Together We Thrive: How Yoga and Meditation Help With Stress, Anxiety and Depression

Authored by Shelley Kamlowsky, Founder and Instructor at The Green Lotus Yoga Studio 

During the recent quarantine, a popular quote was, "We are not in the same boat but we are all in the same storm…" and it resonated with most of us.  Unfortunately, the majority of the population experienced and may even still be experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression.  If you are one of them, it probably felt a bit scary but you powered through it by focusing on that light at the end of the tunnel.  Some of us thought that light would come during spring, or summer, or once the mask mandate was lifted.  So, where is that feeling of "Ahhhhhhhh!! It's over!!" Or the sense of relief, the calm and the peace?  I can only relate it to dealing with cancer or a serious illness. There's that expectation that after chemo, surgery or treatment,  life will immediately shift back to normal.  But, it doesn't always happen.  Even though the worst is behind you, it still feels difficult to breathe, relax or find that sense of peace. It's very scary and very frustrating.  According to the NHIS Early Release Program and the US Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, during the pandemic, about 4 in 10 adults in the US have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, which is up significantly.  It is obvious to most of us that the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting economic recession have negatively affected many peoples' mental health. 

There is a lot that we can take away from all that we have experienced over the last year and half (give or take a couple of months).  One takeaway is that we need to take better care of ourselves physically and mentally! I think we are realizing this more than ever and that is why so many of you are seeking out yoga and meditation.  Our studio, The Green Lotus Yoga Studio, has welcomed a large number of  new students each week since the mandate was lifted.  These new students seem to all be looking for that sense of peace and we are able to help them find it and/or get it back!  The University of Rhode Island College of Pharmacy did a study of 17 students who participated in a once weekly vinyasa practice and a guided meditation program for six weeks.  Their anxiety and stress scores DECREASED significantly while their total mindfulness INCREASED significantly.  No student scored "high" for stress or anxiety after the six week program.

I like to tell my "new to yoga" students that there is so much more to yoga than the physical aspect.  Personally, I think the most important is the breath or pranayama. Pranayama translates to Prana which means "life force or breath sustaining the body";  Ayama means to "extend or draw out"; and  together the two mean "breath control".  I love to begin class with belly breathing.  Picture a baby breathing.  Their little bellies are going up and down, up and down.  Somewhere along the way we lose that (in my opinion we have been conditioned to think of expanded bellies as a bad thing, but that's for another blog!) and we lift our breath up to our chests while making the breath shorter and quicker.  By keeping the breath in the belly and lengthening and slowing it down we calm our central nervous systems which relaxes and calms us.  Next time you're nervous or anxious take a couple of belly breaths!  You'll notice an immediate difference! 

I also like to tell our new students how important quieting the mind is.  I don't like to say clear the mind because unless we are bald headed monks living alone in the mountains, it is next to impossible to completely clear our minds!  It's not totally impossible, but it is difficult.  So the next best thing is to quiet your mind and you can do that with guided meditation.  Guided meditation for most people is much easier than meditating alone (you don't plan your grocery list as easily during guided meditations!).  This form of meditation is done under the guidance of a trained teacher through the use of imagery, music or other techniques.  Having only one voice (the teacher's) in your head is way better than all the other voices your normally have!  Meditation can produce a deep state of relaxation and a tranquil mind.  During meditation you focus your attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind and causing stress.

Finally, yoga is an ancient practice (not a religion! Another blog topic haha!) that combines physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation and relaxation.  I don't need to tell you how beneficial exercise is for you!  There are various styles of yoga which means there is something for everyone!  If you can breathe then you can do yoga!

If you're still not feeling quite right although the quarantine has lifted, or life in general seems difficult, or there always seems to be an underlying anxious feeling, please consider bringing yoga into your life.  There really is meaning to the saying, "No one ever regretted going to yoga!".  The most difficult thing about yoga is stepping through the door.