- For treating depression and anxiety, yoga works well: Dr Gangadhar
- Yoga and physical exercises release healthy brain chemicals like endorphins
- Healthy chemicals help combat mental health issues like anxiety: Dr Anuneet
New Delhi: “Yoga is known to change the underline biology of the disease. For instance, in patients with depression, there are high levels of cortisol and low levels of brain repairing chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor. When you treat such patients with yoga, their cortisol level drops, levels of brain repairing chemical increases and depression gets better”, says Dr B N Gangadhar, Director, National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHANS). This is just one example of yoga proving to be beneficial in the field of mental health. According to the experts, yoga brings about numerous changes in an individual’s life and in turn improves both physical and mental health. As the world prepares to celebrate sixth International Day of Yoga on June 21 with a theme of ‘Yoga at Home and Yoga with Family’, NDTV speaks to experts to understand the numerous benefits of yoga on mental health.
The Impact Of Coronavirus On Mental Health And The Role Of Yoga
The Coronavirus pandemic and the uncertainty around it, have brought mental health to the forefront. Though India is unlocking, the fear of contracting the Novel Coronavirus still looms large. While many are locked inside their house with their families, others are living alone and the situation is interfering with our emotional well-being. Elaborating on the same, Kushendra Tiwary, ISHA Hatha Yoga teacher at Yoga with Kush says,
The pandemic has brought in a lot of uncertainty about each and everything. You can literally die the next day and you won’t know. There can be COVID-19 carriers around you. Also, since a lot of people are working from home, their routine has changed, people are complaining of change in the sleep cycle, among others. Amidst this, people have become slaves to their situation. And here comes the role of yoga – it’s not about becoming passive about anything but accepting a lot of things.
Dr Gangadhar says that there are numerous components of yoga-like chanting ‘om’, deep breathing, yoga poses and exercises and each component is used in a different way. For instance, while chanting ‘om’, some of the brain structures which are related to an increase in the emotional turmoil called limbic system grey matter becomes deactivated. This means the brain becomes less functional with respect to creating emotional turmoil.
Even in conditions like Schizophrenia, the brain networks are repaired by yoga in addition to Schizophrenia getting better. But this needs to go with a word of caution, yoga is not the only treatment for all mental illnesses. In depression and anxiety, you can give yoga as monotherapy, clarifies Dr Gangadhar.
Echoing the same and elaborating on how yoga helps in improving mental health, Dr Anuneet Sabharwal, Psychiatrist and founder and director of The Happy Tree says,
Research studies suggest that yoga and regular physical exercises increase body awareness, relieve stress, reduce muscle tension, strain, and inflammation, sharpens attention and concentration, and calms the nervous system. Yoga also relieves symptoms of Depression, Anxiety, OCD (Obsessive-compulsive disorder) and many other mental health conditions when it is done alongside drug therapy and counselling.
As reiterated by experts, yoga does have a direct impact on one’s mental health. While some breathing exercises relieve stress, anxiety, feelings of loneliness, sadness, meditation and yoga therapy boosts focus and confidence. Elaborating more on the benefits of yoga, Dr Sabharwal says,
Chronic stress and other mental health conditions often leads to mood swings and lack of patience in people which further interferes with their ability to cope with them. Yoga and physical exercises help us in gaining control over our emotions and to become aware of them. Also, physical exercises and yoga therapy release healthy brain chemicals like endorphins and dopamine. These chemicals in return help us balance our mood and combat common mental health issues like depression, anxiety, mood disorders and many more.
How To Keep Mental Health Issues Like Anxiety, Panic At Bay With Yoga
When asked about the kind of exercises one should begin with to deal with the anxiety, panic, and stress that has become more common during Coronavirus pandemic, Dr Sabharwal suggests three poses – Balasana (Child’s pose) which stimulates the nervous system and re-energise our bodies; Viparita Karani (legs up the wall pose) for improved blood circulation and relaxing mind; Shavasana (corpse pose) for meditation and relaxing the body.
Dr Gangadhar suggests bending backwards while standing or lying on the stomach along with chanting ‘om’. Though practising yoga is good, Kushendra Tiwary suggests doing it under the guidance of a trained professional. He says,
Instead of learning it from a book or watching few videos online, one should approach professionals and seek guidance. There are tools available online so one doesn’t need to physically go to an ashram or centre to do yoga. It can be done while you are at home.
This becomes even more crucial when someone has an underlining physical problem like weak bones, slip disc or any other illness.
Apart from this, Sarvesh Shashi, Founder, SARVA & Diva Yoga recommends clubbing regular yoga and Pranayama with few basic things like sticking to a schedule, keeping in touch with family and friends, eating healthy, keeping the immune system strong, indulging in me-time and sleeping well. Mr Shashi says,
Through the lockdown people have had to adjust to an entirely new style of living, working and socialising. With daily routines disrupted, it is natural for anxiety, stress, exhaustion, sleeping disorders and other issues to take centre stage. However, we must take into account that change is the only constant, today’s lows can easily convert into tomorrow’s highs – what counts is only how you take these in your stride.