issue.
Many mental illnesses are invisible ailments, and high-functioning illnesses can often be silent, but that doesn’t mean they are not felt. We often hear that the people who fall victim to suicide “led perfectly normal lives” or their friends “had no idea they were sad enough to feel suicide was their only escape.”
Seeking treatment is not only a preventative measure to ensure symptoms don’t further progress; it is a proactive way to better your quality of life. As cliché as it sounds, with some simple ways to be proactive about your mental health, managing depression and anxiety is 100 percent attainable.
If you or someone you know experiences depression, anxiety, or a combination of both here are some ways to be proactive about your health and some important tips for when you are feeling low.
There are typically warning signs – bold or subtle changes- of when you are about to experience a little more of a struggle with your mental illness. Pay attention to these changes so you can take preemptive measures against your symptoms.
Struggling with depression or anxiety is not something to be ashamed of. Millions of people are experiencing the same thing as you. Lean on people who can relate to what you are feeling, or find someone you trust that you are comfortable explaining your situation to. It’s good to have someone you can call, text, or talk to when you need a quick pick me up.
Pamper yourself a little sometimes. You work really hard in your daily life and you manage your mental illness, appreciate yourself. It’s okay to have an extra helping of ice cream, buy those concert tickets, or just plain old relax for an afternoon. If you don’t take care of yourself, how are you expected to be able to perform at your best?
I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times but it is a miracle what eating right and some exercise can do for your body. I love to think of the mantra “feel good, do good” because it’s true; the better you feel the happier you behave. When you feel good it is reflected by how the people around you behave and leads to positive reinforcement.
Finding an activity or hobby that you really enjoy can serve as a very positive distraction for negative things, and a mood boost for when you’re feeling above average. Find a group of people
If you are in a public place and feeling overwhelmed, you can use the five sense method to calm down. Focus and examine: 5 things you can see, 4 you can touch, 3 you can hear, 2 you can smell, and 1 taste. Try to breathe through your nose as you complete this task and you will feel relieved in no time!
Treatments are typically not a quick fix, they take time, and yes a little energy. But the outcome is well worth it. Don’t give up on your treatment plan, on the people supporting you, or yourself. You are a powerful, resilient individual.
You can do this.
I love how relatable her story is. Don’t wait until it’s too late. It took me tying to kill myself to realize I was struggling