It’s almost impossible to go anywhere or talk to any of our friends and not be met with an awareness of the wellness movement embodied in the modern practice of yoga. In a world that is rife with endless activity and the mandate to keep moving at any cost, yoga provides us with an opportunity to opt out of our collective rat races and for just a moment attempt to move with breath. In our daily lives, which for most of us is marked by an unceasing, frenetic pace, we do anything but move with breath. And even though our breath is the most fundamental thing about us, we largely ignore the inescapable fact that breathing is the most important thing that we continually do without being aware of it. In yoga, one only moves when one can move with breath. When we restrict our movement to when there is only breath we disengage from the mindless circuitry of our everyday busyness and enter a space of mindfulness.
But did you know that the practice of yoga–the practice of moving with breath–is recognized as a Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) approach to managing Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)? There exists scientific evidence that suggests that the practice of yoga and yogic breathing significantly reduces the stress and anxiety that underlines depression. In fact, research in rat models of stress show that similar exercise strategies were associated with decreased serum cortisol levels and improved depression-related behaviour such as sucrose consumption. The practice of yoga has also been shown to increase parasympathic drive and improve HPA axis regulation. Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis forms the major part of the neuroendocrine system that is responsible for our physiological reactions to stress, metabolic rates and our immune system, not to mention the quality of our mood and emotion regulation. In a two-month investigative review evaluating the effects of yoga in combination with conventional antidepressants in patients with major depression, the Hamilton Anxiety Ratings (HAM-A and HAM-D) were significantly reduced. We must begin to think of yogic practice and breathing as a form of meditation. Not surprisingly, there are neuroimaging studies that suggest that people who have a habit of meditating exhibit a marked difference in their cortical features that may explain the effects of meditation on human emotion and behaviour. In short, yoga, and the practice of moving with breath, leads to greater everyday functionality and mood stabilization.
We know that yogic practice has positive effects on our physical and mental health, but what is it really and how can we implement the essential elements of yoga into our everyday lives? When we say that yoga is characterized by moving with breath what is also understood is that there is a ritual repetition of movement that is governed over by the disciplined controlled regulation of our breathing. This regulation of breath in synchronistic repetition achieves a clearing in our thinking and in our experience of our psychological selves. When bodily movement is harnessed by the regulatory body of our breath, practitioners of yoga may experience a clearing, or what some call the unified experience of the third eye. When your movement and breath unify into the singularity of an experience of the third eye, your only thought is your breath. And this practice aids in the overall alleviation of the presenting symptomatology of depression. Here are some practical ways in which you can embody this idea in your everyday life:
- Go for a walk. But attempt to do this silently and let the repetition of your stride and your breath coincide to become the single most important feature of your walk and be mindful of your place in the greater setting of your surroundings.
- Do you cycle? If so, give your ear buds a well-needed break and instead try to match the revolutions of your cycling with the cycling of your breath and take in the marvel of how you are able to move through space.
- Driving to or from work? Great. Try turning off your car audio and let your thoughts settle in silence as you either head to work or anticipate arriving home. Let the familiar landmarks you pass by everyday fade and focus your breathing and intentions on what is to come next.
These are just three examples of everyday activities that can be transformed into forms of mindfulness. Of course you can always move out of your comfort zone and actually attempt a yoga class and experience a more sustained attempt at mindfulness. But in the meantime, here are a few ways to incorporate mindfulness into the everyday practice of your life. Namaste.