Any activity that relieves stress and anxiety is potentially useful for managing bipolar disorder. Yoga can be a helpful addition to a holistic treatment plan for bipolar disorder. In addition to other treatment therapies, yoga brings physical, meditative, and emotional elements that may help to manage extreme bipolar episodes.
Research has shown that a regular yoga practice for people living with depressive disorders may significantly reduce anxiety, stabilize mental activity, enhance brain functioning, improve sleep quality and mitigate stress.
In yoga, some positions are calming and others are energising. Postures like backbends, which open up the chest and increase lung capacity, are especially useful for depression. During a manic phase, it is advised to use calming positions while energetic positions can be used during depressive phases.
Proper breathing during yoga practice is also critical in controlling extreme mood swings. In a depressive state, it is helpful to breathe through the right nostril, while it helps to breathe through the left nostril during the manic phase.
There are a variety of yoga practices that can lend themselves to complementary treatment of bipolar disorder. Yoga tatva mudra vigyan (yoga of elements) states that the five constituents of the physical body are fire, air, ether, earth and water. These constituents are represented by our thumb, index, middle, ring and little finger. A particular mudra activates a subtle but powerful energy flow and interaction, which reverses and cures the imbalance within our bodies.
Gyan mudra is effective for the depressive cycle and is formed by touching the tip of the index finger with the tip of the thumb. Practising this mudra controls the level of depression, increasing the level of confidence and inner bliss.
“Yoga for Anxiety and Depression,” (April 2009) Harvard Mental Health Letter. Boston: Harvard Health Publications.
Zope, SA and Zope RA. (2013). “Sudarshan Kriya Yoga: Breathing for health,” International Journal of Yoga. 6(1) MedKnow. 4-10. 2.
Organization Supporting Yoga as Treatment:
The Blu Matter Project is a not-for-profit organization acting as a bridge between its ambassador yoga studios and individuals living with depression and/or bipolar disorder.
Linda Malone, the organization founder, said Blu Matter also uses social media to share research being done around the science and neurobiology of mindfulness, which encourages individuals to become conscious and aware of their thoughts and feelings in the present moment.
Dr. Arun Ravindran is the senior scientist in the Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
He was the lead author of their study focusing on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments which includes yoga, which researchers said may be considered a “second-line adjunctive treatment” in mild to moderate depression.
“Many of the cognitive behavioural therapies incorporate an element of mindfulness,” said Dr. Arun Ravindran, “It’s a kind of acceptance therapy. You’re getting people to realize the appropriate nature of the problem and trying to get them to overcome them.”
Here is a Huffington Post article that discusses the Blu Matter Project and his work more.
This article from Brown University talks about a published study that shows Hatha Yoga as a helpful treatment for bipolar disorder, but it is also not without its own risks.