Five doable yoga practices to help yourself with depression
Whether you suffer from the winter blues, struggle with loss, or know the depths of depression as a constant companion, there are ways you can help yourself cope and begin to heal.
It's normal to feel shame around symptoms such as the inability to get out of bed and function during the day, especially when you believe you should be physically capable of these tasks. Lacking motivation is nothing to be embarrassed about, but rather is a characteristic symptom of depression.
It is understandable that asking for help can feel difficult. But there are ways to help yourself take small steps toward reconnection even while feeling demobilized and lost.
Am I depressed?
You may be surprised to hear that, from a yogi's perspective, the answer doesn't really matter as much as you might think.
Yogic philosophy holds the premise that the nature of the True Self is blissful.
That means that rather than seeking to create happiness, we need only to return to it. The yogic texts imply that we are all depressed in a sense, due to the perspectives we hold in our minds and bodies that shield us from remembering our true nature.
So yes, you are depressed!
From a philosophical perspective, depression is one aspect of the human condition.
But to what degree?
Clinical depression is a serious and potentially life-threatening mental health condition.
In the West, clinical depression is diagnosed as a serious mood disorder characterized by at least five of the following symptoms over the course of a two week span, with emphasis on either depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure. Additionally, physical symptoms such as chronic pain or digestive issues may be present.
Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day.
Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day.
Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
A slowing down of thought and a reduction of physical movement (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.
Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.
Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide (1).
Whether or not you see yourself fitting within these criteria, if you are suffering, you still deserve to find relief.
The good news is that there are small things you can do at home to help yourself move toward your natural state of balance.
As a yoga therapist, I support people suffering from depression symptoms. Sometimes, my clients have a diagnosis of clinical depression, and other times clients self-identify as depressed.
Yoga therapists do not diagnose medical conditions. Instead, we work with a client's individual experience to address their specific symptoms of suffering.
If a client says, "I am suffering," that is sufficient motive to begin working together.
Yoga therapists offer practices that address specific physical, energetic, and mental symptoms, such as sleep issues, stomach pain, low energy states, feelings of worthlessness, inability to focus on tasks, loss of pleasure in life, or disconnection from a sense of meaning or hope.
Yoga therapy for depression
Yoga therapy for depression is a complementary modality for mental health care.
Yoga therapists teach mind-body practices that support work done in talk therapy. This means, as a client, you should always work with a licensed mental health professional alongside a certified yoga therapist. Yoga therapy is not a replacement for medical care.
Yoga therapists work one-on-one with clients in an office setting to help people manage chronic mental health conditions using mind-, body-, and breath-based practices. They teach clients to use these practices at home to balance and heal themselves.
As a yoga therapist, I work with people suffering from depression and related symptoms by teaching yoga practices that counter inertia.
It can be tough to get started, so I help select practices that are doable, often in micro-doses.
I often reach out to my clients who are struggling with depression between sessions to support them at the beginning of their therapy. This supports the client's ability to practice long enough for the practices to take effect on their systems.
Using yoga therapeutically at home
Can't afford a yoga therapist?
Often, value of working with a yoga therapist outweighs the cost. Yoga therapists see people for a limited time duration until they are able to work on their own to self-regulate and manage their conditions.
This makes yoga therapy a relatively affordable investment in one's long term mental health.
If that's still out of reach, you can apply the principles of yoga therapy on your own at home.
To do this, you will need to find a practice that counters your symptoms, feels doable, and then decide to apply it regularly, despite the inevitable fluctuations in your condition.
Choose a practice that is easiest for you to do in a low energy state.
Commit to practicing once or twice daily for six weeks as a small act of faith.
Then, reassess how you are doing, and make any adjustments to your routine or choice of interventions based on this information.
Always remember to reach out for help if you need it, especially if you are feeling hopeless or having thoughts of suicide.
If you are in crisis or you think you may have an emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. If you're having suicidal thoughts, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to talk to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area at any time (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline). If you are located outside the United States, call your local emergency line immediately.
Five yoga practices for depression
Here are five yoga practices that are available for you to try at home.
This list is by no means exhaustive, and may or may not be right for you or your condition.
As with any yoga practice, remember to get medical clearance from your doctor before adopting a new health regimen.
#1: Rolling bridge pose with a lengthened inhalation
This practice starts on the floor, which can be appealing if you are in a state of low energy or fatigue.
To prepare, lie down on a firm surface, such as a rug or on a blanket on the floor. A folded towel may feel good under your head for neck support. Bend your knees and place your feet on the floor with some space between them. Place your hands on the floor next to your hips.
Breathe in, lift your hips any amount off the ground, and raise your arms overhead or straight up into the air. Breathe out, and return your hips and arms to your starting position.
Then, begin to lengthen your inhalation so that your breath in is longer than your breath out.