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Using yoga to cope with depression

My days are a mixture of ups and downs, like anyone else’s I suppose. I do however find the downs quite unbearable at times.

That’s always been the case, and probably always will.

Recently, I’ve found doing yoga  lifts my spirits, in a way which doesn’t resolve the depression, but certainly takes an edge off it at times, and for a while.

Its definitely worth having in your toolkit.

Physically, it involves stretching various parts of your body and becoming aware of your breathing.

But the mental and emotional benefits are immense.

By the end of the session I experience a sense of well-being and calm with who I am. It doesn’t change the reality of my life and the problems I know I’ll face the next day, but they don’t seem to bother me, I don’t feel depressed by them.

Curiously the first five to forty minutes can feel quite difficult. Although I eulogize about yoga, I find initiating it irritating, it feels like an additional burden to all the other shit I’ve got going on in my mind.

Yoga teachers implore you to attain all kinds of states of mind whilst stretching. Some tell you to concentrate on your breath, some to focus on what your body is telling you. But I prefer to deploy the ‘fuck everything that everyone is telling you to do, including your yoga teacher’ state of mind, in which you simply let whatever feelings and thoughts rise up to the surface.  A politer way of phrasing this would be the ‘contemplative’ approach. Sometimes a new idea or thought will suddenly demand recognition, and I usually have a notepad next to me in my yoga sessions to give that recognition, at which point the thought passes and new ones arise. It’s as if all my thoughts and emotions have been put in a washing machine, and the machine, my mind, is slowly washing them clean. I feel invigorated and dare I say it, happy, by the end.

What I am saying is that I experience yoga as a disconnection from obligation, and that feels liberating. I don’t have to give a fuck about anyone or anything. I do in real life, but at least for those hours I can do nothing if I damned well want. I suppose it feels good in the context of a life where you can often feel like a need to constantly perform, which is something I experienced after almost twenty years of living in shared houses and living with my family at home.

A similar point has been made by Charlotte Eriksson. She wrote:

Sometimes you need to sit lonely on the floor in a quiet room in order to hear your own voice and not let it drown in the noise of others.

I found myself sitting lonely on the floor in a quiet room and realised that all these voices in my head, screaming ’yes’ and ’no’ and ’do not rest’, are not my own. Sometimes you run and work and laugh and fight, for the chase, maybe, or for the simple reason that out there in the crowd, around the people, you can drown out the heaviness and make sure there is no time left to doubt and so you just go go go! 

But then you find yourself, sitting lonely on the floor in a quiet room, and all these voices you’ve lived with for so long, around the people, are gone, and you’re left with only you and your own and there is nowhere to run or hide. You’ve got to face the truth. Your own truth. Your own voice. It’s quiet, calm, scared even, because it hasn’t got the chance to speak up lately for it was drowned out by all the other voices saying ’yes’ and ’no’ and ’do not rest’ but now there are no more masks. No more walls.

Sometimes you need to sit lonely on the floor in a quiet room and just listen. Listen to your own voice without trying to change it, please it, lead it – just listen. It is easy to know who you are when you’re building a character, it is harder to find out who you are without inventing it. 

And so when I take that time for myself when I can just sit there, conscious, but just lying on the floor, doing stuff that others might make fun out of me for, it feels utterly liberating. I feel glad that I’ve escaped their influence, the room in which I do yoga feels like a sanctuary. I feel great that I can finally listen not just to my body, but also to my mind, for the first time, without having to discipline every thought and feeling that comes my way. I get a sense, after having done it, of having a great deal of pride in myself, which is a great way to go into the world.

Chris Brown, who probably best personifies the type of idle yoga that I am most interested claims the Yin style of yoga that he practices is not about getting fit or looking good, it’s more about revelling in your own existence, realised through an attitude of caring for your body, manifest in the yoga stretches.

 

 

 

Even stretching might be considered as a form of release from obligation.  The argument goes that what we consider stretching in yoga, is not actually stretching, its releasing the muscles from the hold we subject them to all day, the hold that is necessary to fulfill our work duties.

Brown’s approach to yoga, what I get out of it, is part of a wider philosophy and way of life, premised on an assumption that all enjoyment stems from the ability to make the space for and learn about how to enjoy one’s own existence. The enjoyment of one’s own existence depends in large part on being able to find the space to explore one’s emotions, good and bad, to revel in them, and to find a sense of significance, meaning and resonance in those emotions. I am reminded of the fact that once in a blue moon I like to stroll around places that have deep emotional significance for me. It is by making space for yourself inside, with your emotions, that you are better able to work out how to position yourself in relation to the outside world, in a way which maximizes your chances of successfully connecting and sharing emotionally with others.

It’s easy to see how, as children, we are quickly set off in the opposite direction, of focusing all of our energies on disciplining ourselves to serve others. It happens to children who are abused, to children with narcissistic parents, in school generally and employment later on. It so easy to find oneself in adulthood without ever having learned to find the time and space to just enjoy who you are and take time out to find out who you are, what you need and what you want.

Another important part of yoga is the caring voice of the teacher. Brown for example is a personal favourite of mind, because he’s there to support, and what he’s doing by telling you to do the stretches that work for you, to enjoy the yoga, and to stop stretching when it doesn’t work for you, is to hold you on a pedestal, to affirm your value, and this in itself is a large part of why it feels good, it’s because yoga is like being cared for.

Further Reading

Yoga saved my life: three people share their stories: In celebration of World Yoga Day this week, we talked to three people about how it helped them overcome difficulties, The Guardian, June 22nd 2016

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I feel most alone when surrounded by people

I remember the loneliness, and the shame of it, the isolation.

It can cause you to switch off, to avoid people, and to become numb, traumatised and apathetic.

The funny thing is, the time when you most feel the loneliness, the time when you feel upset, is when you are surrounded by people, and your condition is bought into relief, and your shame and embarrassment heightened, and your failure to develop a happy life, feels like it is being shouted and celebrated from the rooftops, and is on display for all to see.

Unloved & hated children, as adults, don’t want their own children

Many people who have been neglected or hated by their parents, children who have been sexually, physically or emotionally abused, end up feeling that something is wrong with them.

Fact is they are full of anguish, fear, anxiety and are unable to feel or show emotional warmth to others – so they are right, something is wrong with them.

Many such children, as adults, have a presentiment that having children would mean that they infect their children with their own dark feelings and incompetence.

A South African lady recently commented,

Sexual abuse is the worst possible abuse that a child can suffer. I have no faith in other people and sometimes even less so in myself. I am who I am today, as a direct consequence of the abuse, mental, physical and sexual, that I suffered. At the age of 52 I finally realise that I can never change what happened. I have learnt to live with my reality. It is not easy. My personal life has been the pits since forever. I have only just this year realised and come to terms with the fact that my relationships with men have never worked; I am constantly drawn to men who are control freaks – same as my sister. I have never married; I never wanted to have children as I was terrified that something was wrong with me.

Young? Want to escape the violence of home? Try a library.

It won’t solve all your problems but if you’re young and looking for a place to escape the violence of home, you could try a library.

Libraries tend to be quiet places, usually free from threats and intimidation, and somewhere where you can learn about the world and all manner of things. You might also want to use the library to spend time thinking about what you can do to stop the violence or break free from it.

Nicola Miller, now an adult, recently commented that her childhood would have been bleak without libraries. She said, “Having a warm local library stuffed with books helped me escape my deeply unpleasant home and instead hang out with all manner of characters – some with home lives even worse than mine. A sense of proportion, safe entertainment, education and a refuge- cheap at any price.” Miller recently wrote a piece about her won depth of gratitude for libraries.

Recently author Neil Gaiman explained in the Guardian that the most important thing about libraries is that they are a safe space.

Lonesome tonight children?

The emotional development of a child, depends on the emotional bonds built with the parents. To the extent that these exist, then it gives the child a template, upon which other relationships, with friendships and lovers can be built. To the extent that that trusting relationship is displaced with a lack of trust, and a lack of learned ability to show and receive affection, then you are quite incapable of trusting and receiving and showing affection for others. I didn’t behave in a way, which was expectant of affection from others, and I certainly didn’t show any affection, for underlying everything is a feeling that people simply find me disgusting. It wasn’t a consciously thought through process, it was just a state, a predisposition, the result of a process that I had little control over.

One of my favourite songs was New Order’s Lonesome Tonight,….

I walk along the street
I look into your eyes
I’m pleasant when we meet
I’m there when you go home
How many times before
Could you tell I didn’t care?
When you turned your back on me
I knew we’d get nowhere
Do you believe in youth?
The history of all truth
A heart that’s left at home
Becomes a heart of stone

Do you believe in truth?
The lies we told of youth
A cause we call our own
Beside an empty throne
How many times before
Could you tell I didn’t care?
When you reached out in your sleep
And you knew I wasn’t there
My eyes are made of stone
Just like your sordid home
How many times before
Did you leave my soul alone?

I need to be admitted to an emotional hospital

There’s something I want to say about loneliness, loneliness can break you as much as abuse of one kind or another. Staring at the walls of your room, you start imagining other people having fun, sharing emotional warmth, and you begin to feel more and more embarrassed and humiliated. As the seconds tick by, and the world continues to spin, people are congregating, a special one is somewhere with someone but not with you, and you are disconnected. You can break down, burst into tears, your confidence begins to crumble, the outside world scares you because you know its expects you to offer something, show a bit of strength, but you have none. And you wonder what it is about you, that you are not with other people, and what it is about other people that they are with people, and you begin to seriously wonder about yourself, develop really bad feelings about yourself, about your ability to integrate. Given the misery you begin to develop inside of yourself, you also start worrying about not having any kind of happiness or bonhomie to offer people, when you do see them. You realise that you will not be capable of normal interaction with people, that what you really need is admittance to some kind of emotional hospital to get you back on your feet.

I feel like everyone is fading away from me, everyone has gone

Said a young person after they had left school.

Young people who are neglected and abused may find solace in school.

Once they have left school, or during the summer holidays and half-terms they will feel bereft.

 

Reference

Cossar, J., Brandon, M., Bailey, S., Belderson, P., Biggart, L. and Sharpe, D. (2013) ‘It takes a lot to build trust’, Recognition and Telling: Developing earlier routes to help for children and young people, A report fo the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England, London: The Office of the Children’s Commissioner.