Amanda Vigil takes us through a few poses she learned while in a clinical study of yoga and depression.
Vigil had dabbled before, but for the research, she went twice a week for 90 minutes each session.
“At the beginning of the study, I was really struggling with centering myself. That’s how depression is. You get sunk into a feeling or a moment or a sort-of drudgery,” Vigil said.
“It’s the very first study in the U.S. that’s looking at yoga as a sole treatment for diagnosed major depression.”
UCSF’s lead researcher studied men and women, ages 18 to 72, at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine. Half learned about yoga in lectures, half actually did yoga in structured classes.
After eight weeks?
“Sixty people of the people in the yoga group got remission, which means minimal to zero symptoms of depression. So, that is a dramatic decrease, and the control group only got 10 percent remission,” Doctor Sudha Prathikanti said.
And no one was on medication or in therapy, so the effect was solely yoga.
None of this comes as a surprise to those who practice.
“Really, it is transformative, and a lot of it is about being quiet, having a dedicated quiet space.”
The owner of this studio, The Mindful Body – the second oldest in the city – says people come in with physical ailments, but it’s the mental benefits that hook them.
Many yoga stretches that open the chest for breathing are known as mood-lifting.
“So, when we are depressed, there’s the posturing we think of, like this. So, opening their opposite way and breathing and getting some space in,” Maile Sivert, owner of The Mindful Body, said.
By definition, yoga is about calming the mind.
“We don’t feel like we’re good enough, or we question our choices and get lost in our mind, so this is about quieting that.”
UC’s study group was small – just 38 people – and more research is certain to follow.
“But for the general public standpoint, if they enjoy yoga and they find mood benefits, they’ll keep doing it and that’s what’s driving the science.”
“I can do this anywhere, at any point in my life, as a center myself. That’s like, tools I learned, I took with me.”
For this 31-year-old high school arts teacher, the study was a turning point. She now feels self-empowered managing her depression.
“I would say to myself, ‘I love you, Amanda.’”
And one of her favorite poses? The one her class always ended with.
“Giving yourself the soothing a mother would give to a child. But you’re giving it to yourself. Really sweet, you know, really healing.”