Yoga to Heal Depression

Healing depression takes a long time.  It takes commitment and patience, self-understanding and courage.  Depression is an insidious illness, capable of being hidden, suffered by the most surprising people (successful, popular, intelligent people).

I am healing myself through yoga.  It has been the practice of many years.  But I have now been depression free for three years (through three winters) and am hopeful that this will be my fourth.

For me, depression came down from time to time like a black lid on my life, leeching all the colour and joy out of my world; my natural gratitude and appreciation for the beauty of the world would desert me and I would be overtaken by feelings of self-hatred and an almost overwhelming sense of pointlessness.

It has taken time, yoga and the reading of many books written by people far wiser than I, but here comes my fourth winter of using certain practices and habits to free myself of depression and everything that goes with it.  I might still trip up, but it is easier now to catch myself before I fall.  What I offer you here is a recipe; these are the things that have worked for me and continue to work; perhaps they will work for you too; perhaps you will take some things away and add some extra bits that you know you need to keep you well (as we do with all good recipes in the process of making them our own).

1.)  Walk.  Depressed people need light.  Especially in the depths of winter when there is so little of it about.  We need to go out and get whatever there is and let it shine on our faces.  There is light out there, even on the greyest days. 
Walking is my cure for the seeking of the light. 
Depressed people need to move, but we are often so damn tired we cannot begin to imagine getting to the pool or the gym, doing an asana practice or similar.  So walk.  Just walk.  Walk without music, without calling anyone on the phone, walk with your eyes on the streets around you or the countryside you are in, or on the faces of the people you pass.  Look for the beauty.  If you are lucky enough to have a dog, that dog will bring you joy.
Walking gets you moving; it gets you out of the house, or the walls that confine you; it brings you light; it allows you time to reconnect with the world, to have a glimpse, however fleeting, of your valid and true place within it; it reminds you that you belong here; that you are of worth.

2.) Be mindful.  Consider how you feel, right now in this moment.  Not how you wish you felt, or how you ought to feel, but how you actually do feel.  Then do what you need to do.  You cannot make yourself well if you insist on blustering through your emotions, feelings and energy levels.  Pay attention.  Your body knows what you need.  Listen well and respond appropriately.  If you are low on energy and feeling down, an early night might do you more good than the party you promised to go to.  If you are lonely, low and feeling blue, maybe you need to boot yourself out of the house and get to the theatre or an art gallery or into the company of a friend who loves you.

3.) Eat well.  It's so hard sometimes to eat well when you are ill.  But it doesn't need to be much food, just the right food.  Some vitamins, some protein, some fibre, plenty of fluids.  Fuel your recovery through choosing food wisely.

4.) Work out what vitamins and minerals help you.  For me?  Evening Primrose Oil, Vitamin B, iron.  I've tried other things (St John's Wort, Iodine), but these are the ones that help me.

5.) If you are a woman, pay attention to your monthly cycle and to how it makes you feel.  Get to know the ebb and flow of your energy levels during the month and ensure that you care for yourself during those sensitive (or angry, or inconsolable) days around when your period starts.

6.) Meditate.  Sit quietly with yourself every day, even if it is only for five minutes.  Part of depression comes from alienating yourself from your true self and your true needs; the only way to hear those needs within yourself is to sit in silence and listen out for them. 

7.) Reach out to someone.  Find the ones you trust.  Be brave and let them know when you are sad.  They will not judge you as harshly as you judge yourself.  Let them love you and they will help you.  It's as simple as that.  Remind yourself that however alone you might feel, there is someone out there who knows who, where and how you are.

8.) Remind yourself every day that it is not what you do that causes your pain, but how you think about what you do.  It is not who you are that causes your pain, but what you think about who you are.  This is crucial.  You are beautiful.  You just forgot.  Those voices in your head that take you away from your understanding of your own beauty are not helping.  Thank them kindly for their input.  Listen out for other, kinder voices, or find the external voices that help you to remember: I find these voices in the poetry of Mary Oliver, of Rumi and Hafiz, or in watching things that make me laugh on the television.  When I let those voices guide me, it is easier to find the kinder voice within myself that helps me to stay well.

9.) Be true to yourself.  There is no higher practice.  This is not being selfish, it is being honest.

10.) Love.  Love yourself, love the people around you, love your home, your work, the space you occupy in the world.  If you don't love it, ask yourself quite seriously, why you are doing it.  Love is the answer to everything. 

11.) Be kind.  You are probably being kind to other people; depressed people are often naturally kind and open to other people's needs.  Being kind to yourself is harder, but a crucial element of your practice and a major factor in helping you stay well.
"Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived"
Susan Rose Blauner
I wish you well with your practice and your efforts to stay well.  I don't know if these things work for anxiety and phobias, or other disturbances of a person's peace, but perhaps they will help all of those things... perhaps you will write and tell me about it if you find that they do.

Further Reading
The Mindful Way Through Your Depression, Professor Mark Williams
Dorothy Rowe's Guide to Life
Depression: The Way out of Your Prison, Dorothy Rowe
The Dance of Anger, Harriet Lerner
Life Unlocked, Dr S Pillay
The work of Brene Brown
Depression thrives in secret.  This blog is dedicated to the lady on my last course who was very brave and spoke out about how she has been feeling and the things she struggles with.  Hari OM 


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