Yoga Therapy for Bipolar Disorder

brain-illustration-1940x900_35269In any given year, Bipolar Disorder affects about 5.7 million American adults. This is about 2.6% of the U.S. population over 17, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

In my work as a Yoga Therapist I have had many opportunities to work with people living with bipolar symptoms. What has really caught my attention is the variety of ways people experience it. In western medicine this disorder is categorized into a few groups ranging from people who have very large highs and lows to those who have mostly depressive symptoms and some manic episodes. What I have seen in my practice is a wide variety of emotional experiences and some very engaged, brave people working very hard to maximize their potential in the face of challenging mind states. I came upon this list of what people say works best for their Bipolar Disorder.

The Most Effective Rated Treatments for People with Bipolar Disorder

1. Regimented sleep
2. Reduce alcohol
3. Exercise
4. Lamictal
5. Sunlight
6. Yoga
7. Psychotherapy
8. Mindfulness meditation
9. Small, frequent snacks
10. Self-tracking

What I love about this list is, except for #4 (a drug), these are all things that lead many towards happiness and health. Yoga and meditation are on the list, as well as many lifestyle factors that yogis have implemented for hundreds of years to enhance their practice. I would even include psychotherapy in that category since it points us to looking at how our mind works much like meditation.

As a Yoga Therapist I have encouraged my clients with Bipolar Disorder to regulate their lifestyle and then practice yoga in a way that most balances them. Each client gets a slightly different set of practices based on their individual needs. Often we create several practices to match their mental states so that practices are easier to do in the face of a shifting mental landscape. For example, one might practice meditation when they are feeling relatively stable, but more asana when their self talk is louder. In this way the discipline and regulation of practice can stay with them while acknowledging and respecting the mind’s vacillations.

Over time consistent practice can bring really positive results. One client comes to mind. She was 26 when I met her and had been in an inpatient facility just a few months before she came to work with me. Over the next 3 years we developed a practice together. She slowly became much more stable with episodes moving further away from each other. As her practice progressed, so did her ability to weather her manic storms. By the end of the 3rd year she said, “I feel like I have more control over my ability to reemerge from my episodes”. For her, this shift was huge. A new perspective and faster bounce back enabled her to consistently feel like her “life had meaning”.

Unfortunately, I can’t lay out a practice for Bipolar Disorder in this article. It really needs to be individualized. But a Yoga Therapist should be able to help you if you are suffering. If you would like a referral to a Breathing Deeply Yoga Therapist, please contact us here.

Bipolar Disorder can be helped and the science of yoga has much to offer. We often think of this as only affecting the mind, but new research continues to remind us that the way to effect the mind is often through the body. The holistic science of yoga therapy can be a great help for a disorder that can be challenging to work with.

May we all find peace today,
Brandt

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