Today's Daily Tip
Yoga for Depression, Part I
Personalizing the Yogic Prescription
You’ll want to personalize your approach for each student with depression, but Walden finds it useful to divide students into two major categories, each with its own characteristics and yoga practices that are most likely to be helpful.
Some students' depression is marked by a dominance of tamas, the guna associated with inertia. These people may have a hard time getting out of bed and may feel lethargic and hopeless. Students with tamasic depression often have slumped shoulders, collapsed chests, and sunken eyes. It looks as if they are barely breathing. Walden likens their appearance to that of a deflated balloon.
A more common type of depression is marked by a predominance of rajas, the guna associated with activity and restlessness. These students are often angry, have stiff bodies and racing minds, and may appear agitated, with a hardness around their eyes. In Savasana (Corpse Pose) or restorative poses, their eyes may dart and their fingers won't stay still. These students frequently report difficulty in exhaling fully, a symptom often linked to anxiety.
Asana for Depression
From a yogic perspective, people with tamasic depression lack life force or prana. You'll want to concentrate on practices that bring breath to the body, particularly deep inhalations. If they are able to tolerate them, vigorous practices such as repeated Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar), arm balances, and other challenging poses can be therapeutic. The body and mind are so occupied with the practice that it's hard to brood. When teaching vigorous practices to students with depression, don't worry much about proper alignment. As long as they aren't doing anything that might cause an injury, it's better to have them just do the practice and focus on the movement of the breath. Backbends, in particular, can be stimulating and help fight tamas. These range from restorative poses such as supported Savasana (done with a bolster placed lengthwise under the torso) and supported Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) to more active poses such as Camel Pose (Ustrasana) and full backbends (Urdhva Dhanurasana). Once you've gotten students to overcome some of their tamas, they may be able to relax more deeply. If you try relaxation first, however, you may find them sinking into dark thoughts, defeating the purpose.
Students with rajasic depression also tend to respond to Sun Salutations and backbends, though some of them will find strong backbends too agitating. Vigorous practices have the advantage of helping students burn off some nervous energy, and also of being demanding enough to keep their attention from drifting.
Indeed, some students have such a tendency to brood or get swept away with anxious or negative thoughts that asking them to close their eyes in Savasana and restorative poses (and even during pPranayama and meditation) may be counterproductive. Any of these practices can be done with open eyes or, if necessary, skipped entirely. In addition, Walden finds that propping students way up in Savasana, even having them lean on an inclined bolster placed against the wall, can be helpful. She'll often talk during Savasana, turning it into more of a guided relaxation practice.
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