Many of us are intimately familiar with depression. It’s a force that can glue us to the couch, zap our energy, and make us forget that we have friends or hobbies, and it runs particularly rampant this time of year, with our post-holiday emotional hangovers and the cold, dark weather taking a toll on our moods.
During this time, our brains and hearts may try to convince us that even if we could take action to feel better, nothing would help anyway. We desperately need mindful self-care when we’re feeling depressed, but we resist it more than ever.
So we have to make healing as appealing and as manageable as possible. Here’s how to keep practicing yoga when you’re feeling depressed.
How Yoga Helps
Self-care and emotional healing may not be the purpose of yoga, but they are powerful side effects when you’re feeling depressed. If you have a tendency to ignore painful emotions, practicing yoga can help you feel safe enough to travel through the feelings you’ve been avoiding.
If you feel paralyzed by fatigue, gentle yoga poses, even while in bed or on the couch, can give you a little energy and endorphin boost. If you’re feeling beat by self-criticism, stepping back from those thoughts to draw mindful awareness to your breath and body can give your heart a much needed break.
Ultimately, yoga allows the loneliness and rumination to subside and settles us into the deeper world of our hearts, where we can catch glimpses of connection to the rest of the universe.
Adapting Your Yoga Practice
Even knowing the power of yoga, there are days when getting out of bed, let alone trying to heal, seems too taxing. What if you don’t have the energy to roll out your yoga mat, and sitting still to meditate sounds overwhelmingly painful?
Those are the perfect times to give your at-home yoga practice some room to bend.
Many of us know the lethargic, tearful, can’t-get-out-of-bed type of depression. During times of inertia and fatigue, you may want to ease into your asana practice with gentle, restorative poses that match your lower energy. If your energy builds, you can always move on to more energetic poses.
If it doesn’t, that’s ok, too.
Other times you may feel the agitated, anxious, can’t-get-to-sleep kind of depression. You may show up to the yoga mat jittery and distracted. You may want to start your practice with higher energy via Sun Salutations, and then begin to slow down into quieter movement and longer held poses.
Our darkest times can be the scariest ones to be still, so add extra comfort and ease to your yoga practice to allow your resistance to it dissolve.
Mini Yoga Self-Care Practices for Comfort
- Repeat your favorite mantra 20 times, counting on your fingers. Choose a mantra that feels reassuring, whether it’s a Sanskrit mantra like “Om mani padme hum,” or simply “Peace.”
- Repeat this self-compassion mantra*: “This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is part of life. May I be kind to myself in this moment.”
- Practice dirga, or three-part yogic breath. Inhale into your belly, then ribs, then collarbone. Breathe out slowly.
- Find just one pose that feels good today, and put your full attention onto the sensations in your body and your breath. Child’s Pose is a wonderfully supportive pose for surrendering to tears. A Warrior Pose can make you feel strong enough to face your fears.
Allow your yoga practice to be as unconventional, as abbreviated, and as flexible as you want it to be, even if it sometimes feels like you’re just going through the motions.
This will allow you to find the balance between the effort it takes to keep practicing when you’re suffering, and the ease of letting go of how a yoga practice “should” be. Take loving care of yourself.
*Reference: Mantra from Self-Compassion Image credit: Emily Burrows