Yoga, pranayama and meditation for depression
Diaphragmatic breath is the most important step in healing depression. Establishing a continuous rhythm of breath is important. Often people with depression pause at the end of the exhalation which further dampens the nervous system. Eliminating the pauses and having an equal length of exhalation and inhalation promotes healing. Extending the exhalation longer than the inhalation is contraindicated for depression. Be sure the breath is of equal length. An easy way to do this is to count the length of each breath and match them or to synchronize the breath with your steps while walking.
Alternate Nostril Breathing is the next essential practice for equalizing emotion and energy. It is simple, easy to learn and extremely powerful. It balances and brings emotions to center and as such is good for depression, anxiety, agitation, bi-polar disorder and general well-being and joy.
Begin asana practice with slow poses that don’t require much energy and that open the heart and chest to create space for breath and movement. Gradually move into more active energizing poses.
Standing poses from tadasana are good to build confidence and energize the body.
Synchronize the breath with the movements as you move into and out of the poses. Work with the smoothness and continuous movement of the breath and body together.
To counteract the shut down or closed in feeling of depression, keep the gaze focused up and out. An example during Warrior 2 would be to gaze over the hand into the distance.
Restorative poses with eyes closed and long holds aren’t especially helpful. Energizing pranayama practices like Bhastrika and Kapalabhati are recommended as is any vigorous movement and exercise. The stuck energy of depression responds well to energizing yoga because it also calms and balances the system at the same time.
Meditation: working with the thoughts through the discipline of meditation can help see through the negative ruminations more common in depressive women in particular. Long periods of silent meditation are not helpful for someone who is depressed. Instead work with guided relaxations and meditations that focus on continuous breathing to keep the mind focused and alert. Many people enjoy chanting and mantra.
Yoga and meditation creates a safe, compassionate container in an atmosphere of acceptance and love. Yoga therapists and teachers can help people learn tools to clear their own inner space of obstacles to joy and good mental health.
Yoga helps us cultivate equanimity and self-awareness along with the capacity to have perspective on our feelings and thoughts. We are not our feelings, not even persistent sadness that leaks into every part of our lives. We identify ourselves with things that will inevitably change. Depression is in part a resistance against life.
Because depression infiltrates all levels of our being, a holistic yoga program is ideal therapy. Physiologically, depression is a symptom of disregulation in the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. With Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), both anxiety and depression can be present. People who become depressed often experience sympathetic nervous system suppression which leads to fatigue, lethargy, sleep disturbances, digestive issues and decreased libido and pleasure.
Regular, smooth diaphragmatic breath brings balance to the nervous system. It brings the body into equilibrium so it can work. Once healthy breathing is established, specific energizing pranayama practices can be added.
Yoga includes a broad range of philosophy and strategies to uplift and stabilize mood and emotion including meditation, chanting, mantra repetition, prayer, right relationship and right association. People and things that are meaningful and positive nurture love, joy and generosity. Cultivating determination and activating intention help overcome habits and dysfunctional behaviors. Working with the principles of yoga could include selective renouncing of things we’re attached to. Daily rituals including breathing exercises, a walk outdoors or selfless service can help pull you out of depression.
Working with thoughts we learn to see things as they are without reacting or mis-perceiving them. An integrated practice helps harness and direct energy towards deep and lasting transformation.
Physical benefits of yoga include decrease in cortisol, increase in feel-good hormones, muscle relaxation, regulation of endocrine system and stimulation of the vagus nerve.Yoga calms the sympathetic nervous system while activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Psychological benefits include elevation of mood, balances right and left brain function, cultivates equanimity, better management of bipolar disorder, and release of repressed emotions stored in body.