By Dr. Mehri Moore
As we’ve written about before, THIRA Health takes a holistic approach to our patients’ treatment. Unlike strictly biomedical regimens, holistic treatments consider a broad range of factors – physical and psychological, but also social, environmental, and spiritual – while still focusing on working toward cures for specific ailments. Like all medical practitioners, physicians who take a holistic approach aim to make their patients as healthy as possible, they simply conceive of “health” in a broader, more far-reaching way than is standard in most schools of Western medicine.
As such, in addition to extensive therapy, THIRA’s Partial Hospitalization Program strives to nourish the whole self. We emphasize the importance of good mind-body balance by incorporating nutritious meals, community-based relational support, art and movement therapy, and yoga into our treatment programs. Encouragingly, this last element – yoga – is finally starting to attract attention from mental health researchers.
A Growing Interest from the Research Community
Indeed, there were six papers presented at the recent 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association that addressed the benefits of yoga as a component of mental health treatments. For instance, the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s Lindsey Hopkins, PhD, conducted a study on the antidepressant effects of Hatha yoga – which alternates physical exertions with meditative and breathing exercises – among veterans. Every participant in the study reported that they would recommend the program to other veterans, and Hopkins found that participants with elevated depression scores at the beginning of the study experienced significant reductions in depressive symptoms by the end of the eight-week program.
Similarly, the University of Denver’s Jacob Hyde, PsyD, presented an outline of a six-week yoga treatment course that he hopes the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs will move to classify as an officially-sanctioned Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) approach. As Hyde reported, “Research examining the effects of yoga and meditation practices as CAM with U.S. Military populations has uncovered several benefits, including reducing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptomatology and improving overall mental health and quality of life.”
The mental health benefits of yoga are by no means restricted to veterans, however. Nina Vollbehr, MS, of the Center for Integrative Psychiatry at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, presented two studies on the value of yoga to patients who have struggled with chronic and/or treatment-resistant depression. As she summarized, “Yoga may be well-suited as a depression intervention, as it consists of a combination of exercise and meditation, both of which have been shown to alleviate depressed mood. Another benefit of yoga is its appeal as a practice for well-being. This appeal may help to circumvent stigma that prevents many from seeking treatment for depression.”
Though much in-depth research still needs to be done, it’s heartening that a baseline scientific consensus is beginning to emerge around the beneficial qualities of yoga. For patients struggling with serious mental health issues, yoga is not in and of itself a sufficient treatment plan, but as one component of a diverse, holistic approach, it can be a much-needed boon to long-term, sustainable recoveries.