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.