I have been teaching מורת יוגה for twenty-two years. I got into yoga at that time, because I was suicidal, not just depressed. During that time period, my state of mind, was so down, that I began to daydream constantly, on how to kill myself. My friend dragged me to my first yoga class, and insisted, that yoga would help with my emotions. I resisted by saying, “How can yoga help with your emotions?”
I had done other exercises, and other fitness classes. I was a runner, I played volley ball, basketball, tennis, and I did all sorts of fitness work outs. I threw myself into weights, crunches, and sit ups. I was plagued with worry, guilt, rage, insomnia, depression, and sorrow. Nothing had helped my state of mind, until yoga. Yoga truly saved my life. Now twenty-two years later; I’m dedicated yoga teacher, with a passion to motivate, those who are; depressed or suicidal; and I urge them to come, to experience, the yoga difference.
From the very first class that I tried, yoga was hard for me. The poses weren’t that difficult to follow, but my hamstrings, hips and back muscles were super tight, and the stretching was painful for me. The breathing was contrary to breathing in working out, where you breathe out, through your mouth, to maintain the power of the work out. In yoga, by comparison, you breathe continuously through your nose. You take deep breaths in, that expand out your belly, and sometimes, you hold the breath for several seconds. I was determined to figure yoga out.
The movements were slow and thoughtful. The repetitions of the movement felt monotonous. Yoga worked on your strength, and you had to hold poses, such as downward dog, or plank pose, or an inversion pose, for several looonnngggg moments.
Why does modified yoga work to relieve depression and anxiety? I feel that it’s a combination of elements. First, modified is an easier yoga class, than a regular beginner’s class. I personal share myself, and I encourage clients to do exactly what each can do in my class. There is an acceptance, and spirituality that is present in a restorative or modified yoga class. The space in itself is a very calming, and not intimidating.
Yoga teaches you to fully dwell in the present moment. To do the poses well, requires focus, strength, balance, and a willingness to complete the pose. If your mind wanders, you may wobble off-balance, and fall. Plain and simple. The slow breathing, brings in more oxygen which then clears out your organs, such as the liver, which contains negative emotion, such as grief, and anger. The breathing and the poses, are specifically done which clears the stomach of gases, and stimulates blood flow.
The inverted poses, bring a blood flow to your brain, which stimulates, and revitalizes your brain, your skin, your lungs, and assists in altering your mood. The poses; open your torso and hips, which cause your heart to be open. When you change your physiology, from your fallback position, of closed, tight, and a seemingly guarded position, to a more open position, your body starts to trick your mind. Oh if I’m standing like this, I must not be depressed. If my chest is up, and my arms are out, maybe I’m happy, at least not sad.
In the present moment, if you really stay there, during the yoga pose, you realize that there is nothing from your life, which is happening right now. You are perfectly fine. If you snap your fingers; that snap is how quick, a present moment, zooms by. There is nothing worrisome, or that needs your immediate attention, no distracting voices, in your head, that tell you are worthless. It’s just you being mindful and doing a moderate, focused, yoga pose.
Another element in a modified yoga class, that helps give relief for depression, is meditation. In almost every one of my yoga classes I put in meditation. Meditation, if practiced, helps clients stay in the present moment, and also allows them to sense, that they are loved, cared for, and there is a safe place within. There are many different types of meditation including color meditation, question and answer meditation, open-eyed meditation etc.
At first, yoga takes a lot of focus and discipline. Modified yoga is a discipline but it’s easier than a regular strenuous mat class. You practice the poses, and the breathing, and you practice NOT beating yourself up, and allowing yourself to accept, that you are not perfect. When you develop in yoga, your confidence also develops. Sometime down the road, you realize, it was not too long ago, that you could not do, some of the strength and conditioning, poses of yoga, and now you can. Earlier, you may not have had much luck, with balance, and now, you stand on one foot for 1 minute or more.
The really important thing about a modified yoga class, since it’s not as difficult as power yoga, is that everybody, or almost everybody can do some form of modified yoga. I have modified mat and modified chair. You experience acceptance, and not rejection which makes you feel better about yourself. Self-acceptance is a very important element to clearing depression and anxiety.