Updated: Dec 1, 2020
How Yoga can help with Gloom & Depression
As the fallout of the Covid 19 virus continues to roll on into Winter you may have experienced big changes in your mood compared with the start of the pandemic. Back in March when the unthinkable was playing out on the news and across our screens, a deep anxiety, fear and feeling of being overwhelmed were all understandable responses. Whilst the worry has not gone away you may have experienced fewer signs of anxiety such as - rapid breathing, being distracted, racing heart and insomnia - and in its place felt the gloom of melancholia and depression with the accompanying symptoms of lethargy and inertia.
Yoga can help with feelings of apathy and despondency. The practice of yoga is the intimate learning and understanding of our internal world, of the sensations in the body, the movement of the breath, the pattern of our thoughts and responses. Listening to what is going on in your mind, by giving yourself the time and space to be present allows you to become aware of why you feel angry or depressed. Recognition of how you feel can lead to an acceptance and subsequent release if done sensitively with the breath.
Through the yoga practice when observing your body, you may experience where negative emotion is being held, and once noticed you can release its grip through the movement and breath. The intention of the yoga practice is to feel better and be more at peace physically and mentally, by encouraging the flow of energy. This energy, known as Prana, is our spirit, rather like a car battery or the electricity to a light bulb it provides our vital current. In zoom yoga classes last week, we were encouraging a fluid mobile spine (cat/cow), practising gentle backbends (Cobra and Sphinx) to open the chest, twisting and doing lion's roar all with the intention of releasing dull energy and stimulating an inner vitality.
When we feel lethargic, fed-up, or withdrawn it is known as being Tamasic. To bring the energy into a more balanced state, known as Sattva, there are certain steps you can take. Deepening the inhale and exhale, breathing with the whole of the lung capacity revitalises the body with an increase in oxygen nourishing all the organs.
To Practice the Three-Part Yogic Breath
Rest your hands on the belly and observe the rise and fall as you breathe. Keep the breath steady and smooth.
Move your hands to the sides of your ribs and watch as the ribs move outwards on the inhalation and fall back on the exhalation. Can you feel any movement in your back?
Thirdly rest your hands on your chest just below your collarbones and observe the movement in your chest.
And finally rest hands in lap, breathe deep into the lungs, observe as the belly moves outwards, the ribs expand, the chest lifts and then slowly exhale.
Avoid grasping or overdoing the breath, keep it steady and smooth. All breath is done evenly through both nostrils.
When feeling a lack of energy taking a brisk walk outside, deeply inhaling the cold air will help invigorate you and lead you away from negativity. A change of scene, away from sitting in front of the computer or scrolling on your phone will really help to energise you. Exercise releases Serotonin which increases our motivation and will-power. As you walk take the time to notice what is around you. If in the countryside perceive the beauty of nature and be fully present. Too often our minds are entrenched in the past or fearing the future and we miss what is here right now. If fortunate enough to meet another walker enjoy some social interaction, another positive mood enhancer. When you've finished your walk reward yourself with a well-earned treat, a hot chocolate? Acknowledging your accomplishments is an important part of feeling more positive and will release dopamine into your body enhancing your pleasure.
The Negative Bias
When we are conscious, awakened in the moment, we can notice unhelpful habits or harmful patterns of behaviour. Our brains have an emotional bias towards the negative, a protective radar from the days of being hunters and the hunted, alert to any warnings of danger lurking in the bushes. Noticing a repetitive negative bias can then be consciously counterbalanced with positive thoughts. Ask yourself 'What is the best that can happen' (Mo Gawdat). Notice the things that you do have, the things that are okay and establish a sense of perspective. If you feel able keep a gratitude journal and jot down three things each day that you are grateful for. Taking these steps can help strengthen the brain circuit for optimism.
Small persistent steps lead us back to a more balanced state. Know that the world is constantly changing, we as people are constantly evolving. What feels desperate today may well feel better in the morning. Calm, nourish and soothe yourself as best you can from moment to moment.