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Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

Multifaceted Benefits of Yoga for Depression: Major depressive disorder and its many symptoms can be treated through yoga, says Dr. Rachel Rhodes.

Nov 01, 2015 03:57PM ● By Dr. Rachel Rhodes

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is often thought of as solely an emotional disorder. However, people suffering with this condition have far more symptoms than a negative change in mood, including extreme fatigue, negative thinking, insomnia and weight changes, which are in turn influenced by multiple organ systems.

Ancient wisdom tells us that yoga can restore health to these systems, and more modern studies are supporting that wisdom. Yoga has been well known and documented to improve mood. Yogic breathing (pranayama) alone is associated with up to a 73 percent recovery rate from MDD. A study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine showed that biological and psychological positive changes are observed for other symptoms with yoga practice, as well.

Yoga will improve the function of the nervous system and the stress response system, which are involved with sleep, and may explain why yoga practice can decrease insomnia. In a study done with the elderly, a patient population prone to depression, yoga practice not only decreased the time it takes to fall asleep, but it also increased the total number of hours slept and the feeling of being rested in the morning. Improved sleep typically results in less fatigue, another troubling symptom of MDD. People with fatigue may also find yoga appealing because it allows for an increase in physical performance with a low cost of energy expenditure. People can also enjoy an increased metabolic rate while practicing yoga with less muscular fatigue than other forms of exercise.

Training the mind is quintessential to yogic practice, and a way to decrease negative thinking, similar way to the practice of mindfulness. During yoga practice, the mind is focused on the breath, promoting a conscious unification of body and mind that trains the mind to be present. As the mind becomes more present, negative thinking diminishes.

The mindfulness aspect of yoga will also benefit another dimension of MDD: weight gain or loss, because it can decrease emotional eating. Multiple organ systems play a role in weight dysregulation, and yoga helps improve the biological functioning of these organ systems; specifically, it increases parasympathetic activity that regulates proper digestion.

Yoga is a mindful and uplifting practice that can help restore the mental and physical symptoms of MDD.

Dr. Rachel RhodesDr. Rachel Rhodes is a naturopathic physician and co-owner of AZ Health Path, in Scottsdale. For more information, phone 480-735-9090 or visit

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