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How yoga calms your mind: It'll help you beat stress, anxiety and depression

without popping pillsss

Yoga can be a natural anti-depressant remedy and can boost mental health, with those who enjoy it recording higher levels of healthy amino acid GABA

Depression its a condition that afflicts more of us than ever before.

The most common psychological disorder in the Western world, around ten times more people are diagnosed with depression now
than 70 years ago.
Emotionally crippling, it can require years of expensive and time-consuming therapy and often medication to control it.
In 2012 a staggering 40 million prescriptions for anti-depressants were written in England, up 25 million in 14 years.
While counselling and medication will always be required for some, for many mild depression and low-level anxiety are the price we
pay for busy lives juggling work and family in an age of constant digital bombardment.
But there is a low-cost, easy and enjoyable alternative to pills that can benefit us all mentally a natural anti-depressant remedy
that studies have shown boosts a chemical in the brain that is essential for good mental health.
And whats the name of this wonder drug? The answer is, of course, yoga.
All this week, in a brilliant pull-out series, the Mail is focusing on yogas benefits for old and young, men and women, no matter your
fitness levels.
While for the past three days weve explored many of the physical benefits of practising yoga, today we turn the spotlight on the
difference yoga can make to your mood.
Theres an easy-to-follow routine of exercises to help relax and de-clutter the mind on the next page.
Many yoga devotes myself included will tell you how a session of yoga leaves you feeling calm and positive, with a sense of
being able to cope with whatever life has to throw at you.



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Science is increasingly backing up this anecdotal evidence. One recent study compared levels of the amino acid GABA in those who
practise yoga regularly compared to those who do an equivalent amount of walking considered to be a similarly strenuous form of
Scientists found they were significantly higher in those who did yoga.
This amino acid is vital for a well-functioning brain and central nervous system and helps promote feelings of calm inside the body.
Low GABA levels are associated with depression and anxiety.
As well as increased amounts of GABA, scientists found that those who did yoga also reported lower levels of anxiety and better
moods than the walkers.
Meanwhile, a 2013 study by Massachusetts General Hospital found that the deep physiological state of rest induced by the three
yoga elements of postures, breathing and meditation produced immediate, positive change in immune function, energy metabolism
and insulin secretion.
Insulin is known not only for regulating blood sugar, but also for triggering the production of serotonin the feel-good
neurotransmitter that can be stimulated artificially by some anti-depressants, such as Prozac.
Scroll down for video

Most people wouldn't think of yoga as the best form of exercise for losing weight but scientific research is increasingly showing links between yoga and weight
loss. There are now various different styles of yoga

Easy Yoga poses you can do at home and on your lunch break

Clinical psychologist Deborah Khoshaba, of the Hardness Institute in California, says being in a deep state physiological relaxation
even affects you on a neurobiological level your very cells take a break.
Indeed, while we may think of relaxation as taking place when we are having a good time with friends, drinking and laughing, in fact,
this is when our bodies are in a state of biochemical tension, pumping out adrenalin.
For the body to relax at the cellular level, we need to shift to a state of deep rest and calm. Only mind-body practices such as yoga,
with their emphasis on deep, restful breathing, can do this.
Since stress is often a big factor in depression, part of yogas effectiveness comes from its proven ability to release tension and
lower cortisol levels people who are depressed tend to have elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Simply improving your posture through practising yoga could also help improve your mood.
Respected yoga teacher Patricia Walden, who suffered from clinical depression in her 20s, described how, in her first class with a
famous yogi master called B.K.S. Iyengar in 1976, he kept talking about keeping your armpits open.
She recalled a lot of people in the class were bemused, but when she realised exactly what he meant, it was an epiphany.
She explains: When he says open the armpits, hes saying the space between the armpit and the chest grows, becomes wider
and more lifted, so that the lungs and heart are lifted.


If your top rides up, exposing your tum, or youre worried your leggings are a little see-through, this band will cover the area from the
tops of your thighs to the bottom of your ribs. Itll keep you warm and preserve your modesty.
You can breathe more deeply and your thoracic spine begins to elongate.
These simple things have an effect on your physiological and mental state. I felt that immediately.
In addition, yoga teaches you the art of self-study, whether its your mental or physical state, which can also help you find clarity in
other parts of your life your relationships, your work, your ability to set aside time for yourself and that this may need to
Finally, recent trials have shown that such is yogas power to restore mental calm, its helpful for patients with post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD).
One small study recently examined the impact of yoga and breathing on soldiers who had served in Iraq or Afghanistan and who
had been diagnosed with PTSD.
A group of men were put on an intensive course of Sudarshan Kriya, a powerful yogic breathing technique for depression, as well as
stretching and meditation, while a control group changed nothing in their behaviour or exercise.
The soldiers PTSD symptoms were assessed one week before the beginning of the programme and then a week, a month and a
year after its completion.
The study found that the group who had done the yoga exercises and yogic breathing demonstrated fewer or less intense PTSD
They showed lower anxiety and lower respiration rates.
Seven of the 11 involved continued practising yoga after completing the programme.
In his book The Science Of Yoga, writer William Broad assessed yogas ability to improve our mental health.
He concluded: The portrait that emerges from decades of mood and metabolic studies is of a discipline that succeeds brilliantly at
smoothing the ups and downs of emotional life.
It uses relaxation, breathing and postures to bring about an environment of inner bending and stretching (as well as outer). . .the
current evidence seems to suggest that yoga can reduce despair and hopelessness to the point of saving lives.
There are many who will agree that you dont have to be in a state of despair to benefit mentally from yoga.
An easy routine to relax you
What you need: Yoga mat.
What you dont need: Telephone, TV, bright light or people near by.
Warm up: Stand tall, feet hip-width apart, and stretch out arms above your head, hands laced together, palms up, shoulders down.
Gently rock your clasped arms from side to side.
Then take your arms down and behind you, interlace the fingers again, palms facing in, and stretch arms out behind you. This is
great for tense shoulders and can be deepened by taking your legs apart and bending forwards, lifting laced arms as far as you can
above your head. Bend your knees if you need to.
Next, kneel on the mat, buttocks on heels (or use a cushion for extra comfort). Roll your torso forward, bringing your forehead to rest
on the ground (or cushion) in front of you and your arms to rest on the floor by the soles of your feet with the palms facing upwards
This pose is known as the Childs Pose, and it stretches and relaxes the spine, hips and thighs as well as relieving back and neck
Benefits: Improves upper body circulation and calms yet energises the body.
How to: Stand with feet parallel and hip-width apart, toes pointing forward.
Breathe in and stretch spine upwards with arms straight above head and palms facing in. As you breathe out extend body and hips
forward, bending from the hips.
Bring hands towards the floor. If your hands cant touch the floor, lightly touch your legs. The body should be as close as possible to
the front of your thighs.

The standing forward bend improves upper body circulation and both calms and energises the body

Benefits: Extremely relaxing.
How to: Lie flat on your back, allow feet to relax and roll out, arms a little out to the sides, palms up.
If necessary, you can place a cushion under your knees to support your lower back.

The seated twist is said to be extremely relaxing and can be done with a cushion under the knees for support


Benefits: A cross between Childs Pose and Downward Facing Dog, this lengthens the spine, releases tension in your upper body
and calms the mind.
How to: Begin on all fours.
Walk your hands out far enough so that, while keeping your arms straight, you can drop your chest towards the floor, keeping your
hips over your knees and arms shoulder width apart.
Place your forehead on the floor and pull your hips back towards your heels.
Hold this position for a minute.

The extended puppy pose (pictured) is a cross between the Childs Pose and the Downward Facing Dog

Benefits: Feel-good pose that opens and stretches hips, realigns the spine and relieves stress.
How to: Lie on your back and bring your knees into your belly.
Grip the outsides of your feet with your hands, open your knees as wide as you can and propel them towards your armpits.
Gently push your feet up into your hands to create a good stretch.

The happy baby pose is described as a 'feel-good' move which stretches hips and realigns the spine


Benefits: Relaxes and helps with insomnia.
How to: Sit sideways as close as you can to a wall and swing your legs up the wall so that your body is lying on the floor at 90
degrees to your legs.
Do this pose after a challenging workout and after travelling by plane.

The legs up the wall pose helps with insomnia and is recommended after a particularly challenging workout

Benefits: Extremely relaxing.
How to: Lie flat on your back, allow feet to relax and roll out, arms a little out to the sides, palms up.
If necessary, you can place a cushion under your knees to support your lower back.

The corpse pose is usually recommended towards the end of the workout and allows complete relaxation
After doing the routine, sit up crossed legged, close your eyes and take ten deep, slow breaths.
Start slowly wriggling your fingers and toes to bring the life back into them, then open your eyes.
Try to enjoy the moment of stillness and awareness of your own body, and think back to this moment throughout the rest of the day when things get stressful.
Now is a great time to try meditation, too (see further below).

It boosts memory and can help you ward off dementia

Recent studies have shown that yoga benefits the brain in a number of different ways. It not only gives an instant memory boost, but
also helps to protect the brain from dementia.
A 2013 study at Wayne State University in Detroit showed that a 20-minute yoga session was better at improving memory and
concentration than a 20-minute jog.
One group of volunteers practised Hatha yoga, while another ran on a treadmill. When given mental tasks to do, the yoga group
were found to perform better.
The studys authors speculated that the breathing and meditative exercises in yoga may help people to concentrate better generally.
A separate study by the same team found that older people who practised yoga three times a week showed improved cognitive
function compared with a group who did simple stretching and toning exercises.
After eight weeks, the group all aged between 55 and 79 were speedier and more accurate when it came to information recall
and task switching than they had been before.

The beauty of yoga is that it can be adapted to various needs and lifestyles (file picture, posed by model)

The stretching and toning group saw no significant change in their performance. Again, the team thought the mental focus involved
in yoga could explain the results, but study author Neha Gothe, a professor of kinesiology, added: Since we know stress can affect
cognitive performance, the eight-week yoga intervention may have boosted participants performance by reducing their stress.
Yoga also promotes a healthy brain because, like all forms of exercise, it protects against obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.
These are risk factors for dementia because they can all restrict blood flow to the brain, explains Dr Laura Phipps, science
communications manager at Alzheimers Research UK.
Evidence suggests people who are more physically active have a lower risk of dementia, she says.
Thats because healthy blood flow is important for the brain. It uses about 20 per cent of the oxygen in the blood, and anything that
restricts blood flow will affect the amount of oxygen and nutrients getting to the brain cells.


Many advise not to eat for one or two hours before yoga, and to drink only small amounts of water beforehand to avoid stomach upsets.

Because it can be done sitting or lying down, yoga is a particularly good form of exercise for older people with mobility problems,
she adds. Its also a very sociable activity which we know is great for mood.
A small study last year by the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, suggested yoga could slow the progression of
Alzheimers disease.
The researchers studied 14 adults with mild cognitive impairment memory problems that are a known precursor to dementia.
Half the group met to practise yoga and meditate for two hours a week they also went on a day-long mindfulness retreat, and
were encouraged to practise yoga at home. The other half received normal care.
After eight weeks, brain scans showed that the yoga group had improved connectivity in the default mode network the region
associated with remembering past events and envisioning the future.
Both groups showed decline in the hippocampus the region responsible for emotions, learning and memory but in the yoga
group this was less.
Lead author Rebecca Erwin Wells said that while more research was needed, the findings were exciting.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction may provide real promise for individuals who have few treatment options, she says.
Looking for something different? There are dozens of new takes on yoga...
Also known as aerial or flying yoga, this class involves practising yoga while suspended in the air on a specially designed
This increases balance and helps to strengthen your core muscles, which can protect against back pain and create a more toned
Find out more at

Hotpod provides yoga classes in an inflatable pop-up studio, heated to a cosy 37c (slightly cooler than a classic Bikram yoga class).
This is said to warm the muscles, aid flexibility and make the heart work harder.
There are classes up and down the country, often in unusual locations.
For more information, visit

Actress Jennifer Aniston is said to be fans of Budokon a fusion of yoga, martial arts and meditation

This workout fuses ballet moves and yoga for a high-intensity workout that tones you all over.
Expect your legs to shake after just one session.
Classes are available online.
Sometimes its hard not to laugh at yourself during a yoga class, but in these classes its positively encouraged.
Laughter has proven therapeutic benefits: it lifts mood and has even been shown to improve heart health and raise your pain
Find out more at
Combining the calm of yoga with the strengthening, toning workout of a pilates class, yogalates is an international fitness trend.
Youll find these classes have a stronger focus on the abdominal muscles and youll also be holding the poses for longer than in
most yoga classes.
Try Louise Solomons Yogalates DVDs, available on Amazon.


TODAY: Yin Yoga
This is a slow-paced yoga that targets the connective tissues such as tendons and ligaments, rather than the muscles.
Forget fast-flowing moves, in Yin all postures are done either lying or sitting down and held from three to ten minutes at a time.
Yin yoga was devised to provide a calming physical and mental antidote to our hectic world. Its the gentle yin to complement the
yang of intense physical exercise and busy lives.
The aim is that if you balance both elements, youll find a balance and avoid burn out.
It is a slow but deep practice which has both physical and mental benefits and is suitable for all levels of students.

Traditional yoga is an individual practice, but acroyoga a combination of yoga and acrobatics encourages working with a
partner, using each others bodies to support and enhance your pose.
Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox are said to be fans of Budokon a fusion of yoga, martial arts and meditation, which involves
imitating animal movements.
Its a tough workout, said to burn up to 900 calories in a session.
A challenging workout that incorporates boxing moves into yoga practice.
Its popular with boxers and athletes because it helps to protect against injury, improve suppleness and boost performance in other
Its available at Fitness First gyms (
If you fancy doing yoga to disco and pop, try voga which combines yoga with Voguing, the New York dance craze of the Eighties.
Its a fun, high-energy workout that provides more of a cardiovascular workout than traditional yoga.
Try it at Gymbox in London (
Don't just sit there - meditate!

While yoga helps you get in touch with your body, meditation helps you get in touch with your mind

Contemplation and meditation are an indispensable part of yoga, but people are often reluctant to try because they think it involves
hours of sitting in silence, attempting and failing to stop your thoughts.
In fact, meditation is most effective when done for just a few minutes. It can be practised anywhere in bed, on the bus, standing in
the kitchen and you dont even need to close your eyes.
Yoga and meditation are closely twinned. While yoga helps you get in touch with your body, meditation helps you get in touch with
your mind.
Its so easy to incorporate meditation into all of the yoga routines weve shown you in this series. Try meditating before practising
yoga to get you into a relaxed state of mind to get the full benefit out of the moves or you can meditate afterwards as a calming
Meditation enables us to step back from habitual thinking and emotions, so we can witness them with clarity and perspective, says
Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of Headspace, an app that provides simple mindfulness meditation exercises.

The mind begins to calm down, as does the body. In turn we experience more quiet and a sense of ease in every area of life.
Meditating for a few minutes a day can reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep and benefit your relationships.
It has benefits for physical health, too studies have shown meditation can reduce the perception of pain and protect against
conditions related to stress such as high blood pressure and heart disease.
With modern technology and social media keeping us switched on 24 hours a day, letting your mind take time out is more important
than ever, says Sandy Newbigging, author of the best-selling book Mind Calm. Modern lifestyles are putting people into a perpetual
state of stress, he says.
Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, recently reported that working days lost to stress, depression and anxiety
have increased by 24 per cent since 2009, at a cost of 100 billion to the economy.
So meditation is important from an economic perspective as well as a personal one.
Perhaps the biggest misconception about meditation is that you need to stop all your thoughts. Experts agree that this is virtually
The aim is learning to step back and get a different perspective on thought, rather than stopping thought altogether, says Andy
Here are Sandy Newbiggings tips for meditation:


The exposed sections of these socks make you feel like youre barefoot, while giving you extra grip to stop you sliding on your yoga
mat. Theyre also helpful if you suffer with cold feet.

Pick a time and place when you wont be disturbed. Aim for ten to 20 minutes at a time, but even five minutes will help
calm the mind. If you want to do it for longer, split it into two or three sessions throughout the day.
Just before breakfast is a good time so that youre in the right mindset for the day, but you can do it whenever youre
anxious or caught up in your own thoughts.
Start by getting comfortable. Newbigging says: I encourage people to find a position thats comfortable, but not so
comfortable that theyre going to fall asleep. Whether youre lying, sitting or standing, the spine should be straight and not rounded.
And you dont need candles, incense or jingly music unless you want to use them.
The easiest way to meditate is with your eyes open. Newbigging says: Youre aiming for a state that I call GAAWO
Gently Alert, Attention Wide Open.
Focus on a spot ahead of you. Release any tension in the face and around the eyes. Then, allow yourself to notice whats
in your peripheral vision so without looking left or right, youre widen-ing your vision.
Listen to your breathing. You should notice this helps your mind to quieten, he says.
If you prefer to close your eyes, keep them facing forward and stay gently alert.
Another way to meditate is to breathe in for a count of four and then out for a count of four, paying attention to how each
breath feels.
Happy pills? Who needs them

Jane OHalloran, 50, (pictured) teaches yoga

Jane OHalloran, 50, lives in Otley, West Yorkshire. She is married to David, 50, a lecturer, and has a daughter of 20 and a son aged
A former social worker, Jane now teaches yoga full time for
After my children were born, I suffered from acute anxiety and post-natal depression and was on antidepressants for eight years.
They allowed me to function, but didnt cure me.
In 2001, I knew I needed to try something other than medication to lift the depression. A neighbour taught yoga, and she
encouraged me to take a class with her.
It was a Dru yoga class a gentle style that helps you focus mindfully on your body and breathe in a way that is really uplifting.
Afterwards I felt relaxed and positive, something Id not experienced for years.
The anxiety didnt disappear completely, but over the following days I started to feel calmer and more positive. I started to believe I
could take some control over my life. I went back the following week and the same thing happened. Every time I did a class, I felt a
sense of calm and a little bit more positive. I now realise that yoga releases stress in the body and balances the emotions.
The key for me was that it was very nurturing and I began to believe in myself again. By 2003, I had weaned myself off
antidepressants. I havent touched them since.
Yoga has transformed my life. I feel confident, energised and happy. And its a privilege to be able to pass that on to others.
Sarah Barcham, 37, an IT consultant and PhD student, is married to Mark, 40, a sales director, has two children aged five and eight
and lives in Leeds.
She says:
my husband suggested I try yoga three years ago. He was working overseas a lot, while I was juggling work and children on my own
and I felt incredibly tense and stressed.
It was all getting on top of me and I needed something to help me feel more in control. Mark said I should have some me time and
the first thing that popped into his head was a yoga retreat.
It sounded relaxing, so I went online and found an Ashtanga yoga retreat in France.
Ashtanga can be quite strenuous; you sweat a lot, which some people dont like, but I found it relaxing.
I came back feeling energised and determined to carry on with yoga. I joined a class and started going three times a week.
Yogas given me an increased awareness of my body and what I put into it. For instance, in the evenings I used to treat myself to
one or two glasses of wine. Today, I barely drink.
But its the way yoga has altered my mind that is most significant. If I feel myself getting impatient with the children, I use yoga
breathing to calm myself. With work, I find myself going into stressful situations with a clearer mind. Im also more creative and thats
down to yoga because it de-clutters your brain.
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