Years ago, I read a book called Yoga for Depression Amy Weintraub. At the time, I was studying psychology and just beginning my love affair with yoga. I remember being fascinated by yoga’s healing power, and amazed to learn that many people turn to yoga for depression.
We know yoga helps calm anxiety and reduce stress, but yoga for depression isn’t discussed as often—perhaps because there’s still a bit of a stigma attached to depression or perhaps because there aren’t many yoga teachers who know how to teach yoga for depression.
According to Amy Weintraub, who is by now probably one the best known authorities on yoga for depression, the practice of yoga is really designed specifically to target the things that go awry when a person is depressed. It’s amazing really.
In the Yoga Sutras, Weintraub tells us, Pantanjali talks about nine things that distract us from our true nature (which, as yogis know, is peace). These distractions include things like lethargy, doubt, instability, and clouded thinking, among others. If you’ve ever suffered from depression, you probably recognize some of these symptoms.
Pantanjali “goes on to describe four pathological states that accompany these obstacles—depression, anxiety, trembling in the limbs, and unsteady breath,” says Weintraub.
Why Yoga for Depression Works
If the symptoms Pantanjali describes resonate with you, you might think, if only there was a system that could increase my life force, calm my nervous system, steady my mind and improve my breathing.
Oh wait. There is! Yoga.
While ancient yogis probably didn’t name distress “clinical depression” or “panic attacks,” they were certainly aware of how our minds and bodies can interfere with our lives. And so, the eight-limbed path of yoga—Pantajali’s prescription in Weintraub’s words—developed.
Using the Eight Limbs of Yoga for Depression
Yoga’s eight limbs work on all levels. The first two help us with behavior. The third and fourth—the physical postures and breathing exercises—improve our physical health and fitness. The sixth, seventh, and eighth help us control the mind and connect to spirit.
No yoga is not an esoteric New Age curiosity. To put it in hip, modern terms, it’s a lifestyle hack. Look around because it’s catching on. It deals directly with many of the issues that cloud modern life, and that includes depression.
If you suffer from depression, deciding what to do about can be daunting. There are many treatment options, and adding another “prescription” to the mix may seem overwhelming. Don’t despair. The great thing about yoga is you can start anywhere, and go at a pace that works for you. As your practice deepens, you’ll be amazed at the power of yoga to heal not only depression, all kinds of lifestyle imbalances.
To learn more about yoga for depression, you can start with a book or video. If you want a more personal experience, find a class for beginners or even a weekend retreat. Ask local yoga teachers to refer you to a teacher or studio with experience in teaching yoga for depression.