Yoga for Depression

I was diagnosed with mild/moderate depression in November 2007 but I know I had been suffering from it for a lot longer than that, retrospectively. Labels like ‘mild/moderate’ I’ve found to be not very useful. My depression has been debilitating but not constant. I had no major breakdowns, I was never suicidal or aggressive but I also have not been able to function ‘properly’ in the past few years. Still it is ‘mild/moderate’. It is just a label, I know my own mind and my own problems and I’ve learnt to live with them.

Soon after the diagnosis I was comfortable with the idea I was depressed. So I’m depressed, what am I going to do about it? I know! Yoga! Yoga is good for people with depression. I had never even thought of doing yoga before, I wasn’t even sure what it was. All I knew was I’d seen yoga mats in TK Maxx and I wanted to know all about it. So I bought a book and a dvd and I clung to them like a drowning person to a life ring. I read the book cover to cover (it was The Yoga Bible) and I did the dvd (AM and PM yoga for beginners) every morning. After so much suffering and misery I knew peace and excitement. I knew I’d found something good, something I could learn and enjoy. Yoga was a deep well and I was at the top looking down, knowing I wanted and needed to know what was at the bottom.

Still yoga hasn’t cured me of my depression. Here we are, 3 and a half years after my diagnosis, I do yoga daily and I am not recovered. I wake up sad on average 3 days a week and in these days I can’t do all the things I want to do. But I have learned over these years what will be good for me on these off days and I thought I’d share them on this post.

Now, we’ve all heard that ‘exercise is good for depression’ and this is true. But how many times have I woken up depressed, unable to even decide what clothes to put on, or how to exercise and thought those words and felt even worse? Sometimes we all have to accept that we cannot do what is best for us, it just is not possible to go out for a run when you’re hyperventilating! So we all have to be kind and accept where we are and do what we can to help ourselves. I have many different forms, or nuances to my depressive moods and luckily there are many different ways of doing yoga! Here are just a few different moods and what I do to help myself cope, in handy bullet-print form:


  • Unable to concentrate or focus on anything: Kundalini yoga or gentle Shiva Rea style vinyasa with no long holds and lots of flowing movements
The non-brain-taxing kriyas and breathing of Kundalini I found to be incredibly stimulating and engaging when I can’t get my brain to focus on staying in one position for long. Also a lot of Kundalini involves mantras which are easy for your brain to focus. Similarly Shiva Rea does some fantastic dvds (Daily Energy was a god-send) with some simple movements which help stimulate but still calm your mind. Anything which links movement with breath helps.
  • Absolute sadness and tearfulness: Pranayama
The yogic breathing techniques are amazing at calming down a sad mind. Just giving you something to focus on helps but there is something soothing and life-affirming about concentrating on your breath. Any easy pranayama works for me, nadi shodhana pranayama (alternate nostril) calms and dirga pranayama (three part breath) makes me feel alive and expansive. There are so many exercises and they are all fantastic.
  • No energy: Restorative or Yin yoga
Restorative is an obvious when you have no energy, yin is not restorative but it is still helpful. Both are just about surrendering and allowing your body to be and your mind to still. I tend to do restorative when my mind and body are both exhausted, yin when my body is exhausted but my mind is not. Also my levels of stiffness that day help me make the decision, if I’m more stiff I’ll do yin. I’ve found they’re both hard to do when you’re tearful, it’s hard to stay in a pose for minutes and minutes crying hysterically. It’s worth buying a bolster and having lots of blankets around for the restorative, the poses with props just feel so good! Even the simple act of being kind to yourself and letting yourself be comfortable can work wonders on your mood.
  • Recovering from a low period: vigorous Vinyasa yoga
When I’ve had a few low days nothing makes me feel more alive and well than getting back to my usual practice by having a good long vigorous vinyasa session. It reminds me that (no matter what my mind says) my body is still fit and healthy and lying around doing not much for a few days has not changed that.
These are my main moods and main practices. All of this is from my own experience. Hopefully if you’re suffering it will be some help.

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