Today's Daily Tip
Yoga for Depression, Part II
In Yoga for Depression, Part I I discussed the two major types of depression, rajasic and tamasic, as conceptualized by my teacher Patricia Walden (and her teacher B.K.S. Iyengar), whose work has heavily influenced my own. That article described asana practices that can help lift students out of depression. Now let's review other useful yoga practices.
pPranayama Practices for Depression
For students with tamasic depression, pranayama practices that emphasize inhalation may be useful. Of course, getting your students to focus on engaging their abdominal muscles to help squeeze additional air out of the lungs on the exhalation facilitates an easier, deeper inhalation on the subsequent breath. Such breathing practices as three-part inhalation, and Ujjayi on the inhalation with normal exhalation, are examples of practices that increase the length of the inhalation relative to the exhalation.
Students with more rajasic depression may benefit from practices that bring attention to and lengthen the exhalation. Examples include three-part exhalations and 1:2 breathing, where, for example, you inhale for three seconds and exhale for six. Strong breathing practices such as Kapalabhati (Skull Shining Breath, sometimes called Breath of Fire) and Bhastrika (Bellows Breath), which tend to activate the sympathetic nervous system, may sometimes be too agitating for those who are already restless and fidgety. Let direct observation of the student be your guide, since finding the appropriate practice is ultimately a matter of trial and error. Furthermore, since a student's condition may change day to day, what's appropriate may also vary.
Other Practices for Depression
Chanting and other bhakti (devotional) practices can be useful for depression. Walden says that these practices bypass the brain and go directly to the emotions. Not all students respond to bhakti yoga, but in those who do, it can be powerful. Chanting tends to keep the brain occupied, and it's a natural way to extend the exhalation without thinking about it. You'd therefore expect it to be particularly useful for students with busy, rajasic minds.
Meditation can be a powerful tool over the long-term to facilitate greater levels of happiness. Dr. Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin has done research that shows that meditation tends to increase the activity of the left prefrontal cortex of the brain. Left-sided activation has been associated with greater levels of calm and happiness and well as more emotional resiliency, rendering practitioners better able to withstand the inevitable ups and downs of life. Students who are severely depressed may not be able to meditate, even if they keep their eyes open. If that’s the case, try to initiate meditative practices when they are out of the depths of depression to help insulate them against recurrences.
Yoga philosophy can also be of help. Yoga teaches that the more you do or think something, the more likely you are to do it or think it again. Any habit—what yoga calls a samskara—tends to get deeper with repetition. Thus a negative and self-flagellating inner dialogue may not just be a symptom of depression, it may help fuel it. One practice that Walden suggests is to consciously cultivate gratitude. "Count your blessings every day," she tells her students.
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