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How You Can Use Martial Arts Practice to Fight Depression

by David Stainko

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Did you know that depression is one of the oldest diseases classified in the history of medicine? Today, more than 600 million people around the globe suffer from depression. And what’s more is that the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts it will be the second cause of disability in the general population by the year 2020! 

Most of those who suffer from depression will go through more than 10 (minor or major) depressive episodes during their lifetime. It is believed that every fifth woman and every tenth man experience a major depressive episode in their lives and that women are more affected; the ratio of women and men being 2:1, but unfortunately, men have been found to be far less likely to seek help.

On this post, I will share some useful information about depression and how certain elements of martial arts can help those who suffer from it to reduce its effects. 


What are the usual signs of depression?


depression in males


Depression in most patients begins gradually and almost completely unnoticed. Their contacts and ordinary conversations with people slowly become obsolete and boring, they gradually lose interest in everyday small things, they feel uncomfortable in society as the interest in close and dear people is slowly disappearing, their souls no longer have joy, and almost every thought and every task to be done is followed by an inexplicable sense of discomfort and fear.

It’s expected that one can feel sadness or disappointment because they have not achieved a goal or experienced failure but this does not necessarily equate to a depressive disorder.  An individual who has the capability to mourn ‘normally’  is able to optimistically look at the future and not lose his or her sense of hope.

Someone who has been diagnosed with a clinical depression, however, is likely to feel hopeless and severely pessimistic when faced with an ordeal. The feeling of self-esteem is in people with ‘normal’ level of grief is somewhat preserved, while in people with depression it is significantly disrupted and associated with a sense of inexplicable guilt and an abundance of dark, negative thoughts.


What are the causes of depression? 


While it is true that depression can be passed down genetically (hereditary), all of us can find ourselves facing difficult life situations that may lead us to fall into a state of depression. Stressors are sometimes so powerful that they can lead to breakdown and psychotic symptoms even in a mentally healthy individual. Some examples of these stressors are a global economic crisis that significantly increases unemployment (loss of job security), mounting debts, physical or mental abuse, or the loss of a loved one. 


How can we deal with depression? 


If you believe that you may be prone to depression – or are currently suffering from depression, do seek advice from mental health professionals. That said, there is no easy or straightforward way to treat depression. Also, no case is exactly the same as the other so the types of treatment widely varied.

As you may expect, medications such as antidepressants may be prescribed but do not actually treat or cure the disease. However, many patients have found them to be useful as it helps to suppress symptoms. It’s also important to note that medication may be addictive and therefore, may cause a rather several withdrawal when no longer taken. 

More often than not, patients with depression are recommended to undergo regular therapy sessions (counseling) which may not provide immediate relief but in the long-run, can be much more effective in curing depression than medication alone


How can we use martial arts to alleviate depression?


practicing tai chi

Image credit: eomega.org


In addition to seeking help from a certified mental health professional, one of the best self-help techniques in helping to relieve depression is the practice of martial arts. Some of the most effective exercises one can take up is breathing exercises, whether it is a pranayama (sometimes referred to as breath yoga), or similar breathing techniques found in martial arts such as uyai, or kung fu breathing technique -chi kung, or kokya (found in Aikido, Taekwondo) or breathing technique with the emphasis on exhalation technique - kiai (kihap).

Breathing techniques help people with depression to relax and calm themselves down. One of the best techniques is where a slow inhalation is carried out through the nose while you count up to three, followed by a shorter pause, and a slow release in the mouth with a count of six. It can be performed so that we breathe first and then later, through the other nostril. An alternative method of deep breathing is the more powerful inhalation of the nose, followed by the more powerful exhalation of the mouth, with the knocks being carried out by the kiai (kihap). The sufferers from depression should initially practice breathing techniques indoors – next to the windows in their bedroom or living room – and once they have established a routine, they can move their practice in an outdoor space such as in the backyard or a nearby park.

Meditation also has proven to help those who are suffering from depression patients – but it needs to be done gradually and regularly. The good news is, many martial arts disciplines such as Taekwondo includes a range of forms or movements that can serve as moving meditation.


Taekwondo practitioners in meditation


In Karate, one can perform various katas (forms), especially those with an emphasis on breathing techniques. It is also good if those suffering from depression while performing the kata, perform only some sections instead of the entire kata, especially not some complicated and harder (masterful) kata. At the beginning, the kata can be performed indoors and gradually, outdoors.

Last but not least, it is known that physical activity, such as those carried out during the practice of martial arts, encourages the production of endorphin & serotonin. These hormones interact with the opiate receptors in the brain to reduce our perception of pain and stimulates the feeling of happiness and satisfaction. In a nutshell, physical exercise, when done regularly, has been found to not only alleviate depression but also help to prevent it. 


Been wanting to use martial arts and pranayama as a way to stay fit and prevent illnesses such as depression? Why not go on a martial arts & yoga training camp?  At BookMartialArts.com, you can find a vast selection located all over the globe!

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