Yoga For DepressionWritten By: Christina Hammett-Laughton
Topic: Changing Your Mood, One Breath At A Time
Changing Your Mood, One Breath At A Time
I would like to start by saying that yoga is a gift you can give yourself. It is a beautiful compliment to main stream medical treatments for depression. The word yoga means "union", union of mind, body and spirit. In the state of depression there can be a disconnection, almost a feeling of wanting to flee from oneself. Yoga can be used to gently begin the journey back to yourself at your own pace. It is something you can do in the privacy of your own home or under the supervision of a supportive teacher that can guide you gently through your process of healing.
What is yoga? Yoga is the practice of breath, movement and sitting quietly with oneself to find peace in the coming together of mind and body. The breath gives you focus. It not only brings you inside yourself, but at the same time gives you something to think about. This something to think about, breathing in and out, is the beginning of change for someone who is depressed because when you are thinking about your breath, you can not think about your sadness. Starting slow with this process, you will find yourself forgetting the heavy burden of depression because your mind will be otherwise engaged in the necessary process of nourishing your body with breath. When the body is in the place of stress, we sometimes forget to breathe deeply. When we are full of anxiety our breath tends to only come to the top of our chest. With these shallow breaths our bodies are not provided with the necessary nutrients needed to stay healthy. Focusing on your breath can provide you with many tools to help lighten your mood, change the pattern of insomnia and decrease anxiety.
Breathing Exercises - Belly Breathing
To prepare for these exercises, find a comfortable place to practice, either lying in bed, sitting on the floor with your legs Indian style or sitting up straight in a chair. In the state of depression just getting the energy to start something new is a big deal. So, do not give yourself big expectations. A five minute session of breath work is all you need to start. Begin by just watching your breath. Study it for a few moments. Noticing how deeply you breathe, how far down your breath moves, and how it feels. Maybe it will feel really good to take a deep breath. Then put your hands on your belly and start to breathe a little bit deeper. As you take a breath in slowly imagine you can bring your breath to your belly letting it expand. The actual process is as you breathe deeply your lungs will fill and push your diaphragm down, which in turn presses on your belly. As you breathe in allow your belly to expand into your hands. As you exhale bring your belly back towards your spine with purpose. Continue this breath for as long as you like, at least two minutes. Then release that breath, coming back to your normal breath. Relax for a moment with your eyes closed.
The second part of the puzzle and in no way less important, is the physical part of yoga. The yogic term for posture is asana. It is the postures that you put your body in to bring your mind together with your physical self. Using your breath to help you relax and get in touch with how you feel and what you need. There are many types of postures that are therapeutic for depression and anxiety. Each group has a different purpose. You may find a more up beat and strenuous string of postures might relieve your anxiety and a busy mind. As you work hard focusing on your breath and movement it allows little room for your negative thoughts to sneak in. When your body is working hard chemicals are released in the body which in turn help to balance the feeling of anxiety and restlessness. Grief is also a seed for depression, sometimes sneaking up on us without our realizing, it has gone from the moment of receiving the bad news to burying itself inside of our body and taking up residence. Yoga postures help you gently move in a way that releases the pockets of feelings that are hiding. You will be in a particular pose and a feeling will come to the front of your mind. You will feel it like a bubble in your body rising to the top, then following its natural need to rise and pop. When it is released you will feel relieved and less burdened by the weight of it all. It is important to start slow and with what is important to you. If you do not have the energy to go to a class that is okay, it will come. Working with an experienced teacher will help you by providing support in your process and adds a safe place for you to go, that is different than home. If you are not ready to leave the home yet, buy a book, start slow. Choose one thing to do the first day and try it. You will find yourself looking forward to trying something else the next day. A very good book for how to relieve depression with yoga is "Yoga for Depression" written by Amy Weintraub. It is a wealth of information, in an easy to read format that explains how the mind and body work and respond to yoga in the midst of depression.
Posture to practice for lack of energy:
It is called the feet up the wall pose. Choose a wall in your home. Sit up really close like you are going to sit on the wall and swing your legs up. This should leave you with both feet and legs flat on the wall above your head. Your body is prone on the floor making an L out of your body. Place your arms at your side with your palms up to the ceiling. Then focus on relaxing and breathing, in and out. Stay there for as long as it is comfortable (at least three minutes.) This pose rejuvenates your body. It gives relief to our heart, oxygenates your brain and energizes your whole system. It is many of my students favorite posture.
The last subject I would like to talk about is meditation and guided imagery. The definition of meditation is being in the moment, and staying there moment to moment. In the doing of this you can not do or think about anything else. Meditation is medication with no side effects. Starting off slow with only two minutes at a time, it will change your day and your mood. It is a very therapeutic way of getting to know yourself. Guided imagery is a form of meditation that is visualizing what you want, sort of going on a vacation of your choice right in your own home. Positive thoughts can create miracles in your life. Your mind will begin to change what it expects and healing will begin.
You may either lay flat or sit with your spine straight. Sitting with your back up against the wall for support with your legs Indian style, is a good method. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to calm your mind. Then bring your attention to your breath, letting your mind become a blank slate. Try sitting like this for two minutes to begin with. There are many ways to help your mind stay quiet. You may say to yourself "breath in, breath out", or repeat the word "quite" to yourself slowly. When thoughts come in of any kind (and they will) just let them float by. Do not become distracted by them, don't them them hook you in. Just watch and repeat your words and watch your breathing. This will become two minutes of peace in your life that you will want to repeat over and over. It will change your thought pattern almost instantly. When we focus on our breath and nothing else we are in charge. Take that two minutes to release yourself from everything else.
Guided Imagery Exercises:
Mix suger and honey together to make about 1/2 cup of tasty paste. In the shower gently scrub your body with this mixture imagining that you are removing any heavy feelings in your emotions, washing away stress, unhappy moods and pain. Do this with the focused intention to let go! When you are done, stand under the shower and visualize all that you have washed away going down the drain. You can picture it as a dark cloud or whatever comes to your mind as helpful. Stand there until the visualization stops on its own. Some times it take a few minutes. Try to be patient. Your mood should lift and you may feel lighter. Rinse with cool water to finish.
Using positive thoughts to change your life is a very powerful tool. You may be thinking if you are depressed, "how in the world do I find the power to feel positive?" Ok, there is a great thing called intention. When we put our conscious thoughts out there about what we want, visualize it, believe it, it will happen. Thoughts with intention are the most powerful healers in the world. That power is inside of each of us to use. A few ways to create power behind your intentions are: cut out a picture of what you want to happen, put it somewhere you often pass in your home or work. Sit with it and just look at it. Visualize that is has already happened. Of all the tools I have shared here, this is what will cement your recovery. You have to believe, in yourself and your power to heal.
Inviting new challenges and habits into your life, can be a life changing process. Give new ideas a chance and make the intention today to change any negative aspects of your day. You will only live to be grateful you did.