Feeling Low? Yoga for Depression

I’ve struggled with depression for as long as I can remember. It’s not so severe that it runs my life, but it is an underlying current that’s always just beneath the surface. I’ve treated it with diet and medication, have teased it out in therapy, and can finally talk about it openly without feeling ashamed. I used to view my sensitivity as a weakness – the sadness as some sort of dysfunction that I needed to conquer or fix. Now I view it as a strength. The darkness is a side effect that I monitor with self-compassion, steady practice, and awareness of the here and now.

Yoga is a form of treatment when I’m low. It’s a way to check in, rather than to ignore; a practice that shines light in the darkest corners. My practice is both a refuge and a place to face the struggle head on. Depression has much to do with the past and yoga is a practice of being in the now. My practice offers the simplicity of existing in the moment. The present moment is wide open and totally spotless. It’s a no-strings-attached space that provides relief from the weight of the past or concern for the future. A a playful space where I can enjoy time untouched by memory. It's also a space where emotions can, and often do, come to the surface. The release that comes with flowing and breathing is unmatched by any pill I've ever taken. 

For countless reasons, this time of year can be especially difficult. For me, this is a season thick with memory and tradition – one that reminds me of who I am, where I came from, and who I've lost. It’s a season that marks time. My grandfather used to sound so wistful when the holidays came around. Each year he’d have some sort of anecdote about how life goes by too damn fast. Even as a kid I shared his sadness for the past - a sense of loss for time itself. I also struggle with this time of year because it feels rushed and excessive. Taking in more can leave me feeling surprisingly empty. There's something beautifully simplistic about portioning out just what is needed. My practice is a reminder that I only need a tiny bit of real estate (my mat), and simple awareness. 

Whether you struggle with depression seasonally or full time, give this 30-ish minute vinyasa flow sequence a go when you feel weighed down. Slow, steady, rhythmic movement is great for cultivating space for the mind and body. 

  1. Supported Fish Pose - Place a blanket roll horizontally beneath the scapulae to open the chest. Make a cactus shape with the arms, palms facing the ceiling. Legs can be bent or straight. Notice the lift of the chest. Imagine as though you are breathing from your heart. With each inhale, invite space. With each exhale, soften into the blanket. Inhale for 5, exhale for 5. Stay here for 3 minutes.
  2. Spinal Twist Flow - Remove the blanket and draw knees toward the chest. Exhale knees to the right, inhale knees to center, exhale knees to the left, inhale knees to center - repeat 1 minute. 
  3. Cat/Cow to Child's Pose Flow - From table top position drop belly and send the chest forward (Cow Pose). Round the spine through Cat Pose, all the way to Child's Pose. Create a steady rhythm, matching breath to movement. Continue for 1-2 minutes.
  4. Cobra Rolls - Lie face down and draw the hands to rib cage level. Lift the chest and ribs up on the inhale, lower on the exhale. Repeat 5-6 rounds then head to Child's Pose.
  5. Sun Salutation A - Create a steady rhythm with the breath and allow your body to move in cadence with each inhale and exhale. Repeat 3-4 times.
  6. Core Work - There's no right or wrong. Core work gets the blood moving, builds heat, and creates a strong, steady center. Head to the floor and bust out some crunches, hold Navasana (Boat Pose), and add in a few rounds of Plank Pose to challenge your core from a different angle. Spend 2-3 minutes on core work.
  7. Standing Sequence: Down Dog - Runner's Lunge - Warrior 3 - Tree Pose - Warrior 1 - Humble Warrior - Twisted Lunge - Side Plank - Down Dog - Repeat Second Side
  8. Repeat the standing sequence 2-3 times for more. 
  9. Baddha Konasana (Seated Bound Angle Pose) - Create a diamond shape with the legs and wrap hands around the shins. Create circles in a clockwise direction. Close your eyes and allow for more fluid movement, up to a minute.
  10. Supported Bridge Pose - Place a block or folded blanket beneath the sacrum. Open your eyes just enough to watch the rise and fall of your belly. Stay here for up to 5 minutes. 
  11. Savasana - Lie on you back with a blanket roll beneath the knees. Observe your body from head to toe. Notice sensations close to the skin and those deeper in the body. When the mind trails off, bring it back to the breath. Breath is the back door to meditation and a window to clear, easy, present-moment being. Stay here as long as you'd like. 
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