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The Natural Prozac

The yoga mat is a good place to turn when talk therapy and antidepressants aren't enough.

By Amy Weintraub

Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy takes just such a relational approach in working one-to-one with a client. "I think it's vital for the client/therapist relationship to be one that empowers the client rather than one that creates dependency," says PRYT founder Michael Lee, M.A., author of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy—A Bridge from Body to Soul (Health Communications Inc., 1997). Through a dialogue between client and therapist, the Phoenix Rising process seeks to put words to the observations of self that emerge in the conscious holding of a posture. "The loving and nonjudgmental presence of the practitioner" creates a "sanctuary" for such observations. The client can then begin to "witness, acknowledge, accept, and connect" these self-observations to daily life. As clients "dialogue around the experiences" with a therapist, they may identify core beliefs that support a depressed state of being. "In the integration phase of the work," says Lee, "the client may make new life choices that support a less depressed state."

Whether we practice alone, with a yoga therapist, or in a room full of like-hearted, like-minded people, establishing a daily practice of yoga creates a sense of everyday sacredness. It becomes a personal ritual in which we come home to our bodies, home to what is true for us that day, which may include depression and anxiety. But filtered through the lens of our practice, we can see ourselves more clearly, and as research indicates, the depressed mood often becomes less intense.

Accepting What Is

Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita, didn't have Western medical science to back him up when he counseled Arjuna that he could do his duty and fight his clansmen without accruing karma if he let go of the fruits of his actions as he went into battle. But the evidence is in. Joel Robertson, in Natural Prozac, tells us that "the more personally invested you are in winning, the lower your serotonin levels will be when you lose and the higher they'll be when you win." Indeed, when we attach ourselves to the outcome of our actions, we may be having a negative effect on our brain chemistry. So we now have a biochemical reason to practice acceptance and nonattachment.

In his chapter on depression, Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul (HarperCollins, 1992), among other best-selling books on spiritual psychology, asks the following question: "What if 'depression' were simply a state of being, neither good nor bad, something the soul does in its own good time and for its own good reasons?" If we can maintain our practice during these times of melancholy, there is evidence that we may be balancing brain chemistry in ways that make depression tolerable. We may not cure the depression with our practice, but we may begin to accept these times in our lives and be able to grow from "the gifts of soul that only depression can provide."

"Depression may be exhilaration waiting to happen," says Michael Lee. That's certainly true if you're a bipolar manic depressive. But when you're in a depressed state, whatever its source, if you don't have some kind of spiritual practice, it's hard to remember that "this, too, shall pass." I couldn't imagine exhilaration when I was on antidepressants and in treatment for depression in the mid-'80s. But now, after 10 years of daily yoga practice, when I feel depressed, I am capable of remembering that everything changes. I have developed as Thomas Moore suggests, "a positive respect" for depression's "place in [my] soul's cycle."

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Reader Comments

Lydia

This is the best article on depression I have read in a long time. Just what I needed. Thank you.

Valerie

Thanks, I always love yoga journal's articles so much! There are many ways of letting go, and sometimes it's just to BE.

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