Turning Depression On Its Head With Yoga

Depression and other mental health issues are serious and should be evaluated by a professional. For counseling in Indianapolis or Greenwood, call Sunstone Health & Wellness today.

Today’s post is the final in a 4-part series on yoga and depression.  This series has been brought to you by guest blogger, Jennifer Minchin.  Jen is a yogi, constant explorer, and lover of the written word.

Did you know there’s pretty much a yoga pose for any mood and every possible body ailment? In B.K.S. Iyengar’s book Light on Yoga you can look up everything from how to ease a headache to polio with yoga. Different yoga poses activate different muscles, organs, and gland systems within your body, with the goal of finding overall balance. So what about depression? Which yoga poses can help?

Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)

Stand with your feet hips width’s distance apart. Make sure the feet are parallel to each other with your heels lined up directly behind the first and second toes. Bring your hands to your hips and fold forward, hinging at the waist. Once you’ve lowered down, lower your hands to the floor or a block if you can’t reach the floor. (If you don’t have a block available, you can use a chair, pillows, blankets, etc., whatever will help bring the floor to you.)

If you keep your weight centered between the front and back of your foot you will get a more even stretch. If you’d like to release your hamstrings a bit more then move your weight more towards the front of your feet.

Child’s Pose

If you don’t have a lot of flexibility in your knees, you may want to skip this one because it likely won’t be relaxing. However, if you can sit up on your shins with no problem, start there. Hinge forward, folding over your thighs. Let your head rest on the floor and stretch your arms out in front of you. Imagine all of the day’s worries just falling out of your forehead and into the floor. As you exhale sink further back into your hips and just let go.

Legs Up the Wall

This one is exactly what it sounds like and it’s easy to do! Find yourself a wall, lay flat on your back, and slowly work your legs flat up the wall. Eventually your legs will be at a 90-degree angle to your body. Stay here for a couple of minutes and just breathe.

Inversions

If you’re up for a bit more of a challenge, you can practice some inversions to bring freshly oxygenated blood back to your head. Oxygen and glucose are two things the brain needs to function properly, so bathing your head in this oxygen rich blood is a great way to kick start the “happy” chemical production you need. An inversion is a pose in which your head is below your heart. With inversions, you’re literally turning depression on its head!

So if you’re new to all of this, you can start with a forward fold, which technically is an inversion.

For those of you who may already have a yoga practice or are familiar with these poses, headstand, handstand, and shoulder stand are great for anxiety and depression. If you’re not familiar with how to get into these poses, you’ll want to find a local teacher who can walk you through them step-by-step and be there to safety guide you.

These are just a few of the many poses that are great to help counteract the effects of stress, anxiety and depression. If you’re interested, find a local studio where you can practice. Becoming part of a community is also another great way to start to work your way out of depression.

If you are so someone you know is depressed or looking for counseling in Indianapolis or Greenwood areas, contact us to learn how we can help.

Breathe In Wellness, Breathe Out Depression

*Depression and other mental health issues are serious and should be evaluated by a professional. For counseling in Indianapolis or Greenwood, call Sunstone Health & Wellness today.

Today’s post is the third in a 4-part series on how yoga can help with symptoms of depression.  It is brought to you by guest blogger, Jennifer Minchin.  Jen is a yogi, a constant explorer, and a lover of the written word.

In yoga, breathing exercises are referred to as a pranayama, which translated means “directing the breath”. When you practice pranayama you are altering your natural breathing rhythm. There are several types of breathing exercises you can practice in yoga and even in meditation, and each come with their own list of benefits. While you can incorporate breathing into your yoga practice, if you’re not quite ready to step on the mat, you can certainly start with your breath. If you’re looking for a method that will help alleviate some symptoms of depression, first, let’s take a look at which category of depression you may be dealing with.

When we talk about imbalances in yoga, we speak in terms of the three gunas. Depression is an imbalance, be it chemically, mentally, or emotionally, and you likely can put your symptoms and feelings into one of the gunas. We can get pretty sidetracked when looking at what exactly a guna is, so let’s just look at the general characteristics of each and see if any of them resonate with you:

  •  Sattvic – This is the goal. To be in a sattvic state is to feel emotionally and physically balanced.
  • Tamasic – This is a state of lethargy and all of the synonyms that come with it. You’re feeling heavy, disinterested, sad, and/or hopeless. When most people think of depression, this is the state of being that comes to mind.
  • Rajasic – The other side of the depression coin is anxiety and mania. This is what it means to be rajasic. You’re over stimulated and/or over anxious.

The goal of a regular yoga practice, or a regular pranayama practice, is to move to you closer to a sattvic state, to find balance. So if you’re rajasic, the last thing you want to do is add more energy you’re already keyed up state. If you’re tamasic, restorative and calming practices are probably not the best choice. Choosing the right practice for your state of mind is integral to finding balance.

One of my favorite breathing practices is called Nadhi Sodhana, or Alternate Nostril Breathing. This one in particular is good because no matter which type of depression you are suffering from, you can practice Nadhi Sodhana. So if breathing exercises are new to you, or you’re having trouble figuring out if you need more or less energy, this is a good practice to start with.

Alternate Nostril Breathing is quite literal. It’s a breathing exercise in which you alternate which nostril you close off and which you breathe in and out of. Each nostril connects to different energy aspects of the body, mind, and spirit.

The left nostril is linked to the right hemisphere of the brain. When you focus on left-nostril breathing, you are creating a calming effect. If you’re feeling anxious (or rajasic), left-nostril breathing can help ease some of that for you. It can also help stimulate creativity.

The right nostril is linked to the left hemisphere of the brain. Right-nostril breathing will stimulate the mind and the body. If you’re looking to become more alert, breathing through the right side of your nose could help energize you. Focusing on the right side is great for those feeling tamasic.

Interestingly, throughout the day one of your nostrils is dominant. If you’re feeling stressed, your right nostril may be dominant. If you are swung far in the other direction, your left nostril may be taking the lead. Once you learn more about the role each nostril plays, it’s easy to see how balancing the effort is important to your overall wellness.  When you practice alternate nostril breathing, that’s exactly what you’re doing, you’re giving the body balance.

Let’s get started.

  • Find a comfortable seat. You could be sitting cross-legged on the floor, a couch or a bed. You generally want your hips higher than your knees, so if you’re sitting cross-legged, consider sitting up on a pillow or blanket. You can also sit in a chair with your feet planted firmly on the floor.
  • Place your left hand on your left thigh.
  • Move your right hand up in front of your face. Rest your second and third fingers lightly between your eyebrows.
  • Place your thumb lightly on top of your right nostril and your third and fourth fingers lightly on your left nostril.
  • With your two fingers, gently close off your left nostril and breathe in through the right. Then switch, closing off the right and exhaling through the left.
  • Inhale through the left, then switch and exhale through the right. Inhale through the right, switch to exhale (then inhale) through the left, and so on.
  • Do this for several rounds. As you become more used to the practice, you can continue for longer periods of time.

You’ll notice right away one side is easier to breathe through than the other. The easier side is currently your dominant nostril. Once you get used to alternate nostril breathing, you can practice focusing on the side that is appropriate for your guna.
If you are so someone you know is depressed or looking for counseling in Indianapolis or Greenwood areas, contact us to learn how we can help.

How Yoga Helps to Relieve Depression

*Depression and other mental health issues are serious and should be evaluated by a professional. For counseling in Indianapolis or Greenwood, call Sunstone Health & Wellness today.

Today’s post is the second in a 4-part series on how yoga can help with depression.  It is brought to you by guest blogger, Jennifer Minchin.  Jen is a yogi, constant explorer, and lover of the written word.

People worldwide suffer from depression and its incidence is on the rise. In many cases, depression and stress go hand-in-hand. If you just look around at how over stimulated people are today, it’s no wonder. Thanks to technology, you’re always accessible, you’re constantly being hit with more information that anyone can possibly digest, and that’s just life with your smart phone.

Chronic stress can do incredible damage to your body starting with your sympathetic nervous system. That’s the one that kick starts your “fight or flight” system and releases the hormone cortisol. If cortisol is chronically high, it can do some real damage to your body, including a lowered immune system, gastrointestinal disorders, endocrine system disorders and cardiovascular issues. And since everything in our bodies is interconnected, you can bet the damage doesn’t just stop there. Chronic stress can also reach out to your limbic system causing memory damage. All of this, and it can cause or worsen your depression. Many findings show that people suffering from depression have higher levels on cortisol, which is a stress hormone.

How can we take back our health and our mental wellness? For one, studies have shown that yoga can have a measurable impact on those with depression, even after just one class. Just what makes yoga so good for depression?

Yoga helps in several ways. It asks that you focus on your breathing, which calms your system and lowers adrenaline. As you move through your yoga practice, one of the goals is to focus on your breath and try to keep it as calm and steady in the hardest poses as it is in the easy poses. It also gives your mind something to focus on instead of the hundreds of thoughts that are constantly running through your head. Steadying your breath can also lower your heart rate.

The opening and closing chants that sometimes take place also help to lower your heart rate and blood pressure. One study showed that participants had their lowest heart rate of the day while chanting. (Not into chanting? Why not sing in the car or the shower? It’s the vibrations that do a body good.)

Certain poses activate your parasympathetic nervous system, helping your body to relax. Your parasympathetic nervous system is your rest and digest system. It’s the opposite of the sympathetic and it’s the one that is active when you are calm. Cortisol levels are lower when you’re in “rest and digest” mode.

Yoga releases muscle tension. If you’re upset or stressed, your muscles tense. Releasing that tension automatically helps to relax the body. That’s why massages feel so good! The stretching and lengthening of your muscles in yoga has that same relaxing affect.

Tension isn’t the only thing that your muscles store—a lot of emotion is also held deep within your muscle tissue. Certain yoga poses can even trigger deep-seated feelings and you may find yourself in a pose, suddenly crying or completely elated. So, a regular yoga can also help you work through things that are stored beneath the surface.

Like anything, the effects of yoga are cumulative, so if you can really stick with it, you’ll definitely see lasting results.

If you are so someone you know is depressed or looking for counseling in Indianapolis or Greenwood areas, contact us to learn how we can help.

Yoga Can Help You Journey Back From Depression

*Depression and other mental health issues are serious and should be evaluated by a professional. For counseling in Indianapolis or Greenwood, call Sunstone Health & Wellness today.

Today’s post is the first in a 4-part series on how yoga can help with symptoms of depression.  It is brought to you by guest blogger, Jennifer Minchin.  Jen is a yogi, a constant explorer, and a lover of the written word.

It finally occurred to me that there was a real problem when I woke up with four two-inch long cuts in my left arm. Taking a knife to myself the night before somehow, somewhere in my brain seemed to be the answer to the crushing weight of my depression. At that point, the only thing I could force myself to do was yoga. With a will that came from somewhere deep inside me I didn’t even know that I had, I would get up each day and head to a yoga class. It took several months, but at one point, I realized that I had started to feel better.

Yoga helped me get to a place where I wanted to work on the things I had shied away from in the past. It made me dig deep and really look at myself to find what I was really missing—happiness. After spending a lot of time on the mat, and subsequently in teacher training, I started to understand that wellness, both mental and physical, is one of the many gifts of yoga.

Just how does yoga help with depression? Practicing yoga postures help cleanse your organs by moving stale blood and delivering fresh blood. Studies have shown that chanting activates certain systems in your body, helping to balance hormones. At the beginning and end of many classes the word “Om” is chanted. Depending on which style of yoga you choose, there may be additional chants. (Don’t let the idea of chanting scare you. It’s actually fun! But if you’re still sketched out by the idea, it’s totally okay to just skip that part of class and listen.) Breathing practices help to calm your sympathetic nervous system and activate your parasympathetic system. These are just a few of the ways yoga helps get your body and mind moving in a healthier, happier direction. We’ll take a deeper look at these benefits in the other posts for this series.

But for now let’s look at how yoga helps you be present and why that’s important. Depression makes you want to hide. You could be hiding from people, yourself, or issues that are too hidden or too difficult to bring to light. I hid in alcohol, in partying, in bad relationships, and just flat out hid in my apartment. In a yoga class, you will focus on the movement of your body, your breath, and how you feel in each pose, which slowly but surely, will teach to you start paying attention to the present moment.

You’ll begin to find that different poses can bring up different feelings. Your practice becomes a journey into self-exploration and self-study. How do you react when you come upon a new challenge? Do you shy away from your edge? Or do you stay there and face what’s coming up for you? During my time working through the deepest part of my depression, one of my biggest challenges was camel pose. Camel is a deep backbend, also known as a heart opener. Heart openers make you feel exposed. For me, that was the hardest thing in the world, and getting into that position would send me into a near panic attack. My heart would race, my breathing would become shallow, and I’d have to come out of it. One day my teacher said to me, “Just drop back. Nothing is going to happen to you.” I realized he was right. Soon thereafter I was ready to face a piece of my own insecurity and the pose became one of exhilaration instead of a place of fear.

Just like I did in camel pose, you can begin to work with your own range of emotions and get to know yourself better. The way you think about poses will change. You will begin to feel stronger on your own two feet and want to start applying the lessons learned in yoga to other areas of your life. It’s a slow process and hard work at times, but getting to know yourself outside of your depression is an important step to realizing that depression doesn’t have to dictate the rest of your life.

It’s these little lessons, these little achievements that are going to help you learn that everything you need to be okay is inside of you. Soon you will feel strong enough to take the next step—whatever that may be for yourself.

If you are so someone you know is depressed or looking for counseling in Indianapolis or Greenwood areas, contact us to learn how we can help.