Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. It frequently happens when stress overcomes the coping capabilities of someone who's struggling with a mental health condition.
While certain drugs and medications are effective in keeping suicidal thoughts at bay, they can end up causing more harm than good, particularly when they are used on a long-term basis. As an alternative, more and more people are turning to yoga as treatment.
But can yoga really help prevent suicide?
Your Feel-Good Hormones
Suicidal thoughts typically happen during episodes of depression and depression generally happens when there's an imbalance in your endorphins.
A person who's depressed tends to have a low endorphin level. This causes unhappy dispositions and negative thoughts to increase.
Endorphins react to certain emotions and external stimuli to manage fear, worry, anxiety, pleasure, and happiness. They create this certain euphoria that's not only effective in managing pain but feelings of depression, too.
People who engage in yoga experience an increase in their endorphin levels after practice. This is more commonly referred to as the "yoga high".
Dopamine is another example. When you have a low level of dopamine, your ability to solve problems effectively becomes greatly reduced. This leads you to perceive your situation in a negative light. A vigorous yoga practice boost dopamine levels through increased cardiorespiratory output.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that greatly influences your mood and behavior. When you don't have enough serotonin, you are likely to experience apathy, feelings of worthlessness, depression, unexplained sadness, and anxiety.
Consistent yoga and meditation practice can significantly increase your serotonin level. It also increases your sense of well-being and influences your mood.
Yoga can also increase the amount of oxygen that reaches the cells in your entire body. The more oxygen there is, the stronger your muscles become. The more you'll feel alive and awake, too.
Yoga and Mindfulness
Mindfulness is when you know what you're experiencing at the moment you are actually experiencing it. It's paying attention to your present without being judgemental.
Now, how does that help prevent suicide?
Being mindful can help you treat your suicidal thoughts as a symptom and not the truth. It enables you to realize that thoughts are transitory and that they’ll come and go. The lesser you believe in your thoughts, the lesser you’ll act upon them.
Yoga encourages mindfulness by making you more aware of your breathing and movements as you go through each of your poses. It makes you pay attention to the air you breathe in and out as you let the negative thoughts in your brain pass.
And you know what else?
Yoga helps you be more aware of your inner voice and to listen to what it says. With society dictating what people should and shouldn’t do, it’s hard to recognize that voice telling you to change and do exactly what it says.
Yoga: A Better Alternative?
Apart from the reasons above, there are other benefits of yoga that makes it a better choice for treating depression.
One is that it's affordable. If you compare it with most treatments for depression, its cost is way cheaper. You only need to pay for membership and spend some money on quality yoga mats and clothes and you're good to go.
Another great thing about yoga is that it has no side effects. It's completely safe and won't cause tremors, extrapyramidal side effects or even panic attacks which are common among antidepressants.
You can also keep performing yoga without having to worry about complications. As long as you know how to perform the poses well, you can safely try it out.
However, there’s just one caveat.
Although yoga is effective in treating depression and preventing suicide, it’s not for everyone. If you are having problems with your joints or if you have existing spinal and cardiac issues, be sure to consult your doctor first to get his approval. The same idea applies if you have problems with balance or you experience dizziness and vertigo.
Also, as much as possible, enroll in a class and get a professional to teach you. This way, you’ll know which poses you need to avoid and which ones you can safely perform. A professional yoga teacher can also teach you how to prevent the most common injuries and what you should do before and after each class.
Meera Watts is a yoga teacher, entrepreneur and mom. Her writing on yoga and holistic health has appeared in Elephant Journal, CureJoy, FunTimesGuide, OMtimes and others. She’s also the founder and owner of SiddhiYoga.com, a yoga teacher training school based in Singapore. Siddhi Yoga runs intensive, residential trainings in India (Rishikesh, Goa and Dharamshala), Indonesia (Bali)