Heart-Centered Somatic Yoga & School for Somatic Soul Work

Which Yoga is Best for Anxiety and Depression?

 
There are so many styles of yoga out there. As a student, this makes it hard to figure out which style of yoga to practice to support your mental health. And as a yoga teacher, you might wonder the same: what style of yoga should I teach to support students experiencing mental health challenges?
 
There are dynamic styles of yoga that focus on movement, stretching, and building strength, like vinyasa yoga, ashtanga yoga, hatha flow classes, and sometimes even hatha yoga classes, depending on the teacher. These yoga classes focus on asana practice with some attention to the breath and breathing practices. Often, the idea is that through movement, students are able to release stress and tension, and are able to find a place of inner calm towards the end of the session.
 
Then, there are the more static styles of yoga that are slower-paced and often more gentle, like yin yoga, restorative yoga, somatic yoga, viniyoga, and hatha yoga. These classes often spend equal amounts of time on asana practice, breathing exercises, and relaxation or meditation. And when this is not the case, the yoga postures are approached with a mindful and meditative mind. This means that movement and form are less important and that students are encouraged to be mindful of sensations and their inner experience. These are great style of yoga for students that enjoy relaxing and are looking for a more interiorized yoga experience.
 
Each style of yoga has its own approach to practicing yoga postures-and when and how it includes other yoga techniques like breathing exercises, concentration, relaxation, and meditation.
 
 
The Trap of Favorites
Sometimes, yoga teachers who practice a particular type of yoga can be so passionate about the style they teach that they think it’s the best approach for everyone−because it works for them! As a result, when it comes to supporting students and helping them with particular challenges, it’s common that yoga teachers advocate the style of yoga that they are practicing as the best solution for any type of problem.
 
This type of approach may work for a yoga teacher or for a coach, but not for someone who wants to support people more therapeutically. There is simply no modality and no approach that suits everyone or is the cure for all. If anyone claims that they have found the ‘holy grail’ of techniques, they do not possess one of the most fundamental qualities of a therapeutic practitioner: the ability to put your own preferences aside and be able to objectively assess your client and their needs.
 
This is the main difference between a yoga teacher and a yoga therapist.
 
Yoga teachers are educated in a particular style of yoga. These traditional and modern styles of yoga often have a ‘lineage’. In other words, the yoga teacher is educated in and teaches yoga the way it has been passed down to them by their teachers.
 
Yoga therapists, on the other hand, are educated in different styles and approaches to yoga. Their training focuses not on learning a particular way of practicing yoga. Instead, they are trained in how to apply yoga techniques therapeutically to support people with particular physical and mental health challenges. Yoga, here, is applied as a  natural and complementary therapy to support the self-healing mechanisms of the body.
 
A yoga therapist or therapeutic yoga teacher will typically advise a different style of yoga and suggest different yoga exercises to all their clients. Because their advise is based on an assessment of their student’s individual needs, not on their own preferences or on what style of yoga works for them.
 
Because the reality is that we’re all different. What your student needs may be completely different from what works for you. That’s why becoming a therapeutic yoga teachers requires additional training. As therapeutic practitioners, we need to learn what different (mental health) symptoms mean from a psychological, physiological, energetic, and spiritual perspective. We need to learn how to assess (not diagnose) our students and clients … and then based on our broad and in-depth education, we know which practices to prescribe in order to best help them with their health challenge.
The Best Yoga Style for Depression and Anxiety
If you’re still with me, it may have become clear to you that my answer to the question “what is the best style of yoga for anxiety and depression?” is not going to have a simple answer:
 
“it depends on the person who is experiencing anxiety and depression”.
 
Of course, that’s not the answer you are here for.
 
Don’t worry, I do have some useful tips that I can share with you.
 
When we teach group classes, it’s not possible to do an assessment of each one of our students and figure out what they need-neither is that our intention.
 
Luckily, while we’re all different, we also have similarities and mental health challenges often show up as clusters of symptoms that other people also experience.
 
So let me answer the question “which Yoga is best for anxiety and depression?” by going back to the beginning of this article.
 
Just like there are different styles of yoga (e.g. dynamic, static, active, passive) there are different ways in which people experience anxiety and depression.
 
Someone who feels anxious, irritable, restless, and easily angered probably has a lot of build-up stress and tension. Because their nervous system is activated, they may find it very difficult to relax and they probably won’t enjoy a slow and gentle yoga class. By offering these students some movement, especially at the beginning of your yoga class, they will be able to find some release and enjoy the more gentle postures towards the end of your class when their nervous system has calmed down.
 
These students may be drawn to the more dynamic styles of yoga because it helps them to feel calm and relaxed after a good workout. Yoga styles that can support these people are Vinyasa yoga, ashtanga yoga, hatha flow, yin yang yoga, and hatha yoga.
 
On the other hand, people who feel anxious, scattered, exhausted, irritable, and overstimulated will probably benefit from a very gentle approach to yoga that allows them to center, ground, and restore their energy. I’d recommend them to try yin yoga, restorative yoga, hatha yoga, and somatic yoga.
 
Similarly, a student that feels depressed and lethargic benefits from getting their energy flowing. Unfortunately, their lethargy makes that exercise is the last thing they want to do. A vinyasa yoga class, for example, may be too much for them. Especially since lethargy can also be the result of feeling frozen which can be a trauma response. These students typically need a more gentle and gradual start to movement and work towards a peak moment in the class. I’d recommend hatha yoga, a slow flow class, or somatic yoga.
 
While lesser known, not everyone that experiences depression feels lethargic. Some people who suffer from depression also feel irritable, restless, and easily angered. In other words, this type of depression comes hand-in-hand with anxiety and benefits from the same dynamic approach to yoga accompanied by practices that cultivate the heart-energy.
 
 
Conclusion & Practical Advise
We can conclude that the best approach to yoga for depression and anxiety is an individual one. Nevertheless, we can offer group classes that are geared towards supporting people with similar characteristics:
 
  • A more dynamic class for people who are experiencing stress, depression, and anxiety that comes with irritability, restlessness, and an inability to relax.
 
  • A very gentle class for students that are experiencing depression and anxiety that is characterized by overwhelm, scatteredness, and exhaustion.
 
  • A class that starts gently and gradually build towards more movement for students that feel depressed, lethargic, unmotivated, and weighed down by life.
 
 
If you are a yoga teacher and want to offer yoga classes for mental health, there are two ways to go about it:
 
  • Stick with the style of yoga that you are currently teaching and create a class for the audience that will benefit most from that style of yoga. For example, if you’re a vinyasa yoga teacher, offer a class on yoga for stress and anxiety. Just make sure to educate yourself on being trauma-sensitive and mental health aware before niching down to teach yoga for anxiety. I would not recommend trying to teach yoga for mental health without additional training as you’ll be working with a vulnerable population that needs a more specialized approach to yoga, so it’s important for you to know the best practices and contra-indications before running your classes.

OR

  • Join a yoga for mental health teacher training course that is multi-style (like this one) so that you can confidently teach a variety of yoga classes and workshops to support students experiencing mental health challenges like anxiety, depression, burnout, and high sensitivity.
Get Educated

If you are ready to take your yoga teaching to the next level and have a keen interest in teaching yoga for anxiety, depression, burnout, or high sensitivity, check out our advanced 80h teacher training. Our Yoga for Mental Health TTC is a LIVE online program that starts in September and runs over the course of an academic year.

After completing the program you’ll be able to confidently offer:

  • Yoga classes for stress, anxiety, depression, burnout, overwhelm, and high sensitivity (HSP)
  • Workshops on yoga for mental health
  • 1-on-1 sessions to support people experiencing mental health challenges
  • Include yoga and somatic tools into your client sessions if you’re a coach or therapist

 

Check out our 1-year Somatic Yoga for Mental Health Teacher Training program here.

Deniz

Deniz Aydoslu, MSc, E-RYT, is a criminologist and Yoga for Mental Health Teacher and teacher trainer. She researches and teaches on the intersection of embodied movement and mental health, including yoga, somatics, intuitive dance, relaxation therapy, and meditation. She helps women heal emotionally by restoring their connection to their somatic experience, heart-energy, and inner guidance.

She offers deeply transformative work as well as simple tools to improve well-being, creativity, and productivity through fun, easy, and nourishing self-care tools.