“There is always light at the end of the tunnel. But how to get to the end of the tunnel to see the light. That’s the rub…”, one of my young students said to me the other day. She is only 18, but struggling with manic depression since she was 15. She is a gorgeous and brilliant young woman, who doesn’t lack anything in life. She is currently pursuing her dance studies in New York and never misses her Yogea class. She says that’s the only thing that keeps her going and reminds her that life is to be marveled and appreciated.
When I ask her about the cause of her depression – she has no clue. She describes it as a stifling grip around the solar plexus that creates angst and constant worry for no reason at all. Even though she is aware her life is in order when she gets panic stricken she can’t help it. She explains that her depression leads to awful anxiety and hopelessness. Every time she comes to class she requests a meditation at the beginning and a deep relaxation at the end. She believes the meditation brings her back to her center of power and the relaxation helps her let go of fear and ease tension. She gives credit to the expanded spiritual and energetic toolkit of Yogea that has kept her mentally and physically in the zone.
As a relentless optimist I could never really understand how depression could last more than a day. Until I gave birth and the post-partum depression really knocked me of my socks. I was crying all day, feeling totally helpless and hopeless. And that went on for more than three months, until the hormones went back in range. But I remember clearly what it felt like. It is a state of mind that you can no longer control. Ironically, the mind is the ultimate navigator and boss, but in cases of depression you feel totally helpless. You simply cannot impose the dictates of the mind. I remember when I hit rock bottom I would say to myself “C’mon, gear up girl, it’s a waste of energy and time”. Or I would get into the mantra groove and repeat “God is Love. Life is Abundant.” But these affirmations somehow didn’t fly. My heart was turned off, I even struggled getting out of bed to tend to my newborn. My food cravings rose and I binged on junk food, in an attempt to bury the pain.
Of course, post-partum depression is due to hormonal changes after birth, but the actual depression, whether it’s situational (caused by external events) or organic (caused by a chemical imbalance) knocks the entire endocrine system off balance. In some cases you don’t have any desire to do anything. But in others you get too angsty and start to hyperventilate. That’s because you are experiencing huge adrenaline and cortisol surges – the hormones that disrupt the endocrine system and cause a state of unease. When you are in the dumps positive thinking doesn’t really help. So what to do?
Hit the gym, go for a jog, watch TV, take a stroll, do asana. Of course all this helps to a certain extent. However, these activities only massage the problem, they don’t offer a solution. The only practice that really gets to the bottom of things when it comes to depression is unarguably meditation.
Interestingly, meditation shuts the mind off, but grows brain regions responsible for building memories, regulating our emotional state, and helping us gain a sense of perspective. It is hard to believe that the practice of focusing on the moment can help with depression, because the more you zero in on the problem, the sadder you become. In my practice, I have found times when you are depressed and are trying to avoid meditation at all costs. You feel that you cannot fall back on your resources and experience a sense of failure. Or you begin to over-indulge in “rumination”, or the endless turning over in your train of thoughts about what’s wrong in your life.
Because meditation is an inward-turned activity it may actually give people who are experiencing depression yet another opportunity to ruminate. At such moments, I usually recommend reverting to kinetic meditation to my students or simply attempting mindlful walking. It has the same effect. Vipassana or walkinging with awareness elicits the relaxation system response and calms the nervous system, reducing stress and opening space to put things in perspective. In fact, just shifting the angle brings you in a different place. From that neutral place you can assess the situation with equanimity and compassion and realize that there is no reason to be depressed. You give yourself the chance to build on your inner resources and lift yourself into a more positive frame of mind.
The truth is that when you draw the focus in, no matter whether you do mindfulness by being in the moment, or transcendental meditation by focusing on a mantra, or you are simply tuning to the breath you are actually opening space in your mid brain and creating new neural pathways. Meditation in fact rewires the brain as it sends a signal to the body to eradicate negative habits and to switch to self-regulation mode. But most of all it helps practitioners express more self-compassion and appreciation of life.
In this respect, the practice of Metta Bhavana (loving-kindness) can dramatically reduce the chances of relapse into depression for those who have suffered repeated bouts. It is known that mindfulness based cognitive therapy has stopped many people from sliding back into depression stronger than any medication. It is because you are actually becoming aware of the present moment, inviting all sensations, and perceiving things in a dispassionate way. You avoid thoughts spiraling out of control and are able to find your place and purpose in the world. It is worth noting that depression is a recurrent disorder.
Without ongoing commitment to practice meditation on a daily basis there is danger of relapse. With regular practice you can train people with repeated bouts of depression to recognize thoughts associated with relapse and prevent such conditions from escalating again.
Currently, antidepressant medication is the key treatment for preventing relapse. But the side effects are horrendous – they literally wreck the whole system. And just the though of having to live on these drugs is discouraging.
Rather than relying on the continuing use of antidepressants mindfulness puts us in charge, allowing us to take control of our own future, to spot when we are at risk and to make the changes we need to stay the course. It gives us a one-way ticket “home”. It gives us the tools to tap our resources and discover the diamond hidden within. Then we can shine bright!
Yogea Anti-depression Meditation: Shine Bright
This Yogea practice integrates mudra and mindfulness meditation to help you appreciate the everyday gifts in your life and discover your place in the world. It focuses on extending an energetic bridge between the center of “self” (the solar plexus) and the portal to your divine embodiment (the fontanel). Life-affirming guidance is enhanced by synergizing mudras to help you find your center, and reclaim your inner power. Special focus on the breath allows you to open up space in the midbrain and forge new neural pathways for redesigning your train of thought. Therapeutic touch activates nerve endings and serves as an air bath – purifying your aura from any negative rumination. The focus is on refueling the heart, calming the nervous system and enshrining the whole body in self-love and optimism.