Getting Out Of The Woods: Yoga For Depression
I don’t want to say that I suffer from depression, because it makes me feel like a victim, and victimized was my main emotional sentiment around depression for years. I’d rather just say that I have been blue a lot throughout my life. As a child, I saw psychologists and continued with mental therapy up into my 20s. I have been diagnosed with depression, bi polar disorder and adult ADD. I have taken many forms of drugs, prescribed by professionals and none of them were right for me. In fact, now that I am 36 years old and drug free (prescribed and party), I believe that a lot of people go through these times, and that they are even normal and part of what makes us human. I don’t run from these emotions anymore, but try to work with them.
Looking back on all the years that I was “suffering” I can see a lot of clear lines that no one ever asked me about. For instance, as a child I didn’t play a lot of sports or do any kind of team activity and was truthfully a pretty lonely little kid- no doctor ever prescribed outdoor activities for me. I could say the teen years were rough for anyone, so let’s just write those off under “puberty”. By the time I was being diagnosed in my 20s, I was also drinking three large cups of coffee a day (like Starbucks large), doing cocaine and drinking in nightclubs a few times a week and working over 60 hours a week. Honestly, my “suffering” calmed considerably when I decided to quit being busy (work hard/play hard blah blah) and start being healthy.
Now my depression is a lot more manageable. I have a pretty simple plan to help me along the way: exercise daily (and not so i can have big booty, but just to get outside and move my body), I eat mostly whole foods, I go to sleep early and wake up early and I do yoga. When the bad times come, they are much easier to navigate with this daily preventative plan in place. But that doesn’t mean I’m immune and I don’t get knocked down on occasion.
When I have a particularly painful bout of the blues, I usually cannot concentrate and I lose all my motivation for work and personal projects. I lose my appetite and stop being able to sleep through the night. Dragging myself outside just to walk my dog is a struggle. When you are that low, sometimes getting to a yoga class sounds impossible. Here’s my daily suggestion when the pit is deep and your trapped way way down.
Yoga For Depression
If you can get 15 minutes in you a day, then you got something.
1. Try to sit in silence for 5 minutes.
Just sit with how you feel. It’s going to hurt and your body and mind might be defiant because of how much pain you are in. I sometimes give up int he first 30 seconds. And if that happens, you can try again later. Be gentle with yourself in this. Some things that help are: lying in Savasana/corpse pose, and putting on some meditation music in 5 minute intervals so you can focus on the music. I also use mantra. Here’s my top two mantras for depression meditation: 1. “I am a miracle” 2. “For Love is the Kingdom, and Love is the Power, and Love is the Glory forever and ever.”
2. An Inversion A Day.
A lot of online blogs that suggest yoga routines for depression are based on heart openers. I actually find that this is way too much for my body when I am depressed. Depression leaves me so emotionally raw that a heart opener sometimes cracks too much open and can make me feel temporarily more vulnerable and lower than I was before. I find a good old rush of blood to the head to be a gentler way of moving energy and opening up emotional blocks. You can do down dog if that’s as far as you can go, or you can try for tripod headstand. Anything that will have you upside-down.
3. Hip Openers.
Hip openers can be dangerously beautiful. Butterfly is a nice gentle way to start opening up the hips, but if you want to go really deep, then holding a passive pigeon for 5 minutes on each leg while you focus all your attention on relaxing your torso – warning -this could leave you a crying mess. If depression leaves you feeling like you are unable to shift or release the emotions in your body, then pigeon is great for helping to release. If you find that you are gushing with emotion when you are depressed and have a hard time corking the tears and fear, then butterfly or goddess might be enough for you. Come to the hips gently. You can always start with a long passive forward fold.
4. Legs up the wall.
I like this one because it’s very therapeutic and easy. You can lie on the floor. When you help the blood flow into the intestine and stomach you can really calm those anxious nerves that sometimes accompany depression. The full extension of this posture is shoulder stand and if you are feeling ready for it, please try, but if you can barely get out of bed, this one is a nice way to start.
After I’ve completed a couple of postures (please go easy on yourself and just tackle what you can), then lie in Savasana for 5 minutes. There is something subtly vulnerable about Savasana. This is the posture that I cry in when I attend a yoga class and I’m feeling blue. For me it’s the openness to god that makes me crack. Allowing my wounds to show on my back with my arms turned up, gives god a place to enter me with light and the light can hurt when you are low. But it’s the kind of cry that helps me to release, not return to the pain.
This whole process should take no more than 15 minutes. If you can do this every day, you will pull yourself through the rough times much faster and with more love for self than any drug on the market can. Making a gratitude list every morning and night with what you are thankful for can help too. Just list 5-10 things you are grateful for. And then go to bed. These suggestions are gentle and they are not miracles by any means. But they have helped me immeasurably – these little practices keep me believing that I can get through it and for me, it’s knowing I can survive that makes all the difference.
I see you. I love you. I fight with you.