In 2010, doctors wrote 254 million prescriptions for anti-depressants. According to the New York Times, depression, along with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (among others) costs the U.S. economy a half-trillion dollars annually.
Clearly, we are a nation with some challenging mental health issues – the cost in terms of human suffering is even more disconcerting than the financial burden. The Institute of Medicine has called for cost-effective, person-centered, integrative interventions which can help people cope with depression and other mental health issues.
In a meta-analysis that just came out in November, researchers looked at the data for yogic interventions for depression. They found that meditative styles of yoga were more useful than fitness-oriented styles.
It’s great that there’s a significant amount of research showing that yoga helps depression – but the idea that meditative styles are especially useful – well, that’s kind of huge for me.
It’s what I’ve been arguing for a long time, but to actually have the research back up the work I’ve been doing and teaching based on anecdotal evidence is inspiring and validating to say the least.
A couple of weekends ago, at the Medical Yoga Symposium in Washington, D.C., I listened to yoga researchers from Harvard, Boston University, UCLA and the NIH talk about their incredibly exciting findings.
Sat Bir Khalsa, a mind-body researcher and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, gave this wonderful list of research evidence concerning how yoga affects the psycho-physiological mechanisms related to Mental Health:
o Activation of attention networks
o Reduces mind wandering (which is the default mode network of the brain)
o Reduces rumination
o Reduces emotional reactivity
o Reduces dysfunctional thoughts
o Induces long term changes in brain activity and structure
o Increases attention regulation, mindbody awareness, mindfulness, resilience
o Enhances positive psychological characteristics
o Induces trans-flow and contemplative states
Khalsa’s presentation was just the tip of the iceberg. I wrote up my notes last week and posted them on my blog. Feel free to check them out and pass them along – this is the kind of evidence that the world needs to understand how important yoga is in helping us cope not only with our culture’s mental health problems, but with the numerous, preventable, chronic disease that are draining us financially and personally.
I also think it’s amazingly generous that the symposium organizers have made the recorded highlights available for just $10.