YOGA FOR DEPRESSION – 11.20.14 (The Holding Environment)

Most of our thoughts never get to see the glimmer of the sun or the depth of the moon.  They stay hidden inside us.  We all have parts of us that we believe have been, are or could be burdens on others.  Those thoughts keep our thoughts held deep within us.  Caged.  And in that cage develops frustration, anger, resentment and a list of other emotions.  Our thoughts simply need an environment that is safe enough to handle them with care.  Where is that place?

For me (and I hope you), it resides on my mat.  It is a place where I can go and release.  There are not a lot of words.  There is a lot of movement.  The connection between the brain and the body is so significant throughout our lives.  We were not cognizant enough in our infancy to understand this.  We took in the world through our physical body.  The experience of touch was so important to our development.  The experience of life from that point forward began to turn inward.  However, none of us were trained as to the importance of our mental health.  We were not cognizant enough in our youth to find this appealing.  As the years grow on us, the amount the brain has to deal with increases.  There must be an outlet.  There must be a place for the brain to release.  For me (and I hope you), it resides on my mat.

I hope that your practice continues to grow.  My 200 hour training through YogaFit allowed me to learn new asanas (poses), the philosophy of Yoga, the Yamas, Niyamas, Sutras, Mantras, Mudras and so on.  One of the deepest understandings that I took away from my training was how the present is the moment.  I am free to grasp and develop my world based on my reactions to the now.  So I decided to let my mat become a place where I can let out the bad, grotesque, dark, and disgusting.  And when I remove those things, I have made more room for light, love, compassion, and gratitude.  Let your mat be a safe place to do your physical practice and your emotional practice.  The brain and the body need one another in a beautiful symbiotic relationship.  Watch that relationship blossom through your practice.

The Holding Environment

Psychologists call this a “holding environment.”  It’s the place we feel safe enough to do emotional work.  In the context of a Yoga class, you want to be free to experience what is most authentic about yourself, without the risk of feeling judged.

A “holding environment” can take the form of a relationship with a therapist, a Yoga class, or even a community of living friends.  “No one will go to the depths of terror alone,” says Lama Palden Drolma.  “The experience of not trusting the universe arises in our families so that by having a loving presence in our sangha (community) or therapy, someone to hold the space while we’re in turmoil, we begin again to trust the world.”  How do we learn to trust when the neural patterns that establish the template for our relationships throughout our lives were formed in the limbic (feeling) brain based on the kind of care we received early in life?  “When a limbic connection (important relationship) has established a neural pattern,” say the authors of A General Theory of Love, “it takes a limbic connection to revise it.”  Reading self-help books does not alter neural pathways.  We must experience the change in our bodies and in the limbic soup where our attachments were first formed.

BOOK – “Yoga for Depression” by Amy Weintraub (BUY IT!)

YOGA FOR DEPRESSION – 11.13.14 (Grief in the Tissues)

My Level 5 training for YogaFit opened my eyes to myself.  It opened my eyes to myself in the Now.  The Now truly allows us the freedom of joy and possibility of so much.  It takes the frustration, inadequacy, and mistakes of the past and allows us to experience the Now in our own individual way.  Our past isn’t forgotten.  Don’t compartmentalize the frustration, inadequacy and mistakes, but rather realize that the Now offers so much amazement.

One of my favorite quotes is “become comfortable with being uncomfortable.”  Life definitely lends itself to this quote.  The moment that we feel comfortable is the moment that life will send something our way that tests us.  I have to do this daily in my classroom.  I have to challenge my scholars.  They deserve it and need it.  I also take my responsibility as a Yoga instructor extremely seriously as well.  My yogis deserve to be challenged in their physical and mental practice.  We all must “become comfortable being uncomfortable.”

I bring all of this about to help us realize why the Now is so significant to us.  It allows the trauma of the past to weigh less.  Will it remove the trauma?  No.  Will it allow us to move on to action instead of guilt, depression and anger?  Yes.  The Now calls us to action.  So take action!  Continue to build your physical practice and make space in the body.  The space we create allows a number of things to leave the body.  Continue to build your mental practice and allow the mind the time to be wild and crazy.  The mind will find calm when it is allowed to be wild and crazy.  Let the body and the mind release.  They both need this to allow you the most amazing experiences in the Now.  It is extremely hard to divorce ourselves from emotions of the past, but if we can change our perception then we will see a beautiful change in our view of the present moment.

Grief in the Tissues – Releasing Trauma

Everything that we’ve ever experienced is stored in the body.  Even when traumatic memory is repressed, the body remembers.  “Yoga is an exquisite form of body work that eliminates the residue that has become lodged in the tissue.”

“Yogic practices bring us to a state of ripeness.  They purify the energy channels for the free flow of prana (life force, energy).  In the process, the sludge is brought to the surface.  It’s like cleaning the sewers.  The psychological and emotional obstacles get flushed to the surface.”

When you practice every day, the ordinary losses you have faced in your life, losses that have become “lodged in the tissue,” begin to dissolve.  Eventually, even the most traumatic of experiences may be released.

Deep releases, be they physical, energetic, or emotional, come “when the student is ready.”

BOOK – “Yoga for Depression” by Amy Weintraub (BUY IT!)

Yoga for Depression – 10.30.14 (Karuna Meditation)

We all suffer.  We all fall down.  It is part of being human.

The beauty is that we are completely capable of caring for ourselves through our ability to be compassionate.  We want to help others.  It is born into us.  However, it is extremely hard to show compassion to the one we know the most about.  It is often times hard to show compassion towards ourselves.  We know every intimate detail of each moment.  We know our joys, but we also know our deepest and darkest secrets.  Are we worthy of such compassion?  Yes.

You are worth your own love.  You are worth your own compassion.  Each and every new moment is an opportunity to amaze yourself.  In the present, you can find an experience that is new and beautiful.  Grab on to the moment and understand that we all suffer.  Grab on to the moment and understand that we all fall down.  The person that your mind draws to in the meditation below could be suffering right along with you.  The kind words that you speak to them must also be the kind words you speak to yourself.  You’re pretty damn cool.  Just sayin’.  Namaste!

Yoga Experience – Karuna Meditation

This meditation experience is called Karuna, which in both Sanskrit and Pali means compassion.  How, even in our deepest depression or in the midst of a panic attack, can we find compassion for ourselves?  Traditional texts suggest the two simple phrases to cultivate the state of compassion – May I be free from suffering, May I find peace.  At first, as you repeat these phrases, they may feel hollow, especially if you are suffering right now from depression.  Practicing karuna meditation can help break the grip of our self-absorbed, obsessive thoughts so that we are awake to compassion for ourselves and others.

Sometimes the darkness may feel so overwhelming that we forget even the memory of light.  But when we bring compassion into the dark, we realize that we are not alone there.  All human beings suffer.  It is part of the human condition.  In fact, says author and theologian Mathew Fox, suffering is “the heartbeat of the universe.”  Our suffering is both intimate – ours alone – and communal, connecting us with others, enlarging our capacity to feel compassion.  When we practice karuna we grow our compassion, even in the darkness.  The heart softens and the mind is soothed.

Below is a Karuna Meditation Script.
Now bring into your mind someone still alive who has offered you unconditional regard, someone whose love you can feel.  Perhaps this person is suffering now, perhaps not.  As human beings, we all face great physical pain or mental suffering in our lives.  If your loved one isn’t suffering now, he or she will be at some time in the future.  See his or her face shining in your imagination.  Continuing to breathe slowly and deeply, breathe in with the words May you be free from suffering.  Breathe out with the words May you find peace.  Feel that person’s regard for you and send them compassion, repeating the phrases several times.

Now it is time to offer the same compassion to yourself.  Repeat the phrases, using a long, slow inhalation and exhalation, changing the pronoun to “I.”  Acknowledge the suffering you have felt and the suffering you may have caused others as you continue to breathe and offer yourself compassion.  Without any judgment, hold yourself as you would your beloved in your heart and offer yourself compassion and forgiveness.  May I be free from suffering, May I find peace.

If you feel the compassion dissolving into fear or grief or some other disturbing mental state, do not judge yourself.  Accept your humanness and acknowledge your heart – how you have the capacity to feel all your emotions.  Let the breath be like a soothing lullaby to yourself.  Fill your lungs with breath until there is not more room, then exhale completely, so that you are completely empty and ready to receive.

BOOK – “Yoga for Depression” by Amy Weintraub (BUY IT!)

FLOW W/FRED – 10.23.14 (YFD – Gratitude)

Yoga isn’t a magic healer.  It isn’t an ancient religion that combats Christianity.  Yoga is about mindfulness.  Mindfulness is “the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment.”  Yoga is about becoming aware of how to navigate the mind and maintain the body in the present moment.  Yoga simply aids your body and provides a system of internal and external ethics to aid your belief system.  So let’s get those misconceptions out of the way.

In this present moment, I think we deserve to throw a little gratitude our own way.  Life doesn’t stop … ever.  And our minds run right along with it.  Take a moment to be thankful that the present moment provides new and amazing opportunities.  We might be angry, upset, frustrated, annoyed and any number of other emotions right now.  Be thankful though that our mind is capable of handling the load.  Be thankful that we have an opportunity right now to make our joy.  Each new moment is an opportunity to be thankful to those around us.  Each new moment is an opportunity to be thankful to ourselves.  We are worth it.  100%.

Gratitude

Even in difficult situations, gratitude can be cultivated.  First acknowledge the difficulty, then find the gift.  An example would be “I am angry in this moment, and I am grateful I have a mind which knows this is so and can deal with it.”

Find the gift in the moment of sadness may not eradicate the sadness, but it may bring your emotional body back into balance.  There are times when the pain was so acute I had to get down on the floor and cry, sometimes curling into myself and rocking like a child, sometimes lying still.  Even in these deep releases of my grief, I consciously acknowledged by gratitude for my big heart and my enormous capacity to feel.  Soon after acknowledging my gratitude, my grief abated and I could resume whatever activity the outpouring of emotion had interrupted.  I felt emptied out, still sad, but also refreshed and awake to the gift of each moment, each breath.

BOOK – “Yoga for Depression” by Amy Weintraub

FLOW W/FRED – 10.2.14 (YFD – Healing State)

My journey into Yoga over the past six or so years began with a physical practice.  I had no desire for anything other than one more good workout.  My body was tight from rock climbing when I first started and all I wanted was a fun way to stretch.  Yoga definitely was stretching, and a quality workout, without the boring staring around at others.  I never let it sink in.

It was roughly about a year and a half ago to two years ago that I finally started letting the time for meditation become significant to me personally and to my classes.  When I started to let Yoga pierce my heart rather than just my muscles, I couldn’t get enough.  I started my 200 hour journey and have never looked back.  Yoga has helped me realize that I have control.  My breath continues and acts as a beautiful metronome that brings me back when I start to drown in my own mind.  In short, I had no desire to go deeper into my own consciousness.  I wanted the superficial that came with ignorance.  I was robbing myself of a deeper connection with me.  I’ve learned that in my own uniqueness that I am pretty damn cool.  When I forget, I come right back to my breath.  And my breath allows me to lose myself in simplicity and beauty.  

Healing State

Despite the troubles of daily life, when you sit, paying attention to your breath, or attuning to a mantra, or observing the sensations in your body or the thoughts in your mind, you have the opportunity to touch, for a moment, that deep abiding state of wholeness at your core.  Coming home to this feeling every day can create a calm center, a peaceful container for the passing difficulties in your life.

Too often, we fear that if we let ourselves dive into such a deep state of consciousness, we will never emerge.  We will lose our identity or our grasp on reality.  But as we struggle to stay in control, we feel more and more separate from reality.  It is in this ability to lose ourselves that we find the fullness of who we are.  Practicing this dissolving of self during meditation enhances our ability to let go, to be more creative, to dance and sing without self-consciousness, and to fully relax.

Mark Epstein says that it is “one of the most important tasks of adulthood to discover, or rediscover, the ability to lose oneself.”  He goes on to say that when we are afraid to relax the mind’s vigilance, “we tend to equate this floating with drowning and we start to flounder.  In this fear, we destroy our capacity to discover ourselves in a new way.  We doom ourselves to a perpetual hardening of character, which we imagine is sanity, but which comes to imprision us.”

BOOK – “Yoga for Depression” by Amy Weintraub

Flow w/Fred – 9.25.14 (YFD – Mindfulness for Dysthymia)

Mindfulness for Dysthymia

Cultivate an attitude of “being okay with whatever is happening.”  Even when we feel uncomfortable – “feeling lonely, feeling bored, feeling upset about something” – if the discomfort is acknowledged, if we do not resist what is happening, the discomfort usually fades.  “When I’m able to observe whatever is happening and let it be okay, life is a lot easier.  I get a lot less tense and a lot less depressed.  Things don’t stick and my life goes more smoothly.”

“All sorts of little fears come up during the course of the day, which, if I’m practicing and paying attention, I can say, ‘Oh, that’s fear,’ and let it go.  If I’m not practicing, then it builds and I start closing down.  I feel driven by whatever is going on in my mind; there’s more tightness in my body, and I lose my sense of expansion.  When I’m depressed, there’s much more resistance to sitting, much more resistance to watching my mind.”

“I begin to actually feel the energy in my body.  Being in touch with what’s going on in my body through Yoga postures teaches me what’s going on with my depression.”

We want to push away what is painful, but when we close off to our pain, protecting ourselves from suffering, we reduce our capacity for joy as well as our ability to connect with others.

When the heart is closed, we live unaffected by the beauty of a sunset or the blooming of an orchid.  We are numb to the multitude of offerings from the natural world.  And we begin to feel unreal to ourselves.  Cultivating a practice that lets us feel calmer allows us to stay present to our feelings, so that we can take in and really feel the sense of joy at simple pleasures – the sight of a lone cow on a hill at sunset, the voice of an old friend on the phone, the smell of orange blossom on a bike ride through the neighborhood.  This is what it means to be alive.

BOOK – “Yoga for Depression” by Amy Weintraub

Flow w/Fred – 9.18.14 (YFD – Mindfulness for Anxiety-Based Depression)

In class Thursday evening, we used the following passage to connect our minds and bodies.  Pain is definitely a difficult subject to tackle.  It has cost each of us so many hours of our lives.  It is allowed to however.  Pain will happen to all of us and has happened to all of us.  Being mindful of the present moment in regards to it is a skill necessary of practice.  And this practice is not limited to simply seated, standing in Mountain or laying down in Savasana.  Mindfulness of pain and the present moment can happen during any task.  It just takes time and practice to become more aware of the affect pain has on us.  I’m still practicing, so do not expect day number one to show incredible signs of release and enlightenment :).  One day at a time and one moment at a time is all you need to deal with the struggle all of us face with pain.  Take yoga with you off your mat today and enjoy the last day of summer!

Mindfulness for Anxiety-Based Depression
“Mindfulness meditation does not require closing one’s eyes, although often people find that comfortable.  I usually close my eyes when I am sitting, but I open them if I am sleepy.  I can still be paying attention to my process; I can feel my body; I can feel my breath; I can attend to my mind states.  A person could think of themselves as a mindfulness practitioner and never sit down.  You could walk for your entire practice.  You can cook mindfully, clean house mindfully, do any job mindfully.  Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention with the hope of seeing more clearly what is happening inside and outside.  If I see more clearly, I will be able to respond in a way that doesn’t cause suffering to myself or anyone else.”

Pain doesn’t go away as a result of a meditation practice.  Even long-term meditators experience the ordinary losses that being human entails.  However, the recognition of impermanence that comes with meditation practice helps support the understanding that the pain will pass.  We don’t need to identify with our pain, our depression, or even our negative thoughts about ourselves.  We don’t have to suffer more because we’re in pain, which is what happens when we find ourselves unable to acknowledge and simply accept the pain.  Sitting in meditation, attending to the passing thoughts and feelings, helps us notice just how fleeting our feeling states are.  Suffering is resistance to the pain; suffering is struggling with the pain; suffering is saying that it should be otherwise.  Don’t talk about the end of the pain.  Talk about the end of the struggle with what it is.

BOOK – “Yoga for Depression” by Amy Weintraub

Flow w/Fred – 9.11.14 (YFD – Meditation and Mindfulness)

Conflict on the inside and outside causes stress.  Where the problem can begin is when we believe the interior conflict is too much for the world.  We fear that the world will look at us with disgust, judgment and shock.  I have allowed the depth of my own mind to scare me on several occasions.  We all have.  The human mind is capable of going to some very dark and disturbing places.  Take a moment to look at some of the truly mesmerizing and dark movies that have been made over the years.  Our minds can cause so much internal conflict based on how we interpret our childhood and the situations we experience as we age.  The internal conflict arises because we try to hide these thoughts.  We don’t want to have them.  They’re wrong.  They’re disturbing.  And they’re disgusting.  We tell ourselves these things.  But can you truly control your mind?

Yoga allows us a freedom from the judgment of us.  It is sometimes hardest to satisfy your own picture of what you should be.  And this picture is manipulated and formed from our childhood and the expectations other relationships (personal, professional, etc).  Yoga allows us a place where it is okay to let the mind pour out.  It is okay to let the wrong, disturbing and disgusting cascade across.  When we repress our thoughts, we create an internal conflict.  The internal conflict becomes stress.  Stress keeps us from enjoying the present moment and living life to the fullest.  So the next time you find yourself at a red light, waiting in line at the grocery store or during your meditation on your mat, remember that it is okay to let the thoughts cascade across like the drops from a waterfall.  They are just passing by and we are not bound to them.  Be mindful.

Mindfulness
The practices we do simply strip away the obstacles we’ve accumulated in our daily lives, so that we can be conscious of our wholeness even in our disappointments and our pain.  But the practices of Yoga, including meditation, will purify your mind and body so that there is less constriction, less room for depression, and more room to experience the ecstasy of your wholeness, to experience every moment in your life.

“That state is some thing that is happening and available all the time.  We merely notice it more when we use special methods.  It gives us a taste of what it’s like not to be in conflict inside, to be open to what’s happening.  We feel more energy, we are more creative and the mind is clearer.”

Mindfulness is the technique used to develop insight into the nature of the self and the universe.  The simplest example given is that if you have never meditated before and close your eyes and are quiet, the first insight that may come is that the mind jumps all over the place and is less in your control than you might have imagined.  As you watch your thoughts and feelings rise and fall, the idea of impermanence is revealed.

When, over time, we observe our thoughts, it is easy to see that much of our reactions to our present circumstances are the result of the stories we have made out of the events of our lives.  We have stories about our childhoods that rationalize our adult behavior.  We have stories about our relationships that explain their failures to ourselves.  What would happen if we dropped our stories?  Might we be able to engaged with others without the limits of our preconceived notions about the way things usually turn out?

BOOK – “Yoga for Depression” by Amy Weintraub

 

Flow w/Fred – 9.4.14 (YFD – Calming the Anxiety)

With a new month comes a new sequence!  As we used a substantial warm-up, Sun Salutation A, a modified Sun B and some strong Mountain 2 flows, we for partner bow.  The whole class tonight centered around opening through the thoracic vertebrae to allow the lungs to expand.  I wanted everyone to breath deeper and fuller than they had in a long time.  I wanted us to find neutral.

We introduced Alternate-Nostril breathing for the first time tonight and the class rocked it :).  Here is a link to more information and a YouTube video for your viewing pleasure.

http://www.artofliving.org/us-en/yoga/breathing-techniques/alternate-nostril-breathing-nadi-shodhan

Calming the Anxiety
“Breathing,” says Yoga physiologist David Coulter, Ph.D, “is one of the most remarkable functions of anatomy and physiology.  It is the only biological activity which can be brought under full conscious control and yet functions semiautomatically twenty-four hours a day.”  If you do nothing else but commit to learning pranayama breathing, you will bring not only your breath under conscious control, but also your emotions.  This doesn’t mean you will repress your feelings, but rather you will begin to witness and more able manage them.

“I’m a writer, and I literally lose words that I know.  It’s as if I’m standing on one side of a synapse, peering to the other side.  There’s a word there – the very word I want for a poem I’m writing – but I can’t reach it.  It remains there, dancing, just beyond my ability to grasp it.  It’s a very frustrating experience, and it invariably signals the onset of depression.  I’ll write a perfectly decent poem and feel like it’s nothing, worse than nothing, I’m worse than nothing.”

Learn to be very watchful, and to refuse to give in to the self-judgments.  Learn how to take care of yourself by increasing your prana by getting outdoors, taking long walks, and riding your bike.  Find your breath.  Find your space.

“I’ve found that rhythmic deep breathing, and especially Alternate-Nostril breathing (Nadi Sodhana), can be very nurturing, and even allow me to be ‘outside’ of the depression for a time.”  My breath can neutralize the energy.

BOOK – “Yoga for Depression” by Amy Weintrab

 

Flow w/Fred – 8.28.14 (YFD – Balancing Left and Right)

Pranayama techniques have fascinated me.  I spend a lot of time throughout my classes introducing or reminding students just how powerful they are.  We are able to aid our physical and emotional body through these different techniques.  I’ve introduced three part breath and ujjayi breath to my classes, but never ventured out to alternate nostril or one sided nostril breathing.  In our deep and powerful breaths, the use of the diaphragm is so crucial to sufficiently oxygenate the blood.  It is such a joy to watch as a student learns to breath deeply and fully … connected physically and emotionally.  

With nostril breathing, there are opportunities to stimulate the body and calm the body.  There are times throughout my day that I need my body to function at a higher capacity.  Right nostril breathing allows me to increase my metabolism and help with some digestion.  There are times throughout my day that I get frustrated, upset, angry or even down.  Left nostril breathing allows me to calm my thought process and slow down my heart rate.  Both are equally significant and very much needed.  In class we took two cycles of breaths on each side for balance.  I am excited to see how these breathing techniques continue to impact my students.  

We will introduce alternate nostril breathing next week!  Thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment :).

Balancing Left and Right
Mental illness is a state of imbalance, so Alternate-Nostril Breathing or Purifying Breath, is a good way to provide balance for the right/left hemispheres of the brain and to increase oxygen to the cerebral tissues, which likely increases blood flow to the brain tissue.  Right nostril breathing has a stimulating effect on the body and mind, while left nostril breathing has a calming effect.  

If someone is suffering from major depressive episodes, their energy might be expanded with right nostril breathing, in which you inhale through the right nostril and exhale through the left.  On the other hand, if you are feeling anxiety, a few extra rounds of left nostril breathing will help.

In Yogic terms, suffering can be explained by an imbalance in energy channels (nadis).  As a left nostril breather, there is continual enhancement of lunar, cooling energy channels and an imbalance with the heating, energy channels.  The importance of breathing on both the right and left sides of the body, balancing the cooling and heating energies.

“Twenty years of chronic depression lifted like a cloud,” he says.  Kevin felt that Right Nostril Breathing would not have been effective if he were still drinking and had not gone through years of traditional psychotherapy.  For Kevin, recovering from depression was a multipronged approach, but he believes that learning and practicing Right Nostril Breathing was “the crowning touch.”

BOOK – “Yoga for Depression” by Amy Weintrab