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How Does Yoga Help My Anxiety and Depression?

The Benefits of Gentle Yoga

Photo by Jennifer Regnier on Unsplash

Yoga is not a cure-all for depression or anxiety. Don’t worry, I’m not about to say that twenty minutes of yoga a day will fix you. It certainly doesn’t fix me, but it makes a terrible day easier to bear, gives those flat days a boost and makes a good day that bit better.

Distraction

Once I sit down in my home office to begin doing yoga, my mind is immediately distracted from the thoughts spinning around in my head. Whether anxiety is fuelling an endless stream of unbidden worries or depression is feeding me negative thoughts about myself, having to think about what I’m doing now distracts me (even if only for a few seconds) from the onslaught.

Distraction gives me a break.

Intentions

At the beginning of my favourite yoga sequence (link above) the instructor encourages you to set your intentions for the day. Often, I can be quite unrealistic about what I think I can achieve or what I need so I’m glad the instructor offers a couple of simple ideas for what this could be and reminds you at the end of the video only to focus on being happy when you do achieve your goal (as opposed to feeling negative when you don’t).

Sometimes a helping hand is needed to see a positive when you feel like only negative exists or when any failure (even the smallest) has a tendency to take centre-stage.

I’ve read about making positive affirmations in the mirror or repeating a mantra every day when you wake up and I can’t do this sincerely. I find that setting out what I want from the day before I do yoga is different and feels right for me. I feel a reconnection between body and mind and a sincerity that I don’t feel by standing in front of a mirror; even saying the same words I use to set my intention during yoga.

Setting my intentions is empowering and uplifting.

Breathing

Photo by Le Minh Phuong on Unsplash

Throughout the yoga routines I follow on YouTube, my breathing is guided. On its own, I find deep breathing to be hit and miss at helping me to feel calm.

When my deep breaths are paired with the movements from the routine I’m completing, I feel a release of tension and energy that I’m somehow holding in. It’s almost as if I’m holding my breath and yoga helps me to let go.

I feel as if I’m released from the relentless grip of the clenched jaw of anxiety and as if I’m expelling some of the negative depression-fog in my brain.

Deep breaths soothe.

Gentle Stretching

My muscles benefit from being stretched out. I feel as if I can stand taller and reach further each day after completing yoga. I don’t feel as if I’m about to pull a muscle and the rigid tendons in my neck (pulled taught by sleepless nights, teeth grinding and constant alertness) no longer feel as if they are about to snap. In other words, my body relaxes; something I rarely seem capable of encouraging it to do at will.

Gentle stretching provides relaxation.

Sequence of Movements

In the link above is a second yoga class I follow from YouTube, also with intention-setting at the beginning.

Working through a sequence of movements helps me to feel as if I’m progressing towards something and leaves me with a sense of achievement.

Most days I do the same yoga video since I find comfort in the routine and knowing what to expect helps me to relax. 

The sequence of movements gives me purpose.

Peace

However briefly, at the end of the routine I feel more peaceful in my core than I did beforehand. The effect is cumulative and I feel it when I miss a few days; sometimes even one day if life is particularly stressful.

When I feel more peaceful I also find perspective. It doesn’t matter if the feeling is fleeting or partial, it helps to remind me that depression and anxiety lie.

Feeling peaceful centres me.

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