August, Depression, and Homecoming: Part 3


:: Continued from Tuesday September 8 ::

Though I took in the practice’s significance that July morning, I was on a course.  I had designed a strict fitness regimen for our month away, and I confess that the idea of altering it to include more Yoga didn’t even cross my mind.a

In mid-August, for no reason in particular, I began integrating Yoga more and more often into my routine.  While this wasn’t a planned or even conscious decision, it took only a few days to notice the effects:

Yoga…was helping the depression.

This was not news; I’ve long practiced for this benefit.  I’ve spent long days and nights poring over research involving Yoga and Depression; I’ve even taught students with depression.

But I also practice for stress relief, for physical fitness, for strength, for development as a teacher.  In my long list of “reasons-to-practice-Yoga,” Depression had simply fallen toward the bottom.  While my struggle with depression hadn’t lessened, the idea of Yoga as a source of healing had trailed off.

Its rediscovery, as one might expect, was rather uneventful.  Yoga was helping, and that was that.  Of course it was helping.  At irregular intervals, it hadn’t had an effect. But as a daily practice, it was breathing something into me.  One had to notice.

It wasn’t helping with flash or magic or mystical revelations.  I didn’t – and don’t – leave my mat with some kind of deep self-love that suddenly makes the world more livable.

Rather, each pose simply feels mercifully familiar, a coming-home.  Each pose offers an opportunity to truly sense my body, rather than ignoring it, pushing it, stressing it.  Because I’ve practiced for a long time, I can trust myself to work to my physical edges and beyond; and self-trust, for the depressed, is no small treasure.  In addition, I feel light, but strong.  I feel kinder toward myself: the poses requesting rather than demanding exertion; my body gently acquiescing rather than desperately straining.

And you know, I do still strain.  I often find myself clenching my jaw or furrowing my brow.  I feel knots of frustration when I can’t successfully  jump through from Downward Dog to Staff.

But the Practice itself, the principles and goals of Yoga, ask me to consider a different approach.  Thus, when I strain, I hear the urging of various teachers: Relax where you can.  Let go.  Find where your body can go today; notice and appreciate it.  See if you can go further.  Do not demand.  Do not harm.

Even when I can’t take this advice, I hear it; I know it.  The repetition of this wisdom, even as I defy it, is itself a discipline — one that plants seeds that bear fruit after many days and months.

And so I write today from the throes of depression.  The wild, whirling ache of Life, dreams, and vast Uncertainty is deafening.

But over the last few weeks, Yoga has offered a bit of a home.  It’s a place where my feet touch the ground, both literally and figuratively.  I feel a little more space around my heart, a little lifting of this furious weight, a bit of room for my soul.

I’m reminded that I can still feel: I can feel my body and breath, my lightness and length;  I can feel kindness and gratitude, a sense of possibility; I can experience the fruits of a disciplined practice.

Thus my prescription for this aching, weighty, despairing season is – (surprise) – a daily practice.  Not a wired, zealous commitment to a daily 90-minute practice, though such sessions are incomparably helpful.  Rather, it can be a single pose, perhaps even Savasana.

The point is, regardless of the length of one’s practice, Yoga is a potent – and patient – teacher.

And even when I can’t sense it as such, a daily dose of Yoga is a gift, a seed, a small bit of faith, a small glimpse of home.


One Response to “August, Depression, and Homecoming: Part 3”

  1. This is how I feel about gardening! It’s what I do to de-stress and relax and think and deal with life.

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