Yoga for Depression

I’m finishing up an excellent book, Healing Depression the Mind-Body Way by Nancy Liebler and Sandra Moss. I am not currently depressed, but I certainly have been in the past. Actually, I was first introduced to yoga about 20 years ago when I went through a severe clinical depression, which included a hefty dose of anxiety as well (as depression often does). Yoga is, and has been a touchstone, and a first line of defense when depression and/or anxiety looms.

A little more on that, because this is a topic near and dear to my heart. For many people who get out of control depression, anxiety may be the first sign. If you find yourself acting and thinking more intensely than normal, take care. The body and mind get so wound up, that eventually, the system shuts down and depression may result. Think of it as a car engine overheating. If you’ve ever driven a really crummy car, or series of (as I did for an entire decade of my life), you may have experienced this. First the gauge starts to show that you are getting too warm. If you are a reasonable driver, you may decide that you really need to get somewhere, and maybe you will see if driving slower will still get you there, or to a service station. You turn off the air, pray you hit no stoplights. Eventually, you either manage to fix the problem, or you break down. This process is very like the reality of unchecked anxiety. If you don’t slow down, and regroup, you may not make it to your service station. You may just break down, which is when anxiety turns to depression. Having a daily yoga practice is an excellent way to keep on top of how and what you are feeling.

In this book, the authors offered a great overview of the different types of depression, some Ayurveda informed practices to support the different types, lifestyle changes, and some sample case studies to use as examples. If you find that depression, sadness, or anxiety loom heavy on your heart, I encourage you to find human help. If depression is something you revisit periodically, try reading the book before you are in crisis. You may discover what your early signs are, and be able to minimize your next event. More people have experienced depression than you know. And when you make it through, I urge you to be a light for others who are caught out in the dark. Having made it through, I feel like it is my duty (and a welcome one) to look out for others who may be stumbling, or have succumbed.

If you have never experienced depression, don’t try to cheer your depressed friend up. Just sit with them. Honestly, the best thing you can do is to acknowledge their pain, in a spirit of empathy. There is a wonderful Brene Brown video on the difference between sympathy and empathy. Watch it. Being there means everything.



Like attracts like

Today, I gave a presentation at my church about some of the spiritual observances of yoga (primarily the Yamas and Niyamas) and led the group in a chair based yoga practice, incorporating breath awareness, and a little bit of breath control. Afterwards, I took questions, which is always fun. In that Q&A period, someone asked what kind of practice they should pursue. This is where discipline comes in.

If you are a fiery overachiever, you will be most attracted to a fiery, accomplishment-driven practice. If you are a couch potato, restorative may be the only yoga you really want to sign on for. However, since like attracts like, if you are fiery, and only do fiery, you are only making yourself more intense. One of the many wonderful purposes of yoga is to help to bring us into balance. If you are fiery, asking you to do a restorative may be too much of a leap, but could you find joy in a more contemplative practice that still offers some challenge? If you are sedentary, a fast-paced flow class may be excessive, but could you find some challenge in an Iyengar class? Over time, we can use this balancing of opposites to bring us to the practice that we need.

Seasons of our lives also impact what might be best for us. If you are a busy householder, finding an hour to carve out each day for a languorous practice may not be practical, but you could develop a shorter practice that offers the maximum benefit. If we are in ill health, perhaps our practice may focus on breath control and meditation, and less on the poses.

Whatever we choose, examine whether it is moving you toward a noble goal, or a superficial one. If yoga is bringing you more stability, insightfulness, and introspection, you are on the right track. How does yoga help you? Let me know in the comments.