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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.
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For the first time ever, the globe will be watching surfing take center stage at the 2020 (postponed to July 2021) Olympics. People from all over the world will be appreciating the sport, many for the first time.
This symbolizes the surfing community breaking through centuries of negative stereotypes. Though conditions play a big part in the sport, the biggest hurdle the athletes will have to overcome to see success is mental. The winner will be the one who chooses their waves wisely with their understanding of the conditions and ability to intimidate and therefore overcome components. Meanwhile, they will be challenging themselves to emerge from crashing barrels, fly into the air, and land on the shifting surface gracefully. No big deal.
You’ve probably heard the invention of a wave pool, which creates the perfect man-made wave. In 2007, Kelly Slater founded his wave company with a passion to build the perfectly rideable wave at his surf ranch. It was debated whether the Olympics should be held in the ocean or on a manufactured wave, with many differing opinions on what would be right. The decision was made, and the event will take place in the sea, at Tsurigasaki Beach in Japan, about 40 miles east of Tokyo, where the rest of the 2021 games will be hosted.
As you watch, take a moment to reflect on the century of effort for this to happen. This initiative can be traced all the way back to the 1912 summer games that took place in Stockholm. Duke Kahanamoku, known as the father of modern surfing, won three gold medals in swimming, and while accepting his medal, he expressed that it was his dream to see surfing be added. To add fuel to the fire, International Surfing Association, recognized as the surfing world's governing authority by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), began lobbying for the inclusion of surfing in the Olympics in 1955.
Surfing is a multidimensional sport unlike any other. Nothing compares to paddling out to the serene silence that awaits beyond the breaking waves. Once you get out there, you immediately escape the many annoyances ingrained in everyday life—the constant notifications on your phone and laptop, your back-to-back schedule, answering to other people. You’re no longer on the time that your watch reads, you’re on mother nature’s time. You’re also no longer in control of your surroundings. Now, all you can do is surrender and wait for the next set to come, while trying to position yourself for when it does.
The high from catching the perfect wave is so addicting that surfers would fail on one hundred in a row just to catch that one. After you catch that perfect one, you replay it in your mind for the rest of the day.
A successful session is reliant on so many factors of mother nature—a force way bigger than us. For ideal conditions to exist, a good-sized swell must approach from the right direction, the wind must be flowing offshore, and you have to time your session right with the ebb and flow of the tide.
The sport is always teaching you life lessons. It is humbling, even if you’ve been practicing it for many years. One reason why it takes so long to master is that the conditions are going to be different every time you get out there. You might have caught a million yesterday, but today makes you feel like a kook because you can’t land one decent wave.
The community of people that you become a part of when you surf is special. A shared obsession with the ocean that brings you to dive into the water at dawn to get a session in bonds you quick. When you’re out there, you’ll find yourself interacting with people of all ages and backgrounds. People enjoy sharing the stoke of the sport. When you see someone out there teaching somebody new, you’ll encounter them cheering at the top of their lungs when they catch a good wave, and as you look around, you’ll see smiles all across the lineup. The other day, I caught a long wave in to be met with a cheering crowd of locals who frequent the spot that I do. When I got to shore, a local showed me their secret stash of hot packs to access in case I, or someone else, gets stung by a stingray when they aren’t around.
Being out in the ocean and abiding by her rules gives surfers a deep love and connection to nature. It’s common to see sea animals out there, like dolphins, stingrays, and fish. When you have an encounter, it’s a reminder that we are invading their territory. It sucks when you see trash floating in the water, or on the sand in its route to the water. It’s a sad reminder of the negative impact that humans can have on natural environments. It inspires you to pick up trash and advocate for sustainability so that we, as a collective, can take care of the beauty that we are lucky to have access to.
Tune in to see surfing break into the biggest international sporting event in the world beginning on Saturday, July 24th.
Do you live by the ocean? Paddle out with an instructor.
Don't live by the water, but still want to train for your next surf trip? Consider these classes.
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