What is the relationship between yoga and depression? How can yoga benefit people who suffer from depression?
Depression is the most burdensome illness in the world! According to the World Health Organisation, the prevalence of depression is rising by leaps and bounds. Currently, there are more than 350 million people across the globe suffering from some form of depression. In the United States alone 16 million people had a depressive episode in 2016.
What is depression?
Depression is the mood disorder that affects an individual at the emotional, cognitive, and somatic levels. It is characterized by –
- Depressed or sad mood
- Easily annoyed or short-tempered.
- Loss of interest or enjoyment in hobbies or activities that was previously enjoyed
- Feeling guilty or worthless
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Poor concentration
- Difficulty making decisions
- Feeling restless or slow
- Feeling tired or fatigue
- Overeating or loss of appetite
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Changes in sleep pattern
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, Fifth Edition, depression is having 5 or more of the above symptoms for 2 or more weeks, which is causing tremendous emotional distress or hampering your day-to-day functioning.
The exact cause of depression is hard to say because multiple factors play the role. As per the National Institute of Mental, Health depression is the combination of genetic, environmental, biological, and psychological factors. So, the intensity and severity of depression vary from person to person. Also, the effect of depression on personal, professional, and social life may vary.
Impact of depression on mind
The three parts of the brain that play a key role in the major depressive disorder are –
- Hippocampus (located in the center of the brain)
- Amygdala (located close to hippocampus)
- Prefrontal cortex (located in the front of the brain)
Hippocampus functions to store memories and regulate the production of cortisol, which is known as the stress hormone. During physical and mental stress and depression, our body releases excess amounts of cortisol.
Such chemical imbalance in the body and untreated stress and depression results in sending excessive cortisol to the brain. Normally, cortisol levels are high in the morning and low at night. However, in people with depression, the cortisol levels are always elevated. Depression along with long-term exposure of the brain to the cortisol disturbs various neurotransmitters in our brain.
Neurotransmitters are responsible for effective communication between neurons (brain cells produced in the part of the hippocampus). As a result, the production of new neurons in the hippocampus slows down. Over time, the neurons tend to shrink, which manifests as memory problems.
Excess amount of cortisol also causes the shrinkage of the prefrontal cortex that regulates emotions, decision-making, and formation of memories. On the contrary, the amygdala becomes enlarged as a result of constant exposure to high levels of cortisol. It is the part of the brain that is associated with emotional responses like fear or pleasure. When enlarged and hyperactivated, the amygdala shows abnormal activity that results in disturbances in the sleep cycle and activity patterns.
High levels of cortisol cause the release of other hormones and chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, in our brain in irregular amounts leading to further complications.