There is increasing evidence that antidepressants are only effective with very severe depression. People who experience mild-moderate and even severe depression are more likely to experience relief from placebo than antidepressants. There are times when medications are necessary and even lifesaving. However, if one only wants to resort to antidepressants as a last option, yoga can help immensely to rule out their use. Yoga provides tools that help manage depressive symptoms and offer the energy required to make more sustainable choices to overcome depression.
Please join me for ongoing yoga groups that give valuable tools in working with depression and anxiety. These are Trauma Sensitive groups that have a powerful therapeutic approach:
While medications have side effects and not everyone responds well to them, some people with recurrent depressive symptoms appear to benefit from going on medication. Often they benefit from using antidepressants for a short time, helping them feel good enough to establish behaviors—such as an exercise regimen and a regular yoga practice—that can help keep them out of the depths of depression after the drugs are discontinued.
In Ayurveda, the Yogic Science of health, There are two general qualities that contribute to depression: Tamas and Rajas. A yoga practice for depression differs based on whether the symptoms are more Tamasic or Rajasic.
Tamas is the quality of inertia and some characteristics that pertain to Tamasic depression are:
Difficulty getting out of bed, inertia and low motivation, sluggishness, and low energy. Mental energy is slow and there’s a predominant feeling of hopelessness. The Body tends to feel heavy and lazy. Emotional qualities are sadness and fear.
Rajas is the quality of stimulation and depression that is caused by Rajas can show up as:
Drained feelings due to over-stimulation, resulting in anger, stuckness and restless energy that gets repressed. There’s more of a tendency towards a busy, racing, negative mind. The body tends to feel stiff and rigid. Emotional qualities are anger and irritation.
There’s an appropriate level of fear, irritation, sadness and grief that is a normal response to the world we are living in. When we do not fully feel and honour these emotions, tracing them back to their family or societal source, they can overcome us. It’s as though they they are telling us something and when we don’t listen they have to get louder and louder. At this point, we can over identity with the emotions and let them feed core beliefs of unworthiness and shame. We tend to isolate around these more powerful emotions and beliefs as our social environments don’t have space for them. This isolation can be debilitating over time. Yoga helps us create internal space and tolerance for the emotions to be felt and traced back to their source and self compassion can be developed. From this sense of self kindness and worth, we can let others in. This can cut through shame and bring a sense of connection and support needed to deeply heal.
Yoga Practice for Depressive symptoms:
Backbends and sun salutations can be stimulating and help fight tamas. These range from restorative poses such as a supported supine backbend (done with a bolster placed lengthwise under the torso) and supported Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) to more active poses such as Camel Pose (Ustrasana) and full backbends (Urdhva Dhanurasana). Once you’ve overcome some of the tamas, you may be able to relax more deeply. If you try relaxation first, however, you may get stuck in inertia.
Students with rajasic depression also tend to respond to Sun Salutations and backbends, though some of them will find strong backbends too agitating. Also, starting with relaxation could not be beneficial for more active, stimulated energy. Vigorous practices have the advantage of helping students burn off some nervous energy, and also of being demanding enough to keep their attention from drifting.
Both practices can start with more invigorating movement followed by deep relaxation. However, it’s important for practitioners to gauge what they need throughout the practice. The Tamasic practitioner should watch for signs of wanting to collapse, inviting one’s self to gently stay with discomfort and encourage perseverance. The Rajasic practitioner should watch for building irritation and back off and rest when they need to. They may also try gentler expressions of the poses.
Above all else, practitioners need to keep themselves safe in a yoga practice. It is best to start with an alignment based practice that teaches how to enter, sustain and exit a pose safely without harm to the body. This is especially the case with more invigorating practice.
Sun salutations and vinyasa need to be moved through with mindfulness. Back bending needs to be supported by an engaged core and inner rotation of the thighs to keep the low back safe.
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