I am usually a happy person and have a cheerful predisposition to life. But I still remember, when I was 17the blues hit me, and I experienced a total melt down. I stopped going to school for a month, cut off all my friends, did not feel like talking to my parents. My mind was clouded. All I did was eat, sit and stare at the void for hours. Nothing really mattered. There was nothing to look forward to. All I wanted was for the Earth to open and swallow me.
After a week, my parents started to worry and took me to a shrink. Throughout the session I refused to speak – it didn’t feel like the right remedy for me. Depression took me by surprise – there was no real reason for it. I was an A student at school, had tons of friends, and was engaged in creative activities. But all of a sudden something tweaked inside my brain and I was full of fear. I was afraid to go out, scared of communicating and anxious. I felt spiritually bereft and uninspired and terribly lonely. I got helpless and scared I would never be able to lift the veil again. I quit school because I couldn’t focus and couldn’t care less. I had feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep and low energy. I binged on junk food in an effort to bottle the blues. I even resorted to anti-depressants, but would get aggressive compulsive. At some point I ran all kinds of tests to get to the bottom of my depression. But all results were negative and there was no mental, physical or emotional root for this state of being.
Everything changed when I met Yoga, or rather when Yoga met me. That was what I had been missing – a daily spiritual practice that would keep me centered and balanced. From that first yoga class, opening my heart up in bridge pose, sinking into Savasana, I experienced a new lightness and ease. The depression started to lift. As I attended more classes I made lifestyle changes that I have stuck with until this very day.
Today, when a student walks into my class with depression issues I use a triple threat approach: invigorating backbends, balancing inversions, and calming restoratives. Inversions reverse the flow of gravity and shift the angle of depression. You experiences a sense of oneness and you naturally begin to put things into perspective. You switch from the victim to the observer vantage point and the veil lifts immediately. Backbends open us and take us out of our shells.
While most teachers usually use yoga to draw the mind inward, in cases of depression I try to turn people and their view of the world inside out. Because depression is exhausting, restoratives are also an important part of the recipe for emotional wellness. I feel that when the body sinks into the pose, it not only absorbs the physical and mental benefits, but if frees up the emotional blockages. Practicing energizing poses to lift you up.
But, please bear in mind that in cases of depression Yoga may not necessarily cure you. There are instances when anti-depressants or psycho-therapy are part of an integrative approach. Depression and anxiety are complicated and different for everyone, and it’s important to get a personalized diagnosis and treatment plan.
But one thing is certain. Yoga will transform you life and help you manage your anxiety and depressant so you feel happier – more whole and connected. It will help you create new thought patterns, feel self-love, and return to the present moment when your mind wanders off into a fearful future. It will also teach you to that life is good, whether or not things are going the way you had anticipated them.
All this just from practicing asana? Well, not exactly. Practicing yoga will alter your inner landscape in many ways. But it is important to determine the root of your depression. In my case it flared because I had a spiritual void. But over the years anxiety and depression have always gone hand in hand. I’ve noticed that a panic attack or prolonged periods of anxiety can trigger depression in me. Although no one knows why, most anxiety disorders—including panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and phobias are usually accompanied by depression.
Asana practice helps counteract anxiety-driven depression because it reduces stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, inducing what’s known as the relaxation response. Once the relaxation response kicks in, many people feel that instead of trying to escape their feelings, they can stay with them, which is essential to identifying the psychological factors that trigger their anxiety and depression. But the path to getting to this relaxed place varies by individual.
Personally, it helped me cope with my fear. The release of fear actually precipitated the full flowering of love. That experience helped me trust in the flow of life. I learned that when you connect with the deepest part of yourself, you realize that you are connected to everything else.
Having helped my self, I can now help others. I deal with lots of students experiencing depression. Some struggle with anxiety for days, weeks, or even months. They even have days when they fear that depression could once again come knocking on their door. But Yoga helps us all appreciate even those emotions. Knowing that we have pulled it through makes us more sensitive to other people’s struggles. We become better listeners, more compassionate, and we get much better at laughing at ourselves.
For me it was these experiences that led me to discovering Yoga. So even if you are in the midst of your toughest struggle yet, know that it will change, and trust that it will give you deeper access to yourself. Try to be grateful for it. How’s that for a change?
Anti-depression Yoga: Cheer Up (open level)
This Yoga routine integrates poses, breathing, bandas (energy locks) and tapping (emotional freedom technique) to boost the happy hormones and lift the veil of anxiety and depression. Rubbing the forehead in child’s pose activates the pineal and pituitary glands and promotes the production of relaxation and vitality hormones. Gentle back-bends paired with thumping of the thymus and the tops of the feet open the main meridians of the body and swing the mood up. A chain of standing bound twists and stabilizing poses boost the willpower and the desire to pursue happiness here and now. Playful hip and shoulder openers ward off anxiety and tension and the grip of fear from the body and mind. Soothing inversions and forward bends bring a sense of acceptance and release. And the final cord – a heart-opening bridge to energize you, and help you rejoice the importance of your unique self to this world.