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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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It’s safe to say, the way we conquer our daily routines has changed drastically over the last few months. The way we perform our jobs, how we socialize—even the way we workout—have flipped from in-person, group settings to virtual platforms to keep us safe and healthy. There's no denying that navigating this new normal has certainly come with its ups and downs, to say the least. In fact, a recent survey revealed one-third of Americans said this pandemic has caused more stress and anxiety in their lives, which isn’t surprising given the circumstances.
With anxiety levels at a high, people need relaxation, self-care, and movement more than ever. Enter yoga.
Yoga has long been touted for its amazing ability to calm the mind and help folks stay in-tune with their body—which is probably why more and more people are embracing an at-home practice.
Whether you’re looking for a powerful Vinyasa class to help kickstart your morning or yearning for a gentle, evening flow to wind down after a busy workday, taking a yoga class is now more accessible than ever. With 91% of group fitness studios offering or planning to offer live stream and/or on-demand classes, those who are ready to get their asana on have plenty of yoga classes to try all over the country.
While there’s no place like om, most of us could go for a little virtual vacation right now. I know I could! Ready to get a taste of what yoga classes are like all over the country? Here are the U.S. cities with the most virtual yoga classes available.
It seems poetic that Chicago hits our number one spot on this list because it was the first city in America that was introduced to yoga back in 1893. Swami Vivekananda presented yoga at the World Parliament of Religions and made a speech on the concept of body, spirit, and mind. It seems the presentation made a lasting impression on the city.
Try getting your Zen on with one of these studios:
• The Lab Yoga
• Bottom Line Yoga
• Bare Feet Power Yoga
Everyone knows that Washington DC is where you can visit some of the world’s most famous monuments, memorials, and museums. But you may be surprised to learn that it also offers one of the most robust libraries of virtual classes to help yogis sample some classes at the nation’s capital.
Houston is one of the most culturally diverse cities in America—in fact, you can folks speaking 145 different languages and thousands of restaurants serving up food from more than 70 countries. If those facts have you working up quite an appetite, feel free to indulge. They also have plenty of virtual yoga classes available to help you torch some calories.
Did you know one of the first businesses to open in the City of Brotherly Love was a brewery in 1683? If you’re familiar with the ever-evolving trends of yoga, then you have most likely heard of or participated in beer yoga sesh. Get ready to try yoga the Philly way by cracking a cold one and doing some downward dogs in the comfort of your own home at the end of the day.
New York City is home to 8.4 million people, making it the most densely populated city in the entire nation. With that many people, you know there must be a ton of yogis looking to relax from the hustle and bustle of the big city. Start spreading the news and flowing with some of the most dedicated yogis in the U.S.—there are a ton of virtual yoga classes to choose from in the Big Apple.
Get ready to make some virtual yoga neighbors. Did you know that Columbus, Ohio is considered the heart of the country? The reason for that is because nearly half of the America’s residents live within a 600-mile radius of the city. Ready to put your heart and soul into your at-home yoga practice? Then check out what this city has to offer virtually.
San Diego is known as one of the happiest cities in America—mainly because of the beautiful weather, picturesque beaches, and the abundance of yoga classes available. While a vacation to this area may not be in the books for this year, you can certainly flow with the best of them by booking a virtual class at a San Diego studio.
This list is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the yoga studios offering virtual classes to help you stay fit, healthy, and calm during the COVID-19 pandemic. We hope these offerings inspire you to either start a new at-home practice or are helping you seasoned yogis continue your path to wellness. Interested in seeing what other cities are hosting a bevy of online yoga classes? The options on Mindbody are endless—literally!