Campus Calm had the opportunity to speak with Bo Forbes about how yoga can be an effective treatment option for stressed-out students who may be suffering from anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Forbes is a yoga teacher, clinical psychologist, and integrative yoga therapist with over twenty-seven years of clinical experience in mind-body healing. She is the founder of Elemental Yoga and Director of the Center for Integrative Yoga Therapeutics(TM), established in 2006, which offers innovative mind-body yoga therapeutics to clients in the Boston and New York areas. She has a master’s degree in Social Sciences and a doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology.
Campus Calm: How can yoga be beneficial for stressed-out students who are dealing with problems like depression, anxiety and insomnia?
Forbes: Yoga requires that you focus on your breath and on what you’re doing in a certain posture. This focus helps you take your mind off what you’re worrying about — either anxiety-wise or depression-wise. The movement of an active yoga class — the contraction and release of muscles — can help you release the muscular tension that comes with anxiety and depression, helping you to discharge stress and balance your mood. That combination of movement, plus certain things that you do in the practice, plus the breath, really makes you focus and be totally in the present. You’re not thinking about the past or worrying about the future. In addition, other forms of yoga that are non-active, such as Restorative Yoga, can also help.
Campus Calm: Some students go outside and run when they’re stressed. How is it different to learn to slow down and do yoga?
Forbes: Again, it’s that focus on the breath and what you’re actually doing which helps you achieve body awareness. It’s pretty life-changing, whereas if you’re just doing a workout, or just running, you can still zone out in that running experience or in that workout. You can be not present and run ten miles. I think a lot of people do just that. A yoga class really demands that you be present on so many levels. Other than just a workout for the physical body, it’s a mind-body workout.
Campus Calm: Isn’t it true that yoga helps you practice gratitude for your body?
Forbes: That’s a nice thought but I don’t know if that’s the goal of yoga. I think some people may say that happens. There can be a problem with yoga in America today in that, like in other endeavors, there’s an emphasis on having that perfect, thin yoga body. We still have that to worry about. Many women who take classes will compare themselves to the size of the other women. Still, one of the guiding principles of yoga is contentment and acceptance- and gratitude can be an extension of that contentment.
Campus Calm: Students grow & learn when they are able to block out the world’s expectations and instead listen to what they really want out of life. How can yoga help students learn how to focus and how to develop an inner dialogue that leads to internal awareness?
Forbes: Yoga is about quieting that external stuff — what the world expects of us — and moving inward. The more you are focused inward, quieting your mind, being present, and moving your body in a certain way, the more you are able to get in touch with your inner truths. And the more apt you are to create and maintain a productive dialogue with your inner voice, as opposed to someone else’s.
Campus Calm: In one of your articles, you said, “A personal crisis can be a gift on the path to spiritual maturity.” Can you explain that further and discuss how a student’s attitude in adjusting to the challenges of college life could help him or her develop a strong sense of self that will serve them their entire lives?
Forbes: Every crisis is an opportunity for growth — to be stronger and to mine our own internal resources. If things are always easy, we don’t realize that we can rise to the occasion. A crisis helps us to dig deep within, to connect with something really strong inside us. And yoga helps us to develop that inner strength, so we can call upon it when we need to.
Campus Calm: Can yoga, in some cases, be more effective than prescription medicines in treating anxiety, insomnia, and depression?
Forbes: Many of my students have used a yoga program, under supervision from a yoga specialist and their physician, to go off antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. It’s a complex process that involves a combination of active yoga and restorative yoga.
Restorative yoga is a great way to address anxiety and depression. For people with anxiety and depression, they have a lot of imbalances in the nervous system. The nervous system is either on hyper-alert all the time or it might be under-functioning.
Restorative yoga’s extraordinary combination of breath work, internalization of the senses, calming of the mind, relaxation of the physical body, and passive stretching help soothe the nervous system. It subdues the “fight or flight” response characteristic of anxiety, insomnia, and chronic stress, while activating the “resting and digesting” response of the parasympathetic nervous system, resulting in mental calm and physical release. It’s a whole different process from active yoga. Chances are there’s a restorative yoga class somewhere in the city that you live in. Once you learn it, you can do it in your dorm room or wherever you are.