My “Emergency 911” Yoga Plan for Depression

“The yoga mat is a good place to start when talk therapy and antidepressants aren’t enough.” – Amy Weintraub

Hello again lovelies! I’m making another quick post today to share another project I did for my yoga class. We were instructed to do some kind of “anatomy project”as follows: Consider a condition (illness, injury, or physical/emotional/energetic imbalance) that you find especially interesting (possibly because it affects you or someone close to you). Look at Light on Yoga (pp. 487-506) and other sources to do some research on this condition. Come up with three to five yogic techniques relevant to the condition, and try out those techniques. Describe your results in one (or more, if you wish) typed page, which should be turned in as part of your final graduation packet.

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Here is my Anatomy Project:

1.) Describe the condition and state your intention/objective for the project.

Ah… depression. It’s strange, because most people would expect me to flat out hate the fact that I was born with an imbalance of the brain, passed down generation to generation, that can make me completely miserable for no reason at all. But honestly, I’ve learned to have sort of a love-hate relationship with depression. First of all, my entire family has it, along with millions of people worldwide. While a number of friends don’t get it and think I’m simply dramatic, being open and honest with my depression has helped me to connect with so many people that I would never have imagined inspiring without it. Secondly, it is what led me to yoga! Medication to combat the disease really works for some, but I hated it. It made me very sick when I would forget to take it (a common mistake of mine) and I really wanted to find a way to fight the disease naturally. I longed for control of my mind. I heard from a number of sources that yoga would help, and they were right! I was hooked! However, that doesn’t mean depression still doesn’t plague me from time to time. Even with a regular yoga practice, it still creeps in sometimes, unexpectedly, sometimes so strong and unexpected it can literally knock me to the floor. I wanted to come up with a series of yogic techniques I can save as my “911 emergency” sequence, so I have something established to help me feel less helpless the next couple of times I hit rock bottom.

 

2.) Describe in detail what you will do, and visualize yourself doing it while you write. Include practices/asanas, setting and location, materials used (if any).

I am really lucky enough to have a multi-purpose room in my house that I get to call my own, for crafting, yoga, office work, etc. It has all of my favorite things: handmade art covers the walls from dear loved ones, books line the shelves, art supplies are piled in the closet, and I always have some nice candles going: eucalyptus, lavender, etc. Happy smells. In this room, I get to lock myself away and be myself, even when I’m feeling overly miserable. There’s no judgement. It’s the perfect location for this “911 Emergency” practice.

As research has shown, pranayama is a great tool to use against depression. Makes complete sense to me! I feel so out of control with the sickness creeps in. The breath is something I can control and is the perfect way to start the practice. Usually I feel like concentration is difficult, so doing a pranayama such as Nadi Shodhana, alternate nostril breathing, would force me to focus on the pattern of the breath.

According to Amy Weintraub, founder of LifeForce Yoga, when we are depressed, we tend to sit with the shoulder slumped forward and the belly unengaged, cutting off the 2nd and 3rd chakra from energy flow. She suggests starting the practice with a posture, like sphinx or cobra, that engages these areas: stretching out the belly and opening the chest. While in the posture, reciting the 2nd chakra’s seed chant of “vom” will also encourage a little light into this part of the body. Followed by this posture, she suggests the practice of Breath of Joy, a warm-up sequence following the breath. This awakens the body while also expelling the negative energy on the forced exhale.

I think I would want to follow those two postures with Sun Salutation A. I have always felt better after this traditional sequence, as it is used as an offering to invite the sunshine into the dark spaces within me. Typically, I don’t feel like moving around much, so doing something more active like this will wake the body up and help me find some energy.

Lastly, to conclude my quick “911 Emergency” sequence, I would want to follow up with some form of meditation. I know this part of the practice will have to be unique to each experience, as I am already pretty confident sitting and trying to clear my mind will be the last thing I want to do when feeling that crummy. Perhaps instead, I can practice some form of active meditation by singing some of the favorite chants we did in class, doodling some zentangles or a mandala, going for a walk, etc.

Oh! And ALWAYS end with a self-hug!

 

3.) State your hypothesis: What do you expect (hope) will be the result? What would your conclusion be if you did not get the expected result?

I hope this practice kicks my depression to the curb as quickly as it comes in. However, I know it is quick possible it may linger for a few days; the important thing is that I find a way to stay committed to coming back to the mat for the battle each day. I think the first day will be the hardest because usually by the time it needs to be addressed, I has sunken into such a deep pit that I do not feel like doing anything. Perhaps through a personal “check-in” every few days to evaluate my need for the practice, I can catch it before it gets terrible. The biggest enemy of depression is hope. If this practice can inspire hope, that is all I desire, and I think it will!

If it doesn’t seem to help me out of the bad times, I know it will honestly be painful. However, I want to come back to this paper and remember that there is hope no matter what! Perhaps, the practice needs to be changed. Perhaps, I should ask some of my yogic friends who struggle with similar scars. Something will work, I just need to find it!

 

4.) Results: Describe how your practice (#2) affected you and the condition, perhaps keeping a journal or log.

  1. Alternate nostril breathing: This really helped me slow down and focus most of the time. However, I think it would be good to have an alternative breath assigned for the times I am feeling stuffy. I had a stuffy nose a couple of the times I did the practice and would get rather annoyed and agitated trying to do the breath rather than calm. I think I will add Breath of Fire to my “911 Emergency” series as an alternative, so I don’t feel stuck with one choice.(Click these links for demonstrations of the breath techniques mentions: Alternate Nostril Breathing and Breath of Fire)
  2. Cobra or sphinx while chanting “vom”: I liked the posture because it opens up the chest, which always helps give me a small boost of confidence. The chant wasn’t bad, but it didn’t really seem to do much for me either. I am thinking of replacing the “vom” chant with my own words, depending on the need for the day, such as: hope, peace, joy, etc. When I am not feeling very connected with myself, I am definitely not feeling connected to “random chants”, or at least that’s how I was feeling.
  3. Breath of Joy: This was the best! If I only have time to do one thing, it would be this one! I instantly felt lighter and like I really had opened the door for my depression gremlins to hit the road. A  few sometimes remained, but I was still impressed with the result. It really woke up the body too, which was a great way to warm up for the Sun Salutations. (Click here for a demonstration of Breath of Joy)
  4. Sun Salutations A: This is always a good one. There is a lot of chest opening, which really does increase my confidence and made me feel ready for what might still be ahead of me. I don’t know if Sun Salutations alone would make me feel as light and ready-to-go without the delicious Breath of Joy beforehand, but they are a great combination together. (Click here to learn Sun Salutations A)
  5. Active meditation: I was honestly shocked by this one, there were times I felt completely comfortable just sitting still at the end of the practice! That is huge for me and I am honestly amazed with the result. Sometimes, I didn’t feel like I could connect with the chanting (which is odd, because I normally love it), but I always felt meditative through doodling. There is something calming about zentangles and mandalas because it takes focus, yet the mind becomes empty. It is difficult to describe, but definitely awesome.

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5.) Summary and Conclusion: Summarize your results and conclude your study. Do you accept or reject your hypothesis and why? Can you apply your conclusion beyond this project? In your teaching?

I am really impressed with the results. As I suggested in my hypothesis, I stayed aware of myself and when depression was starting to say “hello”. Due to the added awareness of Yoga Teacher Training and the holidays, it never got to the miserable levels I described before, so I am curious to see how well it works if I ever get to that point in the future. I wanted to inspire hope within my heart and soul through this practice and I truly did! I am a little shocked though at how powerful the Breath of Joy practice was. I didn’t think one technique alone might help in a quick “911 Emergency” situation, but I may have found one. I am really grateful for this project or I might not have done the research that led me to the practice. Everything happens for a reason!

I am eager to continue using this sequence. I think the best part is knowing I have this “bag of tricks” to combat the depression so I don’t feel so overwhelmed, scared, and worried about what to do the next time it may enter my life. I am hoping to share my experience with my mom and sisters, who also struggle with the same afflictions, and am really encouraged that it may be a great assistance to their own battles. Furthermore, it gives me a series of techniques I can give to anyone else who might share the same needs. I hope I can help someone else feel like there’s hope, like they can say, “Hey there depression! I am ready for you this time, TAKE THAT!”

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Again, thanks for letting me share! I hope you all have a great weekend and get out and do something that makes you happy. Much love, Taryn xoxo

How I Cool Off When Stressed

“When you are balanced, you find that the world will come to you exactly as and when it needs to. Just like you learned in summer camp: if you get lost, just stay put until you are found. Breathe.” – Amy Jirsa – Quiet Earth Yoga

So, I am having one of those mornings in the office. You know how it goes: you hit snooze too many times (have no time for morning yoga), get to work and are handed awful news, spend an hour on the phone with the rudest customer service agent you have ever dealt with in your entire life, realized you forgot to grab breakfast and it’s already 10:30 and you’ve been so busy that you haven’t even had a cup of coffee. And you neeeeed that cup of coffee! ASAP! Move out of my way people!!!

You know what I’m talking about right? We all have days where we feel terribly overwhelmed, unbalanced, emotionally strained. We are human! It is completely normal to experience moments of stress and exasperation. In these moments, I am so thankful for learning pranayama techniques. Pranayama is a sanskrit word used to describe the extension and control of the breath, the life force. It is through the controlling of the breath that we are able to slow ourselves down, allow the entire body to become oxygenated, focus our awareness, and become grounded. There are many different types of pranayama and I encourage you to look into different breaths that can positively effect your life and your practice.

I tend to run into these stressful situations when I am at work, or someplace in public. Therefore, arching my back, making giant googly eyes, and sticking my tongue out for Lion’s Breath (Simhasana) won’t work if I want to keep a sane reputation. My favorite pranayama to simmer me down is Ujjayi or Victorious Breath, which is the most common type of breath during a Hatha yoga class (Great article: 8 Reasons Why We Use Ujjayi Breath in Yoga). I love Yoga With Adriene’s pranayama videos and she has a great explanation of Ujjayi:

I love this breath because I can just take 1-2 minutes here or there when I am feeling overwhelmed and I am really able to steady my emotions. The best thing is that Ujjayi breath is typically not noticed by my co-workers or the man who just cut me off on the freeway. A lot of people compare this type of breathing to Darth Vader (my husband compares the sound of Ujjayi breath to someone being constipated…), but it does not have to be practiced very loudly. It should be audible to yourself and not the person in the cubicle next to you.

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Sorry, I thought this was really funny

“Just breathe” isn’t quoted by everyone on the planet for no damn reason; it works! Even if you are not into yoga, taking a moment to breathe and unwind doesn’t harm anyone, so why not try it out? I’m telling y’all, it will do wonders for your mood.

If you are really feeling overwhelmed and the breathing just won’t cut it today, find something to laugh about. Seriously! Take five minutes out of  your work schedule or busy day at home and find some silly video about funny cats or goofy baby laughs or army men singing Frozen or whatever! When I need a laugh, I just enjoy the presence of my goofball dog, Wesley.

Hope y’all are able to find some time to breathe (and laugh) today! – Taryn