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Using yoga to cope with depression

May 30, 2016

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.

And I think 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, 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 reveling in your own existence, realized 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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