Yet Another Reason Exercise (and Yoga!) is Good for You

Megan Bruneau (M.A, R.C.C.) is an avid yoga practitioner, former Semperviva Yoga Advisor and most impressively, a Registered Clinical Counsellor. Megan draws upon her life experience to inspire people towards healthy balanced living and has first-hand experience of the life-changing effects of yoga. See more posts by Megan at http://www.oneshrinksperspective.com/.

Depression. What a nasty bugger. There’s a good chance you’ve flirted with, dated, or been in a long-term relationship with it.  Stats show that 10% of us experience at least one major depressive episode in our lifetime, and those statistics are conservative considering it’s highly under-reported. Even if you haven’t been so unfortunate to experience it yourself, you probably know someone who has. And, if you still can’t recall anyone who’s battled it, you may know people in the media who’ve struggled: Angelina Jolie, Stephane Richer, Russel Brandt–and some with more tragic outcomes, such as Rick Rypien. If you think you might be depressed, you can check out the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria here, or you can take a free anonymous mental health screening here.

For some, medication is appropriate and necessary. However, powerful pharmaceutical companies, excellent marketing, and our pain-denying, quick-fix-seeking culture have created the perfect cocktail for overmedication. I want to reiterate that I’m neither for nor against medication; rather, I am against over-prescription of medication. I believe that, unless one has clearly been struggling with major depression resulting from biochemical imbalances, there are other measures that should be attempted first–or at least in conjunction with medication. One of these measures, which has received significant support from the medical industry, is none other than what you do every time you attend your favourite class at Semperviva: Exercise!

I can’t emphasize enough the effect exercise can have on depression. This is something I witnessed professionally as a personal trainer, and there is also plenty of empirically-supported research to back this claim.

There are several contributing factors:

  1. Exercise releases endorphins, which have a similar effect on the body as morphine (“general awesomeness” feeling). Endorphins increase serotonin (which makes us feel good emotionally), and act as an analgesic (painkiller). This is why sometimes you keep running or practicing your chaturangas without noticing you’ve gotten injured along the way.
  2. Exercise generally increases social support; basically, being around others makes us feel happier. If we go for a walk with a friend, join a rec team, or have a yoga date, we’re not only satisfying our need for endorphins, we’re satisfying our need for personal connection.
  3. Exercise increases our sense of well-being and accomplishment. How good do you feel when you finish a tough Crista or Meghan class? YAAAA! I’M THE STRONGEST PERSON IN THE WOOOOORLD (OK, maybe not that good, but confidence usually increases at least a bit).  Just remember to take care of yourself and don’t set your expectations so high, perhaps opt for a Hatha or Yin class to get your way back into yoga. Reward yourself for just doing something, even if it is less than you usually do.
  4. Exercise has a positive effect on our bodies physically, so we generally feel better about our appearance, view ourselves more positively, and therefore have higher self-esteem.
  5. Exercise is FUN. (Yeah right, Megan. Ask me how much “fun” I’m having when Dan Lindsay has STILL got me holding Warrior II…). So maybe it’s not always “fun,” and that’s what keeps a lot of people from doing it. It can be fun if you’re being encouraged by your favourite teacher, with a friend, on a team, or have some good music listen to – you decide what makes it more rewarding for you!

For an article on how you can tackle depressive thoughts in the yoga room using mindful awareness, click here, and get downward-dogging your way out of depression today!

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  • posted by: Elizabeth

    I agree Eric! Yoga has also changed my life.. what I love is the changing and growing never stops! Thank you for sharing.

  • posted by: ericf

    One of the first reactions I had soon after starting yoga was, "wow, wouldn't it be great if yoga & therapy could be combined to talk about all the stuff that just came up inside of me"...it wasn't long after I discovered restorative and yoga therapy. Yoga has opened my eyes, heart and mind and will be with me always from now on.