Yoga to Overcome the Effects of Pandemic

Dr. Ishwar V Basavaraddi

The COVID-19 pandemic shook the daily routines and “normal” lifestyle patterns of the individuals. From Dietary, Activity to Sleep schedules, every part of healthy living was altered with massive lockdowns and psycho-social changes induced by the pandemic. These alterations have plunged many into mental health problems and diseases like stress, depression, anxiety, etc. The nature of event and resilience in the individual determines the degree of impact that these psycho-social disorders inflict on our lives. Lifestyle practices, like Yoga, can enhance resilience and either prevent depression or lower its severity in the event of significant stress upon mind pertaining to the unavoidable circumstances like a Pandemic.

Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga under the umbrella of it’s Weekly Webinars organised a session on the topic “Yoga to Overcome the Effects of Pandemic,” introduced by Dr. Ishwar V. Basavaraddi, Director, MDNIY, with Taiyab Alam, Communication and Documentation Officer and other members of the institute on the panel.

In a very touching welcome, Dr. Basavaraddi introduced the Guest Speaker of the evening Dr. B. N Gangadhar former Director of National Institute of Mental Health & Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore. Dr. Gangadhar has over 32 years of extensive experience in the field of mental health, from both clinical and academic perspectives, currently, he is the co-editor of the Asian Journal of Psychiatry (from 2009) and active member of editorial boards of national and international journals.

 Dr. Basavaraddi introduced the topic by enunciating that “Stress is ubiquitous” and that only the degree varies across situations and individuals. He says, depression is one of the end results of stress either acute or chronic and also has the compounding effect of the other bodily reactions to stress. Therefore, its manifestations should be contained in the best ways possible. One of the lifestyle practices explored to help get rid of this is Yoga. Yoga has shown promise in reducing symptoms of depression while it also lowers the biological effects of depression and stress on the body. 

Director MDNIY talks about “Teleyoga” as an acceptable and even popular remedy to help cure stress and depression symptoms. He further emphasises on the reports that suggest the benefits of Teleyoga in individuals fighting the stress of the consequences of the pandemic.

Dr. Gangadhar delivered his lecture in two parts, Firstly, he talked about the evidence-based models that talk about biological mechanism helpful involved in tackling the COVID-19 infection to get better, Secondly, he iterates on how Yoga produces ecological and individual wellbeing which is especially, required during these times of crisis.

He quotes from Yoga Vasistha, 

Manah Prashamanopayah Yoga Ityabhidhiyate

Meaning, Yoga is a skillful trick to calm down the mind, and it keeps me sane. He states that mental state is something that has often been linked with Yoga and we practice it for the betterment of our mind.

Dr. Gangadhar focuses on the Ashtanga Yoga – the eight limbs of Yoga, specifically – Asanas, Pranayama, and Meditation – which he describes have been used in most clinical works and researches. He mentions how NIMHANS has set up an Integrated Centre for Yoga Centre and it’s drive to study the Yogic practices of Asanas, Pranayama, and Meditation which are used to carry out research for drawing helpful conclusions in the field of Yoga.

Image Source: Presentation used Dr. B. N. Gangadhar

Dr. Gangadhar elaborated upon some research studies published by Indian Journal of Psychiatry that focus on “Yoga in Elderly, positive Effects” and how it benefited their sleep as well as cognitive functions under the random clinical trials within the duration of 6 months. 

Next, he iterates upon a meta analysis on Yoga for Depression, and it’s Therapeutic effects indicating how in all comparisons Yoga works wonders to help reduce the stress and depression symptoms in regular practitioners. Yoga produces effects which are conducive to better the depression symptoms with the Role of GABA in Yoga.

The practice of Yoga postures (Asanas) is usually associated with increased brain GABA (an amino acid that acts as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system) levels. Walking, brisk Walking alongside practising Yoga operates as a good mechanism to reduce Depression among individuals.

Dr. Gangadhar further refers to more studies that indicate the role of Yoga in reducing Cortisol levels among individuals which is a stress hormone. Moreover, Yoga also ensures that BDNF levels rise (Brain-derived neurotrophic factors which are lowered in depression) alongside the reduction in Cortisol.

Chanting of OM” leads to limbic deactivation and functioning of brain centers that trigger emotions in individuals. Hence, bringing peace and relaxation to mind.

Image Source: Presentation used Dr. B. N. Gangadhar

He quotes, चिंतायाश्च चितायाश्च बिंदुमात्रं विशिष्यते ।

चिता दहति निर्जीवं चिंता दहति जीवनम् ॥

Meaning, that there is only one difference in how you write ‘worry’ and ‘funeral pyre’ – just an extra dot (चिता = funeral pyre चिंता = worry). While the pyre burns dead bodies, worry burns down life. 

Therefore, regular practice of Yoga in all forms calms down the body and mind with it’s breathing and physical exercises – wherein it increases the grey matter of the brain over a period of time.

In some simple technical terms, Dr. Gangadhar also mentions a research study titled, “Effects of Yoga Therapy in Schizophrenia: Resting-State Functional MRI Network coherence” to iterate that Yoga connects brain networks wherein Default Mode Networks become brighter, coherent and active.

Image Source: Presentation used Dr. B. N. Gangadhar

The situation of COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in the mental illness cases wherein upcoming studies and researches are indicative of Yoga being helpful to maintain better health among COVID-19 patients and the general public.

Dr. Gangadhar says that Yoga enhances the lung functions with its rejuvenating breath regulation and Yogic exercises. 

He also stated the Role of Yoga amidst COVID-19 pandemic:

Image Source: Presentation used Dr. B. N. Gangadhar

Lastly, Dr. Gangadhar talks about the online Yoga; Tele Yoga for stress management as earlier enunciated by Director MDNIY in his introductory remarks. 

In the Interactive Session, Dr. Basvaraddi enquired if the research studies mentioned by the eminent guest speaker specifically refers to Pranayama and Meditation or they are related to the general protocol of all Yogasanas.

To this Dr. Gangadhar says that these are mostly generic manuals available for everyone on public domains and touch upon every aspect of Yoga. 

Secondly, a viewer asked Dr. Gangadhar to describe the mechanism by which Yoga increases the BDNF in our brain. The speaker replies that certain data show that Yoga reduces stress levels which leads to the reduction of Cortisol and this in turn enhances the BDNF levels. Though, much study is yet to be conducted to determine the molecular functioning of this increase in BDNF.

Lastly, the Guest speaker was asked; what is the Role of Yoga in regulating Dopamine activities of the brain? 

Dr. Gangadhar answers that Yoga actually enhances the Dopamine activity of the brain. At the same time, Meditation is wonderfully a sole practice that can bring great relaxation of mind. Though, more research is needed to identify everything there is about Yoga and its benefits in the regulation of Dopamine.

In Conclusion to this appreciably informative webinar, Director MDNIY and Dr. Gangadhar agreed to the point that Yoga is a path to meditation itself and Psychiatry Care-Givers should be introduced to regular training and practice of Yoga for their individual betterment.

WATCH: Webinar – Yoga to Overcome the Effects of Pandemic

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