Updated: Nov 27, 2020
If anybody has ever told you that Yoga can help you with your depression, there is a good chance you have internally (or perhaps less subtly) rolled your eyes. Perhaps it even felt like just another way in which you are misunderstood or that your depression is not being taken seriously.
I have practiced Yoga on and off for nearly 20 years and when I am in a deep or long period of depression, I too have scoffed at the thought of taking to my Yoga mat. How could this make any difference to me, and why should I bother anyway because the world seems hopeless.
So I've been wondering lately about our preconceptions or misconceptions about what Yoga really is. It is commonly promoted as a great way to relax and to take a gentle form of exercise. And it is, it really is.
But there is a lot more to it than that. A skilled Yoga teacher knows how to design a class that can target specific areas of our life, injuries and emotional imbalances. It is not simply a case of learning a set of Asanas (Yoga poses) and getting "good" at them.
It goes even further than that. If a student comes to me wishing to get some relief from a low mood, there will actually be Asanas, techniques and breathing methods that I will be careful to avoid.
To make this a simple as possible for my sake and yours, here are some key points that your Yoga teacher should have in mind when helping you through an episode of depression:
Avoid too much stillness or inward contemplation.
Concentrate on easy to follow dynamic Asanas and sequences right from the start, to pull a students attention out of their distressing or endless thoughts and stimulate Prana (life force or energy)
Open up channels of energy and release tensions in the chest, neck and shoulders where blockages and stresses can build up and be stored
Avoid intense work into the hip flexors - this area can be a deep emotional lock, and releasing in this area can result in further distress.
Keep up consistent verbal cues and observation-based instructions, even for experienced Yogis, to keep a distracted mind more focused (but don't waffle on, depressed or otherwise, nobody is immune to annoying prattle)
Teach awareness of the inhale rather than the exhale to energise and replenish the nervous system
Most importantly, for me anyway, do not attempt to "fix" your student. Allow the class to be a safe space to be for that moment in time and foster a relationship based on encouragement and trust that will help a student to return to this safe space again and again
Ok, so perhaps that was not particularly simple after all, and I thank any of you patient readers who didn't wander off or start checking your news feed. Either way, you may well have lost interest in that list quite quickly, especially if Yoga is not your thing and it seems a bit alien. However you have to admit that it is a surprisingly extensive set of "rules", and is by no means simply a case of "just relax and breath".
A final point I want to make today is this...
The minute you decide to commit just a few moments of your day to the practice of Yoga, you are instantly transformed into a student of Yoga - you are "doing" Yoga!
No headstands - still Yoga!