I hope you caught my reference to Simon and Garfunkel, because we’re going to explore depression (sometimes known as Darkness) this week. The first step for working with melancholy is to recognize it. When we perceive, and then try to meet this mental health condition as “my old friend”, we have a chance to become acquainted with it, rather than just trying to make it go away. Rumi’s poem, The Guest House, pushes further, saying we should “Welcome and entertain them all [emotions]…Even if they are a crowd of sorrows…The dark thought, the shame, the malice, Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.”. That is asking a lot, so we’ll start slowly and gently.
It is typical for us to have a range of emotions, and all of them have value, like all the different plants in a forest. However, if one persists and blocks the light from others, then we want to bring it back into balance so every feeling can have its time in the sun. If depression persists longer than a few weeks, it’s time to seek professional help.
Depression has many flavors: sometimes it’s situational and expected. For some of us, depression is anxiety-based or hormone-influenced. There are so many nuances to depression, like subtle shades of a color: sadness, sorrow, grief, despondency, the blues, the blahs, and so many more, like the swatches at the paint store.
Our culture isn’t big on inviting depression to the table. We’re supposed to “fix” it and get back to work, cheer up and quit pooping on the party.
This pressure can lead to shame and hiding out.
I purposefully chose the picture above because it shows the bed and how we tend to take refuge in bed when the cloud of depression blots out the sun. This is a wise step for short-term self care, to reach for comfort and rest. Sleep deprivation is directly connected to depression, so just a good slumber might ease your situation.
However! When you can’t leave your mattress, reach for your Depression First Aid Kit. Be kind to yourself, and just try to take one step.
Step 1: The first step is to literally put your feet on the ground and sit up. Melancholy has an actual physical heaviness, and some mobility can start to bring it to the surface where it can be met. If you need micro baby steps, come into child’s pose, tenderly acknowledging your mood. Stay as long as you need. If you want to emerge from this cocoon, you can move to all 4’s. You could breathe in as you come to 4’s and breathe out to return to child’s pose. Wait for a signal that you’re ready for more, or enjoy more time in child’s pose.
Step 2: If you want to begin to rally for uplifting, take step 2: stand up. Feel the earth under you, supporting every choice you make. Feel for your breath, your heartbeat. Feel the air on your skin. If you have a window, look outside and see what’s going on in the natural world. Even if you live on a busy city street, look up at the sky.
Step 3: Remember that you are part of this world, your body is keeping itself alive. It’s growing hair and nails, digesting your food, breathing and billions of other things. Part of step 3 is reaching for awe, remembering to be amazed by life, just as it is, even if it’s something small, like a ladybug or a freckle.
Step 4: Raise your arms overhead. I don’t understand the science behind this, but simply extending your arms up changes your physiology and brings a feeling of being uplifted.
Step 5: Breathe. Breath is another staple for your First Aid Kit. Noticing the breath can be a source of awe. Viloma pranayama can bring energy up and help bring invigoration. Sit for this practice and place your hands on your outer ribs. Feel the movement of your inhalations expanding the ribs. Exaggerate this by pressing your side ribs into your hands. Next, imagine your trunk like a vase. Fill the vase up half way with breath and pause. Press the ribs laterally into your hands, then fill the vase the rest of the way up and pause again. Let the breath out effortlessly. Repeat, feeling that you’re inflating yourself, creating an embodied experience of coming back into life.
You can play with filling your vase in thirds and pausing 3 times. Match the length of your inhalations to the time spent pausing – you can count if that helps. Fill yourself with life force or prana. To balance a collapse, or a depression, we inflate again.
Step 6. If this feels OK, you might be ready for some challenges. Try these inspiriting yoga postures:
Chair pose – Keeping your arms up, simply bend your knees and stick your butt back and down, imagining you’re sliding back into a chair.
Tree pose – Balance on one leg, bend the other and place that foot on the inner calf or thigh of the standing leg. The arms go up.
Warrior I – Step one foot forward, one back and bend the front knee. Reach those arms up!
You can google any of these common poses for a quick visual.
Movement is another helpful tool for re-inflating. Yogis offer the Sun Salutation and there are endless practices based on this series of movements. You can also just go for a walk, do some jumping jacks, dance or shake your body in any way. If you’re experienced at yoga, integrate some back bending or inversions. These are all great antidotes to balance the weight of the blues.
Here’s a quick review to equip your kit:
1. Be gentle and kind and get your feet on the ground (sit up).
2. Stand up
3. Look around – rekindle awe
4. Raise your arms up!
5. Breathe in stages and hold it in phases.
6. Move – yoga, walk, dance
Some of our greatest art and music is rooted in the darknesses we all face. Don’t discount this valuable part of you AND try not to let it overwhelm or overtake your whole life.
I do hope this was helpful! Take good care now.
I am delighted to be able to offer scholarships again for yoga therapy. Please don’t be shy if you are in need of support or if you know anyone who you could refer to me for stress relief. Likewise, if you’re moved to support this program as a donor, please contact me.
Remember that my website has all my past newsletters, recorded meditations and videos to support your mental health. Please visit CatEnrightYogaTherapy.com.