Last week, I wrote about what depression is and some stats that go along with that. I’ve been reading the book Yoga for Depression by Amy Weintraub lately to go along with these posts, because honestly, I wasn’t quite sure where to go from here. It’s hard to say what works and doesn’t work for depression, because everyone experiences it quite differently. Amy describes her personal journey with depression and offers up some ideas to help the pain go away. It’s been a refreshing read, to say the least.
According to Weintraub, yoga asks us what is right with me vs. what is wrong. She continues to discuss the two approaches to treating depression with a yoga practice: through a practice with little introspection (one example she gives include keeping eyes open), or through a practice that emphasizes introspection. Weintraub says “…the mat itself becomes the place you show up with your whole self – your angry self if you’re angry, your grieving self if you’re grieving…a recognition and an acceptance of the way things are” (2004, p.11). I really love these approaches to depression. I often tell my clients to let themselves truly feel the emotion as they rise up. When we avoid them, we push them down and they continue to bubble up when we least expect it. Avoiding our problems and our pain does not make them go away. Exploring these feelings in the moment (in a safe manner and a safe place, of course) helps us identify, process, and move forward. Yoga can most definitely help us in this process.
For you scientific minded individuals, Weintraub quotes some research that shows individuals experiencing a decrease in cortisol levels after just one yoga class. Another study shows that after ten days of a daily yoga practice, physical symptoms of depression started to disappear (2004). If that doesn’t convince you to roll our your mat, I don’t know what will. That is just amazing to me.
How does the study of yoga view depression?
From a yoga standpoint, there are three basic gunas, or archetypes. Sattvic would be a balanced state of mind. Tamasic, or inertia, is a feeling of lethargy and sadness (most sufferers of depression). On the other end of the spectrum would be the rajasic (aggression) state, and occurs when an individual is feeling anxious or has too much energy. Individuals experiencing anxiety or a manic episode would be in this state. (Side note: I will probably do a whole post about bipolar disorder because it’s super different from major depressive disorder but is also a form of depression.) The purpose of yoga is to bring your physical and emotional state back to sattvic (Weintraub, 2004).
The first step of treating depression would be acceptance. I love this quote from the book:
We may not cure the major depression episode with our practice, but we may begin to accept these times in our lives and be able to grow from what Moore says are “the gifts of our soul that only depression can provide”. (Weintraub, 2004, p.46).
How do we begin to accept that we are depressed?
Yoga teaches us to live in the moment and to simply be what we are today. If you’re depressed today, use yoga to come to terms with this. Meditate, do some simple asanas, journal. Use feeling words with yourself to identify how you’re feeling. It is only when we can accept where we are that we can begin to change what we don’t like.
After following a daily practice for a while, self awareness grows along with a peaceful acceptance. Self awareness and acceptance often will grow in to surrendering ourselves to the current moment. “Surrendering means working with what we’ve got, setting intentions and working toward them, but without attachment to the outcome” (Weintraub, 2004, p.79). This is often what the therapist and client are working towards in therapy. It’s honestly some of the most beautiful moments of clarity that an individual can experience. Surrendering is hard because we want to be successful all the time. But being vulnerable may be exactly what you need at that moment. Once this stage is reached, it’s time to start looking forward to the future and goal setting can happen. So I’m here to tell you – being vulnerable is ok. I give you permission. It’s ok to not have it all figured out all the time, I promise.
Let yourself be vulnerable on your yoga mat. Accept that you’re feeling sad. Accept that you’re feeling depressed. Accept that you may just need to lay in child’s pose for 20 minutes. Or accept that getting out of bed is all you can do today. Once you can accept that, you’ll start the process of moving forward. Let yourself be vulnerable in counseling sessions. A good counselor will build you a safe place in their office. If that is the only place where you can truly feel a sense of relief, let yourself. You do not have to be strong all the time; it’s ok to let someone hold your pain for a while. Getting over depression is hard, but it is something you can tackle. Take it one step at a time and let yoga be your guide. You’ve got this. ❤
Happy OM’ing and namaste.
Weintraub, A. (2004). Yoga for depression: a compassionate guide to relieve suffering through yoga. United States of America: Broadway Books.