Dealing with Depression – how yoga can help
All yoga weekends with Phil Aston feature techniques to help with depression
Everyone feels “blue” from time to time, but when depression deepens or persists for a long time, it can suppress your energy for living and make you more vulnerable to disease by dampening the immune system.
Depression is sometimes a warning that may help you to protect your mental and physical health. It can be viewed as a signpost, signalling “It’s time for a change.” Or have you ever felt down, maybe for no good reason? Like you couldn’t get out of bed in the morning – or see any reason to? And when you did get up, it felt like a grey cloud descended over your day, and you had to slog through it just to get the basics done? Has this been going on for several weeks now? If so, you could be suffering from depression.
The first thing a depressed person stops doing is moving. Regular exercise becomes intolerable. But Yoga exercise, starting with as few as three poses a day in just a few minutes’ time, coupled with correct breath patterns, can become so pleasant to you that soon you will want to do more and more. The heavy, unmoving feeling of depression will be on the run!
Yoga exercises put pressure on glands and organs, helping them to produce the soothing, healing chemical balance that is needed to feel well and be well. Yoga exercises improve circulation, sending invigorating oxygen to your brain and all your muscles. The stretching and strengthening movements flush toxins from the body as well.
Often depression sneaks in slowly, as breathing patterns change from too much sitting at a desk, stress, age, or illness. The deep, invigorating breath techniques of Yoga bring large amounts of fresh oxygen to the brain and other parts of the body. Like a spring wind, it blows through the system bringing new light and strength to the unused parts of the body and mind where depression hides.
Complete relaxation and meditation practice show you how to access the strength and power of your inner self for a support system that keeps you going through all the ups and downs of your life.
Regular practice of Yoga will protect you from depression and help you stay bright-minded, while recognizing the signals that depression is giving you. To begin with, choose three exercises that appeal to you, and do them every day. Then, as you get more comfortable, expand your routine to give yourself more of a challenge and increase the beneficial effects.
Although practicing yoga is by no means meant to replace treatment advised by your medical doctor or therapist, it can be used in conjunction with just about any prescribed treatment to aid in your recovery. That’s the beauty of yoga – 100% natural and drug free, so there’s no worry of drug interactions or harmful side effects. The only side effects at all are positive ones, and the benefits are both physical and mental.
The physical practice of yoga can help alleviate depression by helping to eliminate the physiological manifestations of stress and by raising the levels of certain chemicals in our bodies that serve an important role in uplifting our mood. One of the contributing factors in many cases of depression is an overwhelming sense of stress, which gets internalized, resulting in a pervasive sense of emptiness or futility.
Too much stress can also result in very real physical symptoms as well as exhausting us mentally. Aching necks, backs, headaches, and stomach upsets are just some of the physical manifestations of stress; and when you are feeling down so as it is, it certainly doesn’t help to feel sick on top of it!
One of the ways yoga is useful, therefore, in the treatment of depression, is by offering a physical outlet for our stress, and by easing the pain of stress related illnesses. The fluid movements and gentle stretches utilized in yoga offer a natural remedy for aching muscles.
The practice of certain postures also ease head and stomach ailments by stimulating the body’s chi or energy, by increasing blood flow to that area of the body. The rhythm of the movements in practicing the postures increases regulates the heart rate and breathing, leading to an overall calming and strengthening of the circulatory and respiratory systems.
Since increased heart rate and shallow breathing are often among the first reactions of physical stress that can lead to other body ailments, this calming and moderating of the heart rate is an important beginning in healing.
Stress-related quickening of the heart rate and the shallow breathing that goes with it is due in part to the natural chemical reactions of our bodies nervous system. People under constant stress often suffer from a nearly perpetual state of “fight or flight” response, the heightened sense of tension that comes with imminent danger. While this serves an important role in evolution (having to run from a rampaging cave bear, perhaps) and still does today in certain circumstances, being in a constant state of tension leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, one of the results of which can be depression.
Practicing yoga serves as a physical release for this tension, as does any exercise, by allowing us to manifest the “flight” response. In doing so, it releases chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins cause a natural physical “high,” producing a feeling of powerfulness and well-being, a feeling that depressed people certainly need more of!
By helping release endorphins, yoga can in a very real way help lift a mildly depressed person out of despair.
Besides helping in a physical sense, yoga offers mental benefits to depressed individuals as well.
Yoga Relaxation Exercise for Depression
Try the following tense-relax exercise as you lie in the Corpse Pose:
1. As you inhale through your nose, tighten the muscles in your knees, calves, ankles, feet, and toes. Hold the tension, then relax and exhale.
2. Inhale, tensing all of these parts as well as your abdomen, pelvis, hips, and thighs. Hold them taut, then relax and exhale.
3. Tense the muscles in your neck, shoulders, arms, elbows, waists, hands, fingers, chest as well as muscles in your trunk and legs. Hold the tension, then relax and exhale.
4. Finally, starting with your scalp, face, and head, tense all of your body muscles. Hold the tension, then relax and exhale. Feel how all of the tension has melted away from your body.
Best wishes Phil
References Jennifer M. Witkowski