Surrender to Yoga

From the WebMD Archives

By Therese Borchard

In the last 30 years, a flurry of research has surfaced about the positive effects of yoga on depression and anxiety. A recent study from the Duke University Medical Center suggests that having a regular yoga practice can be as effective as an antidepressant for relieving mild depression. How? Regular practice of yoga raises GABA levels, which you need if you want to feel peachy.

Can't keep your Downward Dog on the up and up? See if any of these anti-yoga excuses ring a bell:

But... yoga reminds me of my painful childhood. I have gone to great lengths to let go of the image of my mom in her '70s yoga gear, eyes closed, chanting "om" with a bunch of hippies. That time of our lives was difficult; she was trying to get over her heartbreak after my dad left and took his new bride to Paris. However, we have to redefine these kinds of associations as adults. "A grown-up is supposed to possess himself, to be his own person, to make decisions according to his wishes and his best judgment," wrote Howard Halpern in Cutting Loose: An Adult's Guide to Coming to Terms with Your Parents. When it comes to yoga, I need to do that.

But... I can't sit still. Doing yoga shouldn't feel like taking a standardized test, but the thought of spending an hour or more sitting still gave me GRE-test-taking flashbacks. The purpose of yoga is to slow your body and mind to a contemplative stillness. In her book When Things Fall Apart, Buddhist author Pema Chödrön says this of stillness: "Relax as it is. Once we know this instruction, we can put it into practice." Translation: In time, I'll stop counting the cracks on the wall and be still myself.

But... I don't sweat. I can't help but feel that if I'm dedicating an hour plus to a physical activity, I need to burn calories. My time is precious, so my workouts fall into one of three categories: calorie-burning exercise, pleasurable activities or work. Yoga doesn't fit into any of those. When I started practicing yoga, I sat in Lotus Pose obsessing about the calories that I wasn't burning off. Turns out I'd landed in a gentle yoga class -- a terrible match for me. I would have saved myself a considerable amount of time and effort had I asked myself the questions that Yoga Journal asks as part of its quiz for identifying yoga intentions.


But... I don't have a third eye. One instructor at yet another yoga class I tried told us to look out of our third eye. What the hell is that?! I looked around the room, and apparently everyone else had one and was comfortable with that directive. I now know that accessing the third-eye chakra is helpful when making decisions, but finding it can be difficult without full concentration.

But... I hate group activities. Group activities like yoga remind me of the group therapy I was forced into when I was hospitalized for depression. They wouldn't discharge me without six weeks of it. I loathe any kind of group exercise where you have to meditate or admit personal details about your life to strangers; even greeting each other's inner lights makes me a tad squeamish. However, according to research conducted by Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, the group element could very well contribute to yoga's antidepressant effect. Go figure.

But... I'm Catholic. I'm not one of those Catholics who think our club is comprised of the elites with first-class tickets to heaven and everyone else is destined for Dante's eternal fires. I studied world religions and spent time in India. I'm open-minded. However, I grew up saying novenas and rosaries as a way to silence my thoughts and gain spiritual perspective. So I'm comfortable reciting 10 Hail Marys followed by a Glory Be. Too much Buddhist talk makes me feel like I'm cheating on my peeps.

Those are just the excuses that propelled this Goldilocks-turned-yogi to do a lot of experimenting before finding her home in Bikram Yoga. It's plenty aerobic and gives me the endorphin rush I crave. Who knew I'd love to sweat in a 105-degree room? I'm even able to stop counting the cracks on the walls, concentrate on my breathing and feel a little of that stillness yoga people always talk about.

WebMD Feature from Turner Broadcasting System
© Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.


Get Fitness and Diet Tips in Your Inbox

Eat better and exercise smarter. Sign up for the Food & Fitness newsletter.

By clicking Subscribe, I agree to the WebMD Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of WebMD subscriptions at any time.