Natural Ways to Handle Depression: Mindfulness and Cardio

A few weeks ago, I went to dinner with a friend who had recently gone through some pretty negative personal life change. We talked about what she was doing to cope and how she was looking for alternatives to anti-depressant medication. As I drove home, I asked myself: are there natural ways to handle depression? Symptoms ranging from suicidal thoughts to lack of sex drive cause those suffering from depression to look for other options. Based on research performed on how mindfulness and cardio can help reduce depression, certain forms of yoga can be utilized as an alternative. However, in order for yoga to be helpful, we must first understand what causes depression.

What causes depression: Nearly anything

The unfortunate reality is that depression can be caused by just about anything. In some circumstances, depression has been linked to a genetic predisposition while in others it could be a side effect of medication. However, more often, depression is caused by our circumstances. Things that happen to us affect the way that we view ourselves and interact with others. But it doesn’t have to. I believe the greatest control that we can have is over our own responses to what happens to us.

Where does yoga fit: Mindfulness and cardio

In 2016 Alderman, Olson, Brush and Shors reported their findings from a study meant to determine the effectiveness of meditation and aerobic exercise in reducing depression(1). They began from the knowledge that aerobic exercise and mindfulness individually reduce depression and continued to dig into how they could work together. The study concluded that after treatment the subjects experienced “significantly lower symptoms of depression.”(1)

Practical Application: Aerobic exercise and Hot yoga

Not all forms of yoga are equal when looking for a cardio workout. You will want to find a power flow class that will provide continuous movement in a heated environment to get your heart rate up. There are some who believe that there are specific poses that will help with depression, but  I have found that the poses we practice have the meaning we assign to them. This mental attitude will allow any flow to be impactful.

Practical Application: Mindfulness and yoga

Practicing mindfulness allows you to find stillness in yourself and keeps you present. Some focus only on their breath and others continue the focus to a thought or idea that brings them joy or empowerment. Wherever you choose to take it, I have found it most helpful to begin practicing mindfulness by focusing on my breath.

When focusing on your breath, I encourage counting to 5 for the inhale and 5 for the exhale. This method is a good way to steady your breath and your mind. Thoughts will come and go when you do this. To not be distracted by them, acknowledge the thoughts then let them go and refocus on your breath.

Mindfulness by focusing on the breath can be practiced in stillness and in motion. For a proof of concept, try looking up a basic yoga flow video. Instead of rushing through the movement, write down the poses the instructor uses. With the instructors flow in your mind, go through each pose while counting your breath. For instance if the teacher started in down-dog then goes to plank, you would go to down dog and hold it for 5 breaths that lasted 5 counts on the inhales and 5 counts on the exhales, then you would move to plank and do the same. By focusing your mind always on the counts and the breath you are keeping your mind present in your practice.

Final Thoughts 🙂

Depression is an issue that most of us have or will face in life. Using the basic tools of mindfulness and exercise, we can take back control of our thoughts and emotions. The continued practice of yoga helps prepare your mind and your body to take what it is sent your way.

Works Cited

(1) BL Alderman, RL Olson, CJ Brush, TJ Shors. MAP training: combining meditation and aerobic exercise reducse depression and rumination while enhancing synchronized brain activity. https://www.nature.com/articles/tp2015225 . Published February 2, 2016. Accessed October 9, 2019.

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