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Yoga is beneficial for depression

- By Shilpa Jasani

Yoga and Wellness interviewed Dr. Vishwas Chhabra, the founder of Sitfit Yoga, to learn from his experiences about the benefits of yoga for mental well-being.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (USA), depression occurs due to a combination of genetic, biological, environmental and psychological factors. Commonly used treatments include participation in psychotherapy, taking antidepressants, or a combination of both. Many people are apprehensive about the side effects of antidepressants, while some may not have access to psychotherapy.  More recently, researchers are studying the efficacy of complementary treatments like yoga, to counter the effects of depression.  Yoga encompasses a four-pronged approach to wellness - physical exercises (asana), breathing techniques (pranayama), meditation (dhyana) and relaxation (shav asana). Different studies by institutions in the U.S. and the Netherlands, which were presented at the American Psychological Association's annual convention, have shown that meditation and yoga do seem to have measureable effects on the symptoms of depression and general well-being.

Yoga and Wellness interviewed Dr. Vishwas Chhabra, the founder of Sitfit Yoga, to learn from his experiences about the benefits of yoga for mental well-being. “Depression is often described as a situation of non-connection with the body and surroundings, while I say that depression is a negative connection. There are different kinds of depression and in varying intensities. Low energy, gloominess and despondency are classic symptoms of depression. Yoga helps to reduce the fluctuations of the mind (chitt nirodha). In the Yog Sutras of Patanjali, a comfortable, steady posture will promote a centering of the mind, ending duality of thoughts. For example, the Bhujangasan activates the nervous system, which in turn impacts the hypothalamus, energizing the practitioner. Or the Surya Namasker (sun salutation), which uses every part of the body, activates the individual.”

A doctor of Ayurvedic medicine, Dr. Vishwas was attracted to the potential of healing that yoga offered and he was employed by Prime Medical Center as the first yoga therapist in UAE. “After a 6-year stint with Prime, I met the renowned rheumatologist Dr. Humeira Badsha and presented my research paper at the APLAR Congress of Rheumatology 2008 in Japan. During the early days of my career, I became interested in yoga for healing. I remember observing people with marked improvements in their outlook on life and their health after practicing yoga and that sparked my interest. In my opinion, every person aspiring to teach yoga to others should have some knowledge of human physiology, either through education or working in medical clinics, to ensure that the right yoga practices are taught, especially to people with medical complaints,” explains Dr. Vishwas. “It is commonly known that Bhujangasan is good for people with backaches, but one also needs to first understand the cause of his backache –whether it’s a dislocated disc or muscle or ligament strain. Only then can he or she identify the yogic exercise that will improve the condition. Becoming a yoga teacher with a 100-hour or 200-hour course will not necessarily make someone an expert. The criteria for becoming a yoga teacher needs to be refined further.”

Dr. Vishwas, author of ‘Yoga Anywhere, Anytime & for Anybody’ has conducted over 400 corporate workplace wellness programmes in the UAE and other Middle East countries such as Oman and Bahrain. “During my workshops, I tell people that everyone goes through depression every day – the bouts of depression may be small or big. It’s how one manages these situations that determines one’s mental or physical health.   Every thought affects every cell in the body, and therefore a disturbing negative thought will disturb the external as well as the internal body.”

The postures or asanas that help a person with depression are Bhujangasana, the bridge pose, Mayurasana, and Shavasana (the corpse pose to re-energize the body). Among the breathing exercises that help are Brahmari Pranayam, Anulom-vilom, Surya Bhedam (to activate the mind) or Chandra Bhedam (to calm the mind).

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