Breathing New Life Into the Depressed

All our emotions coexist with each other. Anger and anxiety often coexists with depression.

We’ve all experienced the sensations of an accelerated heartbeat, a rise in blood pressure, tightness in the chest, excessive sweating, not wanting to get out of bed, insomnia, excessive sleep, disinterest in food, excessive eating or the feeling that we are swallowed by a dark fog.

Depression is part of the human condition. When it becomes persistent or disabling; when the world is black and white devoid of colour, it can be a wake-up call to transform the symptoms of depression from life-negating ones to life supporting.

At the core of our body is the diaphragm. In the throes of anxiety, anger and sadness, the diaphragm freezes. It fails to descend during inhalation and ascend during exhalation, preventing the lungs from expanding fully.

A cascade of physiological effects ensue. The brain receives too little oxygen, perpetuating the mind-body state of depression.

In a case of anxiety, the breath may quicken. One may hyperventilate. Breathing may become more and more shallow. In extreme cases, a panic attack ensues.

The scientific evidence is out. Pranayama, the art and science of regulating the breath, is effective as a remedy to bring a depressed person back into a more balanced state.

To explore the breath is to direct our attention inward and using it as one would a searchlight, into the pain and the feelings of depression.

One of Fritz Pearl’s old adages is that “fear is excitement without the breath.”

Thich Nhat Hanh says “without full awareness of breath, there can be no development of meditative stability and understanding.”

Ancient texts eloquently describe how the mind can set us free.

Mark Epstein M.D., a psychiatrist, says during meditation, “the contents of the mental stream are not as important as the consciousness that knows them.”

By not identifying with our problems, the mind unfolds like a lotus, symbolic of the primordial Buddha-nature. We come to know the empty and womb-like nature of our minds. It’s a process of “bare attention.”

International Yoga teacher and clinical psychologist Richard Millar treats people with depression by pointing out how the belief that “I should be other than I am” manifests in their thoughts, breathing and in their bodies. He encourages clients to realize that they are not their emotions. He shifts the belief from I am depressed to depression is in my awareness.

There are sequences of asanas (postures) that will improve circulation in the endocrine glands, enhancing their function.

A few that Patricia Walden, director of B.K.S. Iyengar Yoga Center of Greater Boston, recommends are Reclining Easy Pose which encourages the chest to open, stretching the throat, thereby stimulating the thyroid and adrenal glands.

Supported Downward Facing Dog cools and energizes the brain and relaxes the cranial bones.

Inverted Staff pose with a chair and the head supported by a bolster is a tonic for the nerves.

Standing Widespread Forward Balance soothes the adrenals.

Half Plough Pose with legs supported on a chair quiets the sympathetic nervous system.

The sequences that she proposes is contraindicated if you have neck, back problems, high blood pressure, a heart condition, menstruation or pregnancy.

Backbends, to open the heart chakra, Cobra, Locust and Camel should be taught under the guidance of an experienced teacher.

Each asana can be used as a template to explore painful emotions.

The way out of depression is to go in and to see directly that we are not our depression and that depression can be used to transform darkness into the light of our awareness.

May all beings be free of suffering.


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