Sunday, March 29, 2015

yoga and depression

With all the hullabaloo surrounding international yoga teacher Hemalayaa​'s (now removed) admittedly insensitive blog post about depression and her strong feelings against anti-depressants. It's been a great platform for all of us (yoga teachers) to create awareness and dive deeper into what depression is, the treatment options for it, and how to show empathy for those who have it. If we can take away the stigma, that would be a huge step forward in helping those who suffer. There is a lot of shame associated with depression because they are often told that they should just deal with it or just change at will. Speaking as someone who has been affected by it myself, it's simply not possible to will yourself to change. It required very deliberate decisions to heal and become whole again. 

"It’s not news that depression has become a kind of invisible epidemic, afflicting millions of people. We live at a time when depression is approached as a disease. That has a good side. Depressed people are not judged against as weak or self-indulgent, as if they only need to try harder to lift themselves out of their sadness. Yet depression, for all the publicity surrounding it, remains mysterious, and those who suffer from it tend to hide their condition – the medical model hasn’t removed a sense of shame. When you’re in the throes of depression, it’s hard to escape the feeling that you are a failure and that the future is hopeless." ~ Deepak Chopra

In my own experience, depression felt like being enveloped in a darkened cave over an extended period of time, and I'm unable to see the exit. I know it's there but any amount of searching in the dark was fruitless and found me bumping into walls and doors causing invisible scars in my mind.  

Watch this video, and you will have a glimpse of what a my body image of myself was like. Truly horrifying to hear out loud the amount of unworthiness that played into my head for so many years. 

"Depression isn’t one disorder, and even though an array of antidepressants have been thrown at the problem, the basic cause for depression remains unknown. For a diagnosis of major depression, which is more serious than mild to moderate depression, at least five of the following symptoms must be present during the same 2-week period. 
  • Depressed mood (feeling sad or empty; being tearful)
  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities
  • Significant weight loss when not dieting, or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too little or too much)
  • Slowing of thoughts and physical movements
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness
  • Recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or specific plan for committing suicide" *

While for some it's a pure chemical imbalance that only drugs can help with, others have found relief through tools like yoga, counseling, changes in lifestyle or work to reduce stress, cutting out destructive relationships, nutrition, a passion (some kind of exercise or art or whatever makes you come alive), mindfulness, etc. 

Personally, in my own struggle with depression over the years, it's been a combination of yoga, sunshine, counseling, journaling, moving my body with breath awareness in some way every day, spirituality/meditation and connection that have helped me overcome the worst of it. I am someone who needs to be with and enjoys people, specifically teaching and sharing my love for yoga. 

As independent as I am, I have come to realize I am not a Lone Ranger or Super Woman. It took years to let go of that. I cannot do it all on my own. In addition, I am just re-learning how to date myself and truly love who I am. It's a life-long process to let go of old habits and internal dialog of inadequacy, co-dependence, and unworthiness. 

I think the most beautiful thing we can offer those who suffer from it is consistent, compassionate presence, not our strong opinions. To be told how to live or what to do to "fix it" is usually not helpful. To know that I am cared for and have support is huge. Offering a listening ear and compassion, now that's powerful. Having a network of friends who will check in can also been a lifeline. 

There was a time during the early stages of my divorce, that I felt abandoned by a certain group of friends and loved ones. I think people didn't know what to say or how to behave and frankly, I think everyone's just so busy with their own problems to remember to check on someone who seemingly disappeared from social life. When someone is depressed, they just don't have the ability to reach out or call you or go to dinner, let alone eat. As a friend, knowing this can be so helpful. Even something as simple as a call or an email letting them know you care with no expectation of a reply means a lot. 
"May there be kindness in your gaze when you look within." ~ John O'Donohue
I believe yoga heals. However, I feel it takes a holistic approach to wellness and healing through mind, body and spirit whether you suffer from depression, addiction, PTSD or any kind of injury or illness. 

May we all learn from this at the very least to become more active nonjudgmental listeners, consistent friends and loving to all. Let's regard one another with beauty and reverence and begin to learn to gaze upon ourselves with a sacred awe. 

*article on depression by Deepak Chopra

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Giving Tree

"Whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. What is soft is strong." – Lao Tzu

When I was growing up, I had a willow tree in my big Texas back yard. It's branches were more like vines which I would grasp and swing on. Afterward, I would lie in the shade and allow the tips of the green leaves to brush my face. I loved this tree so much that when I discovered "my tree" was in the beloved book, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, I checked it out from the library and absentmindedly never returned it.

When my own son was born, I began to read the book to him. In life, I tell him, we want to be like that tree. Strong and not blown over or distracted by every shiny object that comes our way. The roots and trunk give it stability, it's branches flexibility and the leaves mobility. And, in all ways, we should strive to be adaptable to the seasons of our life.

The tree never protested but always gave. I wonder if I did a little less stomping of my feet and demanding that the trees in my life give me more and more, I would be more calm. What strikes me most about a tree is there is no protest. There is only acceptance, adaptation to the changes in the environment, and largely integration.

Have you ever seen how when another plant (or object) comes in contact with a tree, it will just grow around it or become part of the tree? All of this happens over time. Not today, not tomorrow but with time.

What if we looked at the events in our life with a long lens. It's the difference between pushing our life and yielding to it. There is grace and strength in the yielding.