Yoga Therapy: Busting the Blues


yoga-goldendoorYoga at The Golden Door Spa

Here it is again, that familiar ‘visitor’ that keeps showing up on and off through the ups and downs called life. Most will call it, ’depression’. It occasionally shows up, just once in awhile, and then leaves, unexpectedly. Especially when I am able to do something and catch it off guard. Other times, it feels like a can of molten lead that pours all over my being, blocking the experience of pleasure, beauty and love. The lead hardens and sometimes feels like it coats all of my pores and keeps me from feeling anything, but it’s suffocating toxic fumes. It feels like a shield which gets so stiff, so tight that I cannot move. I feel immobilized.

As an intuitive empath, often times it shows up as a result of feeling the energies of other people and the world at large. At other times, it takes up residence in my body as the uninvited guest who came for dinner and never left. Yet there has always been a constant flicker of hope, especially when I remember to shift into action with my breath and body, from a hike in nature, the smell of a fragrant flower, and most of all, YOGA. (And especially breath work with Kundalini Yoga)

Even when I feel as if I want to stay home and hide under the covers, it seems the only other place I feel safe is my yoga class. In fact, yesterday, I was especially sad and fearful, while chatting with a friend before my yoga class, and told her I wanted to go back home. This wise young lady said, go to your yoga class, get the body moving and the breath deep, you will feel better. To my surprise and relief, the resistance melted away and by the time we started the first Asana (pose) I was out of the pain and into the breath and movement.

It is amazing how this practice has become my saving grace. With all the chaos and evils of the world being tossed at us in all forms of communication, the simple act of shutting off the tech and getting into nature, or a yoga class can do wonders for the soul.

“These are the times that try men’s souls.” Thomas Paine

One word comes to mind, Weltschmerz, as defined by ‘sadness or melancholy at the evils of the world; world-weariness,’ Collins English Dictionary. (Leave it to the Germans to come up with such a word). German author Jean Paulexpressed it as “the kind of feeling experienced by someone who believes that physical reality can never satisfy the demands of the mind.”

Even Marcel Proust, whose epic autobiographical novel, Remembrance of Things Past, shares ‘we find the longing for something only after we are separated from it’. The loss of an idealized person or paradise, is palpable when we feel we have intense yearnings for a primal relationship that becomes nostalgic. If only my lover didn’t leave…….If only I could leave this dead end job…….if only I could escape to paradise again.

“..that melancholy which we feel when we cease to obey orders which, from one day to another, keep the future hidden, and realize that we have at last begun to live in real earnest, as a grown-up person, the life, the only life that any of us has at his disposal.” Marcel Proust

If you google the words, creative celebs with depression you will find 29,500,00 results. From Britney Spears to Catherine Zeta Jones, Carrie Fisher to Robin Williams, and dozens more are splashed across the tabloids. While Princess Diana’s personal battles with depression and eating disorder were publicly displayed with little or no help from her family, most are suffering in quiet desperation.

Exquisite models and superstars, like Paulina Porizkova experienced this extreme state after she was voted off ABC’s Dancing with the Stars in 2007. This triggered her feelings of rejection and led to anxiety attacks. An ‘antidepressant helped dull her anxiety,’ Porizkova wrote in a 2011 Huffington Post editorial, but also affected her personality. Like so many of us who have taken the ‘blue pill’, we end up stopping the medication, with a battle of withdrawal symptoms.

The only way for many is with exercise and willpower. While she’s not an “anti-medicine crusader,” Poritzkova wrote that she is “starting to wonder whether antidepressants can often be the emotional equivalent of plastic surgery.”

In the movie the Matrix, Neo is forced to choose between the blue pill and the red pill. Choosing the red pill would be a quick ‘escape from the Matrix and into the real world’, the ”truth of reality even though it is a harsher, more difficult life;’ while the blue pill that most choose, keeps them staying in the Matrix, wearing colored lenses that can only see the illusion of a ‘pretend comfortable world.’

I personally have lived my life through the eyes of an artist. However, the past several years, I have not been doing much fine art, except writing. If one has an artistic nature, it has been said that living without artistic expression, life may become out of balance. I see that now. When one is not expressing themselves in some passionate way that feeds the soul, the energy can become scattered and even neurotic.

There is a well known link between depression and creativity. That link can be found because major depression is amplified in those who tend to ruminate on their thoughts. On the upside, as author Tanner Christensen states, “being creative is to make sense of and connect the small details of everything we experience, the good and the bad. The creative person, who spends his or her time ruminating on thoughts is likely to suffer from major depression.”

‘When we ruminate, however, our brains are naturally drawn to things that are vital to our health. Pain and suffering are such immense experiences, even if they’re short-lived, that those who ruminate tend to loop through those painful experiences more often than those who don’t.”

Research from Andy Thomson and Paul Andrews confirms this approach, stating that ‘depression is an evolutionary way for us to tightly focus our attention on what needs changing in our lives.’

Highly creative people have a tendency towards suffering via the same brain that makes them so amazingly talented.

Another upside is that many creative, romantic types (like me) also experience deeper, more satisfying pleasure, be it the gentle touch of a lover, a fragrant flower or a midsummer’s night breeze at sunset.

When coming out of a creative slump, according to Shelley Carson, an instructor on creativity and psychology at Harvard University, “ there is enough motivation to produce immense amounts of work. And it’s a very real boost, identical to one you would get if you received a random gift or really great news.”

While many may be diagnosed as ‘bi-polar’ and end up taking pharmaceutical drugs, others are able to ride out the waves and become more productive, satisfied and create from a place of inspiration.

Christensen also states, “Of course, the motivational boost is often an inverse of the level of depression. So if you’re in a truly deep funk and start coming out of it, you can expect your motivation to be equally as high as the low.”

The most commonplace way of treatment, is pharmaceutical drugs, with a side of therapy Often times, the drugs do curb the depression and anxiety but leave much to be desired. After decades of research, the symptoms seem to be relieved in the beginning but them more and more cocktails are being prescribed because the initial boost wears off. And they can also have negative side effects like weight gain and decreased sexual desire that leads to abandoning the medication.The widespread increase in both anxiety and depression are spurring more research to find more sustainable treatments.

“Despite modern advances in psychopharmacology, and the development of so many integrative forms of psychotherapy, we haven’t made a significant dent in this epidemic of emotional illness,” says clinical psychologist and yoga teacher Bo Forbes. Parvati Shallow, CBS News

As the founder of Integrative Yoga Therapeutics, Forbes specializes in the healing arts by using yoga for “anxiety, insomnia, depression, immune disorders, chronic pain, and physical injuries, as well as athletic performance.” Now in collaboration and research with neuroscientists Dave Vago and Norman Farb at the Mind & Life Institute, they are exploring the effect of yoga on anxiety and depression.”

Like the benefits of mindfulness meditation as a means of self-mastery, yoga is becoming a widespread practice for those that are seeking the mind/body/spirit connection. Instead of dealing with the twentieth century mind-therapy model, the new studies are showing that if you focus on your breath, change your body patterns the mind will follow.

Adam King, an artistic soul who delves into his depression, says “It’s really a simple matter of choice. If you decide you’re too addicted to the emotional responses of your depressive state, then stay there. But if you’re like me, and you know there’s so much more to life than constant suffering, then I hope you’ll take what I’ve laid out here and be inspired to begin the process of owning your path to freedom Now that I was very well acquainted with depression and had taken the time to learn why it’s here, I could identify the neuro-path that brought it and me together. Like retracing the steps and events that came together to slowly let it in.

With decades of research for my own depression, I agree that getting to the root cause of each episode can help. However, it seems to be a life-long journey. Perhaps the best we can hope for is to embrace the flow of feelings, find pleasurable ways to enjoy the upswing and move through the lows with dignity and grace. Working with the breath, moving the body and changing the patterns seems to help by accessing the mind-body network. (This is also why mindfulness meditation has become so popular.) So for now, yoga is my ‘drug of choice’.

For more information: see here “These studies validate what the ancient practitioners of yoga understood–that yoga is a holistic approach to bringing us into a state in which body, mind and heart (all the koshas) are in balance.”

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