Restorative Yoga for Depression
Restorative yoga for depression can be part of an overall support network including your medical doctor, psychiatrist, therapy, and perhaps other complementary medicine such as naturopathic medicine, traditional Chinese medicine and other forms of body work from rolfing, massage to osteopathy.
When depression is causing constant sadness for no apparent reason, feelings of worthiness and excessive guilt, dark thoughts, loss of interest and pleasure in your favourite activities, low energy, difficulty sleeping, loss of interest in food, restlessness and difficulty making decisions and focusing, it can be incredibly difficult to see depression as anything other than a problem to escape.
When I am connecting with students who are going through health challenges, sometimes I hear from them a longing to get their old life back. The thing is, there is no old life to retrieve. Whatever health challenge you are facing, whether it be depression, or something else, it is leading you to something different.
Depression, like many emotional rights of passage is not something to be avoided. Rather it can be a right of passage that leads us through transformation, despite the pain and struggle. When depression is suffocating us, it can be difficult to see it as a vehicle of metamorphosis.
Depression, like other inittiations in our lives, ask us to open our eyes, be present to the suffering. Initiatory experiences call us to awaken and challenge us to the depth of our being. The suffering of the initiatory experience strips away the identity, dignity, and comfort that we would not have normally given up. The pain and loss of depression make it difficult to recognize it as an awakening. Part of depressions it trusting the pain and allowing it to break us open.
In our membership community, I teach five element phase courses every quarter to some of my more advanced students. I have so much respect for these students. At the beginning of each course we take the time to talk about how the courses are an initiatory journey. Most of my students who go through the courses seriously find the journey painful, however they come through changed, having left something behind and opened to something deeper and more meaningful inside of themselves.
There is a wisdom deep in your body that has brought the depression forward as a way to heal. Your body never does anything without a reason, it is always protecting you and looking out for your best interests. From this perspective, depression can be a healthy response to your life. Depression is your body’s healing response to help you get better. Your body is responding in the most appropriate way to support you in your life right now. “Allow your body to do what it already knows how to do.” Bo Forbes
With depression it is common to struggle with negative and self-defeating thoughts. Our inner world can be flooded by overwhelming thoughts, sensations and emotions and it is common to be lost in a labyrinth of negativity. Yoga is not going to erase your difficulties, it will illuminate them.
When you relax your body, difficult emotions will arise. I teach a style of meditation in our community that brings people deeply into their bodies in a relaxed way. Of course when that happens, our body feels free to bring forward what it has been holding onto for days, maybe weeks, months and even years. One thing that saddens me in our community students who step away from practice because it is too painful for them to meet the challenging emotions that their body is offering up.
When we step into these kinds of practices like restorative yoga and meditation, it is important that we listen and honour our body when it speaks. I urge you not to let your mind tell your body what to do. Your mind’s need to override your body’s wisdom and comfort can interfere with the wellspring of inner resources that will arise when you practice and have been arising through depression.
When we practice yoga, we can bring the skills of mindfulness and awareness and face our painful thoughts and emotions head on. Of course, attending to our thoughts and emotions will be unbearable if we are always harshly judging ourselves or if our inner mean girl is always standing by with her two cents.
This is the part where discipline can enter the practice and we can ask ourselves to be compassionate and non-judgmental in our practice. Gently we can ask ourselves to stop judging ourselves. We can stop beating ourselves up. We can turn with kindness to our inner mean girl and offer her some kindness and tenderness, maybe give her an alternative.
Gentle back bending postures and inversions are supportive for depression, they help to open us up and look at our lives from a different perspective. However forcing our bodies to open and forcing our perspective to change too drastically will only activate your nervous system and cause it to contract and close. Forcing open and extreme inversions will create muscular tension and put your nervous system into overdrive. Instead with restorative yoga, we can suggest opening, suggest looking at things from a different perspective by inverting, without forcing. We will relax and open, relax and invert just a little.