Yoga study: discipline can help defeat depression

Yoga study: discipline can help defeat depression

Amanda Vigil takes us through a few poses she learned while in a clinical study of yoga and depression. 

"And then she would have us do like, huh, huh, huh, huh. Really get it out, you should really do this one with me," Vigil said. She had dabbled before, but for the research she was involved with she went twice a week, 90 minutes each session. 

"At the beginning of the study I was really struggling with centering myself. That's how depression is, you get sunk into a feeling or a moment, or a sort of drudgery," Vigil said.  

"It's the very first study in the U.S. that's looking at yoga as a sole treatment for diagnosed major depression," said Dr. Sudha Prathikanti, UCSF Psychiatrist. She studied men and women age 18 to 72 at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine. Half learned about yoga in lectures. Half actually did yoga in structured classes. After eight weeks? 

"60 percent of the people in the yoga group got remission, which means minimal to zero symptoms of depression so that is a dramatic decrease and the control group only got 10 percent remission," Dr. Prathikant said. No one was on medication, or in therapy, so the effect was solely yoga. None of this comes as a surprise to those who practice.

"Really it is transformative, and a lot of it is about being quiet, have dedicated quiet space," said Maile Sivert, Owner of The Mindful Body yoga studio. She says people come in with physical ailments, but it's the mental benefits that hook them. Many yoga stretches that open the chest for breathing are known as mood-lifting. 

"So when we are depressed, there's the posturing we think of, like this, so opening the opposite way, and breathing and getting some space in," Sivert said. By definition, yoga is about calming the mind.

"We don't feel like we're good enough, or we question our choices, and get lost in our mind. So, this is about quieting that," Sivert said. UC's study group was small, just 38 people. More research is certain to follow. 

"For the general public standpoint if they enjoy yoga and they find mood benefits, they'll keep doing it and that's what's driving the science," Dr. Prathikant said. 

"I can do this anywhere, at any point in my life, as a center myself. That's like tools I learned, I took with me," Vigil said. For this 31-year-old high school arts teacher, the study was a turning point. She now feels self-empowered managing her depression . 

"I would say to myself, I love you Amanda," Vigil said. One of her favorite poses is the one her class always ended with.

"Giving yourself the soothing, a mother would give to a child, but you're giving it to yourself, really sweet, you know, really healing," Vigil said. The patients in this study had major depression, but it was mild or moderate, not severe. In more serious cases, the doctor says yoga alone isn't likely to work all by itself, but it might help mixed with other treatments.

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