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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.



Yoga therapy for depression with Christine Saari
Rolling Bridge Pose with Lengthened Inhalation for Depression


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.


Repeat this practice 6-10 times, and practice once or twice daily for six weeks.


#2: Vinyasa with lengthened inhalation and breath retention


Before practicing yoga with breath retentions, make sure you have medical clearance from your doctor to do this practice.


This practice begins in a kneeling position and can be practiced on your bed or on the floor.




Yoga for depression with yoga therapist Christine Saari
Vinyasa with Lengthened Inhalation and Breath Retention for Depression



Breathe in, raise your arms overhead or partially up into the air if your shoulder range of motion is limited. Breathe out, bow forward and bring your hands to the ground as far in front of you as you comfortably can. Breathe in, come to hands and knees, drop your belly low, and look up toward the ceiling. This is cow pose, a gentle backbend. Breathe out, bring your forehead to or toward the floor.


Repeat this set of poses again, and begin to lengthen the inhalations so that they are longer than the exhalations. Your transitions during your breaths in should start to become longer than your transitions during your breaths out.


Next, add breath retentions.


Repeat this set of poses again. After each inhalation, hold your breath in for 2-6 seconds, depending on your comfort. Start with shorter holds, and gradually build to slightly longer holds.


Repeat this practice 6-10 times, ending in a kneeling position. Notice your energy levels.


Practice 4-6 times per week, for six weeks.


#3: Intercostal breathing


This practice starts seated in a chair, on a couch, on a cushion or folded blanket upon the floor, or if necessary, at the edge of your bed.

Yoga for depression with yoga therapist Christine Saari
Intercostal Breathing for Depression

Put your hands on your bottom ribs with your middle fingers connecting at the bottom of your sternum.


Breathe in deeply, hold onto your ribs, and expand your ribs until your middle fingers move away from one another.


Breathe out, exerting slight pressure on your ribcage with your hands.


Repeat 6 times initially, and over time, build up to 12 repetitions.


Repeat this practice once or twice daily, in the morning and/or afternoon for six weeks. Use of intercostal breathing for depression is contraindicated in the evening or at night.


#4: Agnisara dhauti kriya


This unusual and little-known practice jolts the system with vitality and energy, and can provide a powerful antidote to energetic inertia even in small doses.


This practice is contraindicated if you are experiencing digestive or stomach issues, or if you have an abdominal hernia. Check with your doctor before adopting this practice.

Yoga for depression with yoga therapist Christine Saari
Agnisara Dhauti Kriya for Depression

Start standing up with some separation between your feet so that you feel stable. Inhale fully and exhale with knees slightly bend. Bring your hands to your thighs and breathe out until you are completely empty. Keep your spine long.


Once your air is out, bring your chin toward your chest.


Retain your air out and begin to pump the muscles of your stomach in and out multiple times without breathing in.


When the urge to breathe comes strongly, stand up, release the tuck of your chin, and breathe in.


Notice any sensations of energy in your system. Allow this energy and your breath to settle.


Repeat between 1 and 5 times total, in the morning or early afternoon, 4-6 times per week, for six weeks.


#5: Listen to chanting


Sometimes taking any action feels insurmountable when we are in a state of depression. If you find yourself in this state, you could try a listening practice instead.



Yoga for depression with yoga therapist Christine Saari
Listen to chanting with kirtan musicians such as Krishna Das


Try putting on some kirtan music and listening mindfully. In the Yoga lineage, mantra is widely acknowledges for its healing effects, as the positive vibrations bypass states of suffering and revive the system.


You could start by searching in your favorite music app for the music of Krishna Das or Deva Premal. It does not matter which song you choose. You could even take the decision out of it by shuffling an artist playlist.


Listen and allow the healing vibrations to wash over you, absorbing the experience just as you are.


Repeat daily or more often. You might even set a reminder on your phone to create a practice ritual out of listening to kirtan or chanting.


There are many more practices available to help you or a loved one with depression.


May you be peaceful and free of suffering.


Om shanti,

Christine



Citation:


1. Truschel, Jessica. "Depression Definition and DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria." Psycom, 26 August 2022, https://www.psycom.net/depression/major-depressive-disorder/dsm-5-depression-criteria.

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About me

 

Christine Saari, MA, E-RYT 200, C-BDYT is a yoga therapist with private practices in New Haven and Guilford. She lives in Guilford, CT with her husband, two sons, and her goldendoodle. When she's not writing or teaching yoga, you might find her cooking without a recipe or walking barefoot outside. Christine is grateful to be part of the emerging field of yoga therapy, and she is proud to offer health options that empower people to take a leading role in their own healing process.

Ready to try yoga therapy?

 

Individual services in New Haven and Guilford locations for physical and mental health conditions. Specializing in anxiety disorders and mental health conditions, as well as pain. 

 

I'm here for you! Don't be shy. Reach out at (203) 903-2393 or info@christinesaari.com.

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