Yoga's Benefits for OCD

Given OCD’s strong links with anxiety, with a correlation between yoga and anxiety reduction having been noted in many studies, it would make a tremendous amount of sense to assume that yoga could have some therapeutic benefits for this population.

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May 06, 2016
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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, more commonly referred to as OCD, is a grossly misunderstood and all-too-frequently trivialised condition. Indeed, it has been referred to by sufferers as a ‘waking nightmare’. OCD is defined as a mental health condition and typically presents as obsessive thoughts and compulsive activity. Obsessions are unwanted and unpleasant thoughts, images, or urges that repeatedly enter a person’s mind, causing feelings ranging from mild unease to clinical-level anxiety. A compulsion is a repetitive behaviour or mental act that a person feels they must carry out in order to temporarily relieve the often overwhelming feelings ignited by the obsessive thought. For example, a person with a fear of becoming ill may repeatedly and compulsively check the use-by-date on food items to ensure they are not eating anything that could potentially be contaminated.

The most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) lists, for the first time, OCD under the category ‘OCD and Related Disorders’ to reflect the increasing evidence of these disorders’ relatedness to one another and their distinction from other anxiety disorders. The disorders under this new umbrella include obsessive-compulsive disorder, body dysmorphic disorder and trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder), as well as two new disorders: hoarding disorder and excoriation (skin-picking) disorder.

Given OCD’s strong links with anxiety, with a correlation between yoga and anxiety reduction having been noted in many studies, it would make a tremendous amount of sense to assume that yoga could have some therapeutic benefits for this population. There is a shameful dearth of research into this area however. Thankfully, a recent study by Bhat and colleagues has attempted to formulate a generic yoga-based intervention module for OCD. And it is about time too. A yoga module was designed based on traditional and contemporary yoga literature and sent to ten yoga experts for content validation. The final version of the module was then piloted on seventeen patients with a diagnosis of OCD for both study feasibility and effect on symptomatology. Excitingly, the module, having been engaged with by the participants for just two weeks, was found not only to be feasible but also to promote improvement in symptoms of OCD on the Obsessive-Compulsive scale, which includes time spent on obsessions or compulsions, resistance, interference, distress, and control. Whilst further clinical study is needed to confirm efficacy, this is a very promising start indeed.

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Go to the profile of Heather Mason

Heather Mason

Founder of the Minded Institute, The Minded Institute

Heather Mason is a leader in the field of mind-body therapy and the founder of Yoga Therapy for the Mind. She develops innovative methods for mental health treatment drawing on her robust educational background including an MA in Psychotherapy, an MA in Buddhist Studies, studies in Neuroscience and a current MSc in Medical Physiology.. She is also a 500 RYT, a yoga therapist and an MBCT facilitator. Heather offers various professional trainings for yoga teachers, healthcare professionals and therapists, lectures around the world, and delivers training to medical students. She also develops protocols for different client populations by translating cutting edge research from the psycho-biology and neuro-biology of stress into yoga practices, breathwork, mindfulness interventions and therapeutic holding. Further she is involved in research on the efficacy of these practices, holds the annual UK yoga therapy conference and is blazing the trail for the integration of yoga therapy into the NHS

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