Yoga and Depression/Anxiety-Meeting yourself on Your Mat!: Guest Blogger Marco Jo Clate, Certified Yoga Instructor
Imagine that one of your friends is under the weather. She can’t leave her apartment but she really needs some medicine or maybe even just chicken soup. Say she lives in a fourth floor walk up with no elevator. Of course you offer to bring her what she needs. You might have to get on the subway, go across town and walk up four floors. It might even be raining. She is very grateful and appreciative, and it feels great. you don’t mind doing it for the most part. But what about for yourself? When you need a little TLC, can you be as generous and nurturing to yourself? In our culture there is great merit placed on sacrificing ourselves for others, (while also fixating on self obsession, funny enough) but who does this serve really? When we experience depression or anxiety, it can be so helpful to get down on the yoga mat. But what happens? We are tired, or our house is too messy, you need to make lunch, your show is on, you need to check facebook, you don’t really know how to practice by yourself, it’s too late to make it to class, you’re not sure it’s going to really help so why bother…You get stuck and your mind collaborates with that feeling of stuckness to keep you there.
In yoga, breath is the guide inside the present moment. We call it Prana, or life force. It is the connection to our true selves that lies beyond the roles we live, the voices in our heads, our history or our future. When we wake up to this true self we feel blissful and enough. The obstacle to this blissful state is our chitta vritti, or fluctuations of the mind. All humans experience this. Even though these patterns may have been generated out of of prior relationships and circumstances, they may not be serving our true happiness. When we are in touch with our true nature, we see that everything is connected. We are interconnected with all beings and the world. Our fluctuating minds serve our ego that wants to believe we are separate, and more special, or that we should be able to control things. When we become tangled in the mental fluctuations, it can lead to or exacerbate depression and anxiety. They become tools in an effort to be somewhere other than here. But the more we practice we learn…there isn’t anywhere else!
Through regular yoga practice we use asana (postures) and breath awareness to investigate our mental and physical patterns that stand in the way of being truly present and happy. As we open our bodies though movement or discover release in still poses, we learn about the ways we hold tension and emotion in our bodies. As we observe the inhale and the exhale we observe patterns in our self care. Can I nurture myself with my inhalation. Can I let go with my exhalation? Can we watch the activity in our mind objectively, understanding that we are not our thoughts? We find our edges, which are not always easy to embrace. We practice staying and making space around the edges.
So how do you practice when you feel like you can’t even get off your couch and onto your mat , let alone to a yoga class in midtown?
Notice your breath. Allow space for what is going on with you today. Stay. Exhale fully in order to make space for a fuller inhale. Get down on your hands and knees. Feel the earth under your hands and shins. Let your spine flow back and forth with your breath through a few rounds of cat/cow pose. Keep it simple. One simple asana can give you space enough and breath enough to listen more fully to your own heart, unfettered by your mind’s chatter. From here you can move into a downward facing dog,. float your heart forward to a plank pose, lower to the floor and move through cobra until you are completing a full Surya Namaskar, or Salute to the Sun! Perhaps you dedicate the efforts of your practice to someone! If you find it more accessible to do for others than yourself, then send your efforts out and both of you will benefit from the energy of your practice! After all, yoga means union. And one way to think of this is the union of your individual self with the universal self. So even if you are not practicing with a room full of people, we are connected, and you are not alone!
Sometimes showing up on the mat is the biggest challenge of our practice. Our restless minds are like new puppies that want to jump and run and chew what they please! But if we practice with them every day, they learn new habits. By working with the map of the body, our breath and our awareness, we can cultivate new habits that better serve our goal of happiness for ourselves and all beings. The great thing is, the more you show up, the more you want to show up both for yourself and for others.