How Yoga and Mindfulness Are Helping LGBT People Battle Depression
A recent, rather upsetting study out of Kings College in London reveals that people in the LGBT community are “one-and-a-half times more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and substance abuse problems than straight people, and twice as likely to attempt suicide.”
There’s been a lot of talk lately about yoga and mindfulness, and how the two can help alleviate stress and feelings of depression. The Mazzoni Center, for instance, is currently in the midst of a sold-out mindfulness course geared specifically to the LGBT community. The course was started to help folks deal with the everyday craziness of life, but also with LGBT-specific stressors, like the “challenges of coming out to ourselves and others, creating our own identity in a culture where it’s not always so easy to fit in, risking rejection by family and friends, and living in the shadow of a legal system that doesn’t always protect our families or employment rights.”
Why mindfulness? The Mazzoni Center points to a study conducted by Thomas Jefferson University that demonstrates that “mindfulness is effective in reducing chronic pain, medical symptoms, anxiety and depression.”
I’ve been involved in the yoga community for nearly 15 years, so I know firsthand that it can be a gateway to incorporating mindfulness in your life. But I turned to Mark DiFilippo, a holistic psychotherapist and founder of ReturnToYourBreath.com, for an expert opinion. He helped me understand how yoga—and the eventual sense of mindfulness that comes with it—can be especially beneficial to those of us in the LGBT community who may be grappling with depression. He laid out these four principles:
- It provides a sense of community: Regularly getting out of the house to join a group of practitioners can help reduce feelings of isolation and provide a sense of belonging.
- It gets your blood flowing: Physical activity has long been known to have a positive effect on mood. Yoga asana and breath work, in particular, can alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety through their effect on the autonomic nervous system and other biological systems.
- It teaches you how to let it roll off your shoulders: By contorting our bodies and minds into uncomfortable positions, we learn to breathe through stressful events and celebrate our ability to survive and thrive. In other words, it’s easier to say “water off a duck’s back.”
- It provides a sense of stability within: “Yoga” is a Sanskrit word oft-translated to “union.” Traditionally referring to “union with the Divine,” yoga practice allows the practitioner to forge an intimate relationship with their own body, mind and spirit as well as the greater universe at large.
Yoga can have a nurturing impact on those who come to the mat to practice. Two of the guiding principles of yoga are non-violence and truth. These principles can help make the practice very loving and supportive, plus, with the risk of sounding a bit new age-y, there’s something magical about joining a community of yoga practitioners.
I asked DiFilippo if he felt meditation could help a person cope with depression: “There are now mountains of research correlating mindfulness meditation with reduced anxiety, improved mood, and greater engagement with life,” he says.
While he does suggest these tactics to help cope with depression, he warns that clinically depressed individuals should use it as a complement to—not a replacement for—seeking professional help, including psychotherapy and psychiatry.