Yoga and Depression

Depression is a prison where you are both the suffering prisoner and the cruel jailer.

Dorothy Rowe, Depression: The Way Out of Your Prison

          One morning last week, as I rushed around getting the kids ready for school, I had an interesting conversation with my husband.  I told him that I was contemplating skipping yoga class because I had a laundry list of urgent things to do, as well as the laundry!  I was feeling overwhelmed.  Moreover, I was exhausted.  He said, “Go….always go when you can.  You will feel better.”  Honestly, after that comment, I felt that I had no choice but to go.  About half way through class, however, the fog lifted.  I felt stronger, energized, and relieved to be free from worry.  I realized that I had been feeling down, certainly not clinically depressed, but blue and anxious.  This experience got me thinking about yoga as a mood altering practice or an aid for coping with depression. 

          Currently, there is a lot of research being done on the science and psychology of depression.  From a clinical perspective, there is evidence suggesting that yoga and meditation are helpful not just for people feeling melancholy, but for those suffering from debilitating depression.  In fact, in some treatment programs, yoga and meditation are being used in conjunction with medication to treat people with severe depression.  However, for those who only occasionally feel heavy-hearted or glum, yoga alone might be helpful to shift or change your mood. 

          I believe that yoga helps those who are feeling down by showing them how to separate from their mind or their thoughts.  When practicing yoga, one focuses on the breath and concentrates on the physical poses.  This focused attention shuts down all dialogue in the brain so that the practitioner gets time out from his/her thoughts, especially if they are troubling.  This break from the mind creates space to connect with your true self and to realize that your thoughts don’t define you. 

          Some yoga poses are particularly helpful in derailing depression.  For example, inversions introduce another perspective by literally turning your world upside down.  When the world looks bleak, invert and you will see the world from a new and different vantage point.  Inversions remind us that there are different ways to see the same thing.  By practicing inversions, you may come to realize that how you see the world is in large part due to your chosen perspective.  Heart opening yoga poses, like bridge pose or wheel, are also beneficial as they literally force you to expand your chest thereby symbolizing an openness or willingness to change.

          Sometimes being down in the dumps is nothing more than letting negative thoughts get the best of you.  The next time you are feeling low, come to yoga class.  You might find that it gives you a respite from unhealthy thoughts and resulting negative feelings and evens alters your mood. 


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