Yoga and Anxiety and Depression

If you tell a Yogi that the body and the mind are interconnected, they will likely look at you strangely. For yoga, there has never been a separation here. Body, sensations, emotions, feelings and thoughts are all part of the one process of being human. (The union yoga works to restore is this individual body-heart-mind process with the universal consciousness). However, for our Western way of thinking, a split occurred; mind became separated from the body by philosophers and thinkers like Rene Descartes (the Cartesian split) See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind%E2%80%93body_problem

Altering mood via medications has become popular in the last 25 years. It is true that introducing a chemical substance into the body changes the chemical makeup of the body, but this medical model is predicated on an assumption of a relatively static state of affairs with our body chemistry. We are told that a depressed person has different chemistry in the brain than “normal” and an anxious person has a different chemistry in the brain than “normal”.

However, what we also know is that what we do and what we say, with whom we spend our time, and where we put our attention also alters our brain chemistry. Mindfulness and other meditation practices have been shown to alter electrical activity in the brain and subsequently our brain chemistry and therefore our moods. Exercise is the same. Breathing practice also changes things for us. Yoga can account for many of these changes as it is a combination of attention, breath and movement. It seems we are actually a process rather than a static “thing”. And this “process” is in a constant state of flux and change; interactive with our internal and external environment. See http://www.medical-hypotheses.com/article/S0306-9877(12)00032-1/references

So mood altering and “stabilising” medications may help in a crisis, in much the same way that pain medication can help when we break a leg. However, long-term use of any synthetic medication seems to interrupt the natural balance of our mind-heart-body process. Yoga and mindfulness meditation can offer alternatives, short and long term solutions to restore balance, health, and well-being.

After my very first yoga class in London in 1992, I walked away taller (having to adjust the mirror in my car), I felt good in body and mind, like I’d done a workout at the gym; anything was possible in my life. My personal practice of yoga and meditation has sustained me for 24 years. I don’t know what my life would have looked like without this daily routine, but I suspect not so good.

So why doesn’t everyone just do some yoga? …

Well, for some, the short term benefits are not obvious. We may need to develop some self-awareness that is more finely tuned than we currently have the capacity for. This self-awareness is developed through self-study; Svadhyaya in yoga.

And the commitment to rolling out your mat or sitting on your cushion versus taking a pill may not sound appealing. Yoga and meditation practice do require commitment. Tapas refers to this intense commitment that is required. We may have experience with hard, “stick” like discipline, feeling as though we are being hounded onto the mat and into practice. What helps us more efficiently is to begin by doing small amounts of practice, paying close attention to the effects and letting ourselves be drawn by the “carrot” of better mood and physical health. Carrots are better than sticks! (for those very geeky folks, here’s a psychological perspective on why carrots are better than sticks https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KFokaoodfO0 ) Just sit on the cushion; just roll out the mat; breathe; move; all else is coming!

We can also address lapses as “normal”, with gentleness, care, and connection to our personal values. E.g. I say I have a daily yoga practice, but in 24 years, there have been days (but probably not very many weeks) where I haven’t stood on my mat or sat on my cushion. When these “lapses” in practice occur, if I beat myself up to “get back to it” with internal “shoulds, musts, ought to’s and have to’s”, any return brings this harshness to the practice, actually strengthening the negative mood.

If I remind myself about my values, what is important for me (i.e. long term health and well being, good connections with others) from a place of care and compassion, the mat gets rolled out with relief, promise and possibility; brightness from the first moment. In yoga, Ishvara pranidhana refers to your personal connection to your own god / path / direction; values from a psychological perspective.

I’m running a workshop on Yoga for anxiety and depression at Shri Yoga in Brisbane CBD on 16 July 2016. I’d be delighted for you to come along to my workshop; I’ll invite you to experience and notice immediate and short-term benefits from yoga asana, pranayama and mindfulness meditation. It will be a day of practices to make your own, for your long term mental and physical wellbeing… You can book with Shri http://www.shriyoga.com.au/workshops-events/yoga-for-depression-and-anxiety/

By |2016-10-22T15:00:29+00:002nd July, 2016|events, yoga|0 Comments

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