BY: TRISHA CURLING
The trials of life don’t escape anyone. It’s easy to look on and wish that our lives resembled someone’s who appears to not have any troubles. The truth is we never really know what is going on in someone’s life. I myself am no stranger to the feelings of depression. I went through a very difficult time when my older brother passed away in 2010. My life changed forever and I never thought I would know or feel any happiness ever again. My grief turned into depression. I was fortunate enough to know how much of an impact fitness has to elevate one’s mood/spirit. It wasn’t just the knowing though, it took some time to actually do it, in fact, it took me years after. Eventually, I turned to resistance training and yoga as a hope to begin to heal.
Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to achieve the physical benefits from resistance training and yoga, but I was desperate for the emotional benefits.
Depression is related to “…abnormal levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine in the brain.” (Timothy McCall, M.D. Yoga As Medicine Pg. 263). Yoga has the ability to help turn this around. I found that the more I practiced, the better I felt.
There are a variety of things that happen to the body as a reaction to depression. Some of the things we might experience are tension and/or even pain from this tension. Our posture can change from being upright and confident to being more closed and folded. This has a direct impact on our structures. When depressed it’s easy to carry around a forward head posture, shoulders that round forward, and/or feet that shuffle. These things can cause more damage over time than we think. Forward head carriage, for example, puts more weight on the spine and can create hyperkyphosis, particularly in the thoracic spine. This can, in turn, put more pressure on the discs and more pressure and pain in other areas of the spine. These are some of the physical consequences.
The emotional consequences have a direct impact on the physical body, but there is also a great degree of cognitive function. The feelings of desperation and loss can leave the mind cloudy and unfocused. This can affect our ability to concentrate and be productive in other areas of our lives.
Studies have proven that a regular yoga practice can begin to undo all of those symptoms and outcomes of depression. The physical practice reduces tension in the body, therefore reducing stress and elevating the mood. The focus on alignment in different postures shows us how to elongate the spine, equalize pressure in the discs of the spine, it also shows us how to create proper stacking and placement of the joints (joint centration).
Outside of the physical practice yoga allows you to utilize some of the other limbs to examine our feelings. Svadhyaya (self- study) for example can allow us to look at the decisions and situations in our lives that might have brought us to these feelings. It is easy to become very reactive to life. We have much more power over our lives and our reactions to the situations that occur than we think. There are indeed some things that we can choose to eliminate and/or include in our lives to improve the quality, therefore elevate our moods. Yoga can also allow us to have a better and broader perspective during times of trial and challenge. When we are depressed it is always easier to say than do. I know first hand that taking one small step can change our lives forever.