Depression comes in many forms. It can be mild or severe. We can feel it physically with the breath feeling shallow and the abdomen, chest, and shoulders tight. We can feel it emotionally with experiences ranging from lack of direction and purpose to grief, sadness, low-self-esteem, helplessness, and acute clinical depression. Depression is sometimes accompanied by anxiety.
Yoga therapy can be a great adjunct to professional treatments. There is research to support the use of yoga therapy. It is always recommended that individuals suffering from depression discuss yoga with their treating clinician. Why does yoga therapy help and what does yoga therapy look like?
Why does yoga therapy help?
The Principles and Practices of Yoga Therapy in Health Care provides a wonderful survey of why yoga helps with depression as well as the research that supports it. Yoga helps because it may lead to beneficial changes in neurotransmitter systems (balances autonomic nervous system and increases dopamine), the neuroendocrine system (reduces cortisol levels), and the immune system (decreases inflammation and change genes expression).
What does yoga therapy look like for depression?
There are lots of different ways to work with depression in yoga therapy. For every person the practices themselves, the length of the practices, the frequency of the practices and the difficulty of the practices will be different. This is why yoga therapy is so unique. It is not a class where everyone does the same thing. It is adapted to the individual.
Working out of my studio in Chapel Hill, NC and on Zoom, I support people experiencing depression using movement, breathing, and/or meditation. The overall goal is to help people feel present in their body, relaxed, and like they have the energy to do the next thing.
We almost always begin by linking breath and movement (sometimes with Mantra when clients are up for it). We include postures that open up the abdomen, diaphragm, shoulders, and throat. Holding poses and building strength can also be helpful.
We might also use breath work or what is often called pranayama. Practices might include: three part breath or intercostal breathing to open up the chest, ribs, and abdomen; kapalabhati, bhastrika, or uddiyana bandha where we focus on the movement of the abdomen to increase vitality; and/or lengthening or holding the inhale. In all cases we watch out for anxiety. Any of these techniques might be contraindicated when anxiety is present along with depression.
Meditation can be one of the most powerful tools to manage depression because it works to strengthen the mind so it stays present and focused. Not all meditations are the same when it comes to working with depression. Loving kindness meditations (sample below), thought meditations, and mantra (chanting) are the most often used as they keep the mind focused and open it up to joy.
If you are interested in talking about how yoga therapy might help you, you can email me @ firstname.lastname@example.org or sign up for a 15 minute free consult.
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/theaucitron/5810163712