I know many people with mental illness. Several are in my own family. I’ve even struggled personally with Major Depressive Disorder. Mental illness is one of the most stigmatized illnesses in Western culture, yet it is no different than physical illness. There are treatments for physical illness and there are treatments for mental illness, but often the treatment focuses on only one isolated symptom. If you threw your back out, you get pain pills and physical therapy. But what caused your back to give? What’s at the root of the injury? You’re suffering from depression, so you get an SSRI to help elevate your mood and get your brain chemistry back in line. But where is the cause of your depression?
Integrative and functional medical practitioners are addressing these issues in a way that includes a holistic examination of the person, not just the symptoms or lab results. And their conclusions are always to treat the person as a whole, not just the disease or symptom. Yoga practitioners have been doing this for centuries. Believing the mind, body, and soul are intrinsically connected, yoga seeks to imbue all three with strength, calm, flexibility, and and empowerment. In fact, some studies have shown that oxytocin levels in the brain increase after yoga – that feel-good-can-conquer-anything feeling you get when you’re done with a really good session. That hormone is also valuable in treating mental illness.
Yoga outshines other activities as adjunct treatment for just about anything because it is a holistic practice. It supports the body by building strength, balance and flexibility, it supports the mind with the use of meditation and brain balancing asanas (crossing midline, etc.), and it supports the spirit with help from feel-good neurotransmitters produced by your own body.
Whether you suffer from mental or physical illness, yoga may very well be a good step toward feeling better.