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As a mental health therapist for the past 22 years, I do a lot of listening and talking to my clients, known as “top-down” therapy. My clients process their thoughts and emotions, they identify their valued life, and together we come up with strategies to manage their life issues. While traditional talk therapy offers benefits when managing mood issues, sometimes clients are left with a continued state of unease with life. When talk therapy alone isn’t enough, traditional first-line treatment is a combination of talk therapy and antidepressant medication.
As a registered yoga teacher and therapist, I sensed that yoga combined with psychotherapy might be a very powerful tool in the treatment of mood disorders and anxiety. After personally struggling with a year-long bout of clinical depression treated with antidepressant medication, yoga has contributed to my own mood stabilization free of medications for 13 years.
I am not alone in my belief that yoga can help heal students with depression—exciting new research has evaluated the connection between a regular yoga practice and depression symptoms. The research indicates that interactions between the brain and peripheral tissues, including the cardiovascular, nervous and immune systems, contribute to both mental and physical health—the mind-body connection! Therefore, therapies like yoga are proving to have significant potential to positively impact the treatment of depression. Why? Researchers have found that practicing yoga may boost mood-lifting brain chemicals such as gamma-aminobutyric acid (or GABA).
In 2007, Chris Streeter, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University School of Medicine and a research associate at McLean Hospital, studied the increase in GABA in the brain using an fMRI scan after study participants practiced yoga. Dr. Streeter compared the GABA levels of subjects prior to and after one hour of yoga with subjects who did no yoga but read for one hour. She found a 27 percent increase in GABA levels in the yoga group after their session, but no change in the comparison group after their reading session.
The thought is that yoga stimulates specific brain areas which gives rise to changes in antidepressant neurotransmitters like GABA. Yoga soothes the nervous system while stimulating positive mood. Perry Renshaw, MD, PhD, director of the Brain Imaging Center at McLean Hospital and senior author stated, “The development of an inexpensive, widely available intervention such as yoga that has no side effects but is effective in alleviating the symptoms of disorders associated with low GABA levels has clear public health advantage.
Yoga also promotes powerful mind-training practices such as mindfulness. According to Pawan Bareja, PhD, “Mindfulness is a radical practice where instead of turning away, we actually turn towards our difficult emotions and hold them with curiosity and compassion.” It’s like a superpower or mental Aikido. We take the energy of our negative emotions and transmute them into something positive by holding them tenderly and with compassion.
This research solidifies exactly what I’ve seen firsthand in both my life and my career: yoga has a powerful impact on mindfulness, mood and depression—and there’s great value in having a consistent practice.
Do you have an inspiring story about health and wellness? We want to hear it! Email us at [email protected]dbodyonline.com.
To say the last year and a half was tough would be an understatement. In fact, it will probably go down as one of the most difficult times for our modern generation. In one of the many social polls we conducted during the pandemic, some of you described this time as a sheer “dumpster fire” or “like stepping on a Lego.” And to be honest, I couldn’t agree more.
Luckily, we’ve been able to get back to some form of normalcy in our lives and wellness routines over the last several months. As vaccines became available to the public, wellness businesses welcomed fitness fanatics, haircut seekers, and massage lovers back to in-person wellness experiences. And thank goodness for that—my roots and horrible posture from working from my bed were both getting wildly out of control. This girl needed a good massage and cupping session stat.
If there’s one thing we learned from the pandemic, it’s that our wellness routines are as personal as they are important. During shelter-at-home, those routines looked a bit different. For many, it meant taking a new approach to the “typical” wellness services we count on—I’m looking at you DIY haircuts, at-home waxing sessions (ouch!), and virtual swerking classes.
Now that we can leave our humble abodes to take advantage of in-person experiences again, the word “wellness” has seemingly taken on a new meaning.
Recently, we conducted another one of our famous social polls to see what wellness means to you, our Mindbody community, now that we're slowly but surely getting back to our regularly scheduled programming. We also tapped some of our most influential Mindbody business owners about the ever-evolving wellness landscape.
Here’s what you all had to say.
According to our annual Mindbody Wellness Index, 60% of Americans say they’re more focused on their health and wellness since COVID. Consumers are now realizing they need to take greater care of themselves to optimize and preserve their health. When we asked you on Instagram how important wellness is, a whopping 98% said it was more important than ever. When it comes to how you’re practicing wellness, though, the answers were all over the board. Many of you pointed to journaling, practicing breathwork, and daily workout routines (cycling and yoga topped the list) as being the activities that help you keep your chill throughout the week.
I’m also happy to report that over 50% said you tend to feel more blessed than stressed on a daily basis—which is more than likely a big improvement. Let’s be honest, a year ago I would’ve bet a billion dollars that 99.9% of us knew no other feeling than anxiety—am I right? But even with the stress in our lives dwindling, many of you are still experiencing burnout at the end of a long work week (guilty!). But instead of succumbing to a bottle of wine for relief (please, that was so 2020), you’re unwinding by going to your favorite workout classes—with hot yoga, barre, and Pilates as your faves.
Let’s be honest, we should credit the business owners in this space for helping us reignite our spark when it comes to our wellness routines, right? Thanks to them, we’ve been inspired to prioritize the activities that help us feel our best. In turn, we thought it’d be interesting to learn what wellness means to them—and how that definition has changed over the past eighteen months.
Here’s what they had to say.
“Wellness is living in balance—mind, body, spirit. Highs and lows. It all ebbs and flows and we can navigate it a bit better when we take time to move, breath and remember who we are, and how we are connected to this big, beautiful world.” - Jess Pierno, Founder, Owner, and Chief Inspiration Officer of Yoga Heights
“Wellness is a true balancing of the mental, physical, and spiritual. It has definitely evolved over the years for me—from something that I just thought was about exercising and eating a healthy diet—to also incorporating balancing and healing internally and spiritually.” - Stefanie Patterson, Owner, Indianapolis Salt Cave and Halotherapy Center
“My sense of wellness has evolved from staying healthy and motivated, mind/body/spirit... to being more gentle with myself, less demanding. Accepting my limitations, taking time for resting, and gaining real clarity about what's important. I care less about what people think of me—difficult as a performer and as a business owner with so many demands on me—and more about getting quiet and tapping into the divine source inside of me that helps me discern my next move. In this way, I know my motives are as pure as possible and I'm not getting distracted—not that I don't make mistakes! Those are necessary, that's how we learn!” - Johanna Krynytzky, Owner, Hip Expressions Belly Dance Studio
“My studio name reminds us that we are constantly evolving. The past 18 months have certainly shown us that! Wellness to me means doing your best on any given day to make sure that you are taking care of yourself as best you can. It leads to resilience. Diet, exercise, sleep, a sense of community, and some form of faith. It all matters. Setbacks happen all the time, and every day is a chance to start again. We strive to be 'cheerleaders' for our clients when we sense that things are coming out of balance in their lives. So many have been with us for 18 years and are friends—they are our community and we all watch out for each other.” - Mo Wolfe, Owner and Founder, Evolution Pilates
I think we can all agree that there isn’t one true definition of wellness anymore. To some of us, it means getting that hot yoga sesh in daily, and to others, it means carving out time to treat ourselves to a massage or manicure. As long as you’re actively pursuing wellness—whatever that means to you—you're on the right track.
Our MO has always been about connecting the world to wellness—a term that's seen a lot of change lately. Whether you’re fully embracing the in-person experience or still delighted by the convenience of practicing at-home wellness, the Mindbody app makes it easy for you to book experiences that help you feel like YOU again.