Yoga and Depression – My Story

For most of my life, I’ve suffered from dysthymic depression, addictive behaviors, and trauma. 

One of the reasons I came to yoga was to find relief from my pain and to learn more about my mental landscape. At the time, I probably wouldn’t have used those words. I remember that I was searching for meaning and purpose and also felt a general dissatisfaction with my life. I could sense a yearning for movement and physical engagement. I let these feelings, and a few well-placed opportunities, lead me to yoga teacher training.

Because of the many hours of work and messy discipline of my practice, I can honestly say that I am no longer completely destroyed when a depressive episode arrives. I also understand more about the root cause behind my addictions, which helps me to adjust my behaviors. This understanding could not have been possible without the self-study that meditation inspires and stimulates. Trauma and deep-seated pain resulting from generations of trauma and pain in my family has slowly begun to loosen it’s life-sucking grip on my DNA. 

I also came to yoga for spiritual growth. Yoga is the lens in which I view my reality and make sense of things. I believe that I am connected to, an extension of, and am/was/will be the source of life. I believe that you are also these things. When I meditate, this clumsy vessel of blood and bones becomes irrelevant, and my essence expands and connects again to this source. Eventually, though…I must come back and do my dishes and pay my bills. Hopefully, I can perform these duties with a bit more grace and love than yesterday. 

These are the more intricately subtle and personal effects of my yoga practice. But if you would enjoy some practical reasons to practice yoga and meditation (as a self-confessed cynic, I appreciate practicality), read on:

  1. The physical practice of yoga grows your strength, which increases your energy level. One symptom of depression is chronic low energy.
  2. The breathing exercises (pranayama) of yoga help to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, the branch of your NS which controls the passive operatives of your body such as rest and digestion. In this modern world, our nervous systems are constantly stimulated by sights and sounds (advertisements, notifications/signals, deadlines, etc.). If you feel stressed and agitated for most of the day, your sympathetic NS is working in overdrive and abusing the “fight-or-flight” mechanism. During this state, some really interesting things happen in our body: increased heart rate, rapid breathing, dilated pupils, tensed muscles, and restricted blood flow. This response is triggered by the release of hormones to prepare your body to run or defend yourself. If your NS is constantly stimulated/stressed, the never-ending production of these hormones can eventually lead to poor physical and mental health in the form of various illnesses. Breath-control is a great tool to help navigate these biological responses. 
  3. The practice of meditation can help to control what you devote your attention to. There are many different techniques and most share the idea of connecting to the “Observer” or “Witness.” Can you observe your thoughts, inner monologue, emotions, and sensations without imparting any judgement or opinion on them? We use this technique of self-study to learn about ourselves so that we may make appropriate adjustments in our everyday lives to inspire peace within.