By Nancy Poole, E-RYT 500
Imbalances in mind, body, and spirit can begin with our thought response. A thought creates a response within the body–we see this when we blush or when we experience goosebumps. Positive thoughts “lift” our spirits and we feel energized, while negative thoughts lower our spirits.
Sometimes our negative thoughts create a “loop” and the reaction within the body brings a chemical-hormonal depletion and a blockage of life-force energy (prana). Stress can often trigger an increase in certain hormonal productions. This can manifest as changes in our personality and our health. Depression is something we have all experienced. Eastern medicine (Ayurveda & Tibetan) treats mood disorders holistically--viewing depression as archetypes relating to the elements, you can experience airy depression, burning (fire) depression, or earthy depression.
An airy depression is often felt as high anxiety, sleeplessness, scattered thoughts, and an inability to focus. Life may feel overwhelming and out of control. Within the hormonal system, there may be low levels of serotonin, the hormone that allows us to experience feelings of well-being. Faced with the choice of fight or flight–an individual will flee. To counter and bring balance a yoga practice should be slow and steady, physically strengthening, and grounding but not overly challenging. In standing poses ground through the big toe. Incorporate twists to increase the release of serotonin and forward folds to calm the nervous system.
A burning depression is characterized by feelings of anger and the use of sarcasm. Frustration and jealousy–a need to control others can also be seen. Given the choice of fight or flight, this individual will stand and fight! Those who approach life with a pattern of competitiveness and overdoing may be prone to a burning depression. The levels of norepinephrine and/or dopamine may be high. To cool a burning depression lengthening the exhale, and exhaling through the mouth, can help with the release of excess tensions. Yoga practice should be creative and focused on chest openers and twisting postures. Focus on finding ease in the expression of the asanas and awareness of sensations.
An earthy depression can be experienced as heaviness and an inability or lack of desire to move forward. Spending more time sleeping or on the couch, procrastination, and yearning for the past are characteristics of an earthy depression. The levels of norepinephrine and/or dopamine may be low in this instance. Fight or flight cannot even be considered–freeze is the response to stress. When practicing yoga, meet the depression where it is beginning with a slow easy pace and by introducing small challenges. Use Downward Dog to encourage drawing the shoulders away from the ears and moving energy through the body. Practice with steady continuous movement with moments of rest between postures.
It is important to note that depression cannot be “pigeon-holed” and it is entirely possible to find every element (air, fire, and earth) in a depression. Learning to recognize what we are feeling can create light in a dark time.
Breathwork is always essential to our practice and our state of mind. The different depressions will benefit from different breath practices. However, with each of the depressions, the breath that is effective for all is equal-ratio breath. Equal breath in–equal breath out can be practiced counting 1-3 on the inhale and 1-3 on the exhale, focusing on the breath to calm and quiet the nervous system.
Applying these principals to our practice, we can bring greater awareness and self-care into the balance and regulation of our moods.