Adding yoga to your life when you are struggling emotionally can be an excellent adjunct therapy. While this isn't the advice of a doctor or mental wellness expert (and please see one if you feel you need one), yoga can be an excellent tool when combating depression.
Physically speaking, it releases your body's chemistry. Emotionally, it can be liberating to absorb some of the core values of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra philosophies as you practice.
Combating Depression with Yoga
When we calm down and address the physical symptoms of depression, the emotional ones can be a little easier to see through. Yoga uses inversions like Dolphin, Down Dog, and Headstand to reset the parasympathetic nervous system. This helps to calm any anxiety and stress physically in our bodies.
We also use long deep holds like Pigeon, Lizard, and Butterfly to help open particular aspects of our bodies that store emotions. We have all heard our instructors telling us to release anger from our hips, sadness from our chest, and stress from our shoulders. Storing emotions physically in our bodies can hinder us from opening to our fullest capacity, and vice-versa. Not opening our bodies can lock those darker feelings in place and lend towards depression, and sometimes even injury.
Being physically active is known for procuring higher serotonin levels via an endorphin rush. (Very simply put, serotonin is the hormone your body produces to maintain a good mood.) The Vinyasa Flow and the Sun Salutes themselves are a great way to get active in between postures and create enough heat to produce this effect.
Being physically active encourages endorphins to be naturally produced by your body instead of adding them from the outside. This in turn re-teaches your body how to lift those serotonin levels by itself when needed.
Mantras are often curbed as cliché yoga tools. However, therapists and psychiatrists use them all the time, and guess what — they are effective. So let's use them where they are truly needed. Your mat.
Posture and Mantra Combos
Here are few holds with mantras that are centered around the five basic goals of practicing yoga: Purpose (Shraddha), Peace (Samadhi), Mindfulness (Smriti), Wisdom (Prajna) and Commitment (Virya).
Together, these will help you in the three physical areas of procuring better mind and body wellness; calming residual stress and anxiety, releasing emotion from your muscles and joints, and also increasing your bodies endorphin levels and serotonin uptake naturally.
1. Eagle Pose
Eagle Pose forces you to concentrate on the here and now. It takes you out of your brain and into your body in the present moment.
The twisty binds help your body to balance the parasympathetic with sympathetic nervous system to reset your mood.
Eagle Pose opens your hips and the back of your chest to release grief, frustration, and resentment, and the intensity of the pose will build heat to produce those much needed endorphin levels.
Mantra: “SHRADHA: May the past be the past, the present be crystal clear, and the future be everything I dream.”
2. Dolphin Pose
Dolphin Pose opens your hamstrings and triceps as well as lengthening your spinal muscles and deepening your forward fold. These are all places we stash emotional baggage.
The upside-down factor will calm you way down within 30 seconds as per the parasympathetic nervous system reset button. The heat and hard work of this posture will produce a higher endorphin rush more quickly then a simple Down Dog or a lengthy headstand. This lends to a blissed out and happier yogi.
Mantra: “SAMADHI: Peacefulness comes from seeking — and finding — happiness in the smallest of things”
3. Lizard Pose
Take a Yin Lizard Pose: relaxed and on cold muscles. You are likely holding deep and heavy emotions in your pelvic region. Namely in the biggest joint in the body — the hips. Holding a cold, relaxed Lizard Pose for 3-5 minutes on each side deepens your hip flexibility and entices a moment of quiet while you rest.
In true Yin yoga fashion, allow your thoughts to come and go as you hold the pose — try to practice detaching from any concerns that come up. Witness them and allow them to leave you. This makes room for newer, possibly slightly happier thoughts, to enter your mind.
Mantra: “PRAJNA: I am not the divine. I don’t need to be perfect. I am here as a student to make mistakes and to learn. This makes me stronger.”
4. Peddler's Pose
This heart opener is powerful as it turns you upside down, peels your chest wide open and has the potential to create the heat for driving up the endorphin levels.
It is perfect for combating depression because it is so private in nature due to its forward fold. Simply allow the tears to trickle down your cheeks as your arms press your heart open.
Mantra: “SMRITI: I am mindful of my feelings, I will honor them, and then I will allow them to flow out of me and away.”
The final Mantra is Virya- commitment. You made it to the end of this article, which in itself shows you already are committed to your mind and body wellness. No mantra needed.
Have you or a loved one used yoga to combat depression? Share with us below!