We all experience difficult periods in life that leave us feeling sad, lonely, or scared. However, some of us deal with these emotions almost daily.
Depression is a psychiatric condition that usually manifests in listlessness, sadness, anxiety, and guilt. It often has internal or endogenous causes, but can also be related to conflicts, stressful circumstances, or trauma.
We carry our healing powers within us at all times, but sometimes they are hidden by a lack of contact or familiarity with our inner self. Meditation, self-reflection and the simple act of taking time for oneself, in addition to the psychological benefits to be gained from any exercise, make yoga a powerful component of the healing journey. Yin Yoga helps us get in touch with our emotions and balance the energies that run haywire throughout the day.
If the feelings you are experiencing are not just a temporarily more depressive mood, but are indeed symptoms of depression, then treatment from a psychotherapist or other mental health professional is recommended. Yoga teachers should never presume to see themselves in this position. However, we can give valuable support on the path to mental health and happiness.
Depression is oftentimes kept secret due to embarrassment or anxiety. A diagnosis, or even an awareness that one feels differently from the people around them, can lead to insecurity and compound stress. Therefore, it is particularly important to feel comfortable and confident in your yoga practice rather than striving for a specific ideal in your poses. Because Yin Yoga is adaptable to specific needs and capabilities, and because there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ posture, the Yin method is easily accessible to everybody. When I practice Yin Yoga, I become myself completely and experience a deep feeling of peace and freedom with the realization that I do not have to please anyone else.
Depression is often related to suppressed emotions—for example aggression, grief, or anger. It is therefore important to work through possible trauma or face your own anxieties. Meditation can be very helpful here, but the inexperienced should practice with a teacher who can help and support them if necessary. A doctor, therapist, or teacher can support you and open the door, but remember that you must pass through it yourself.
Possible questions for reflection are: Why am I anxious? Which of my emotions and experiences wish to be seen? What issues from my childhood still need to be healed? What is my calling, and how do I get back on my path?
Below is a series of Yin Yoga poses to ground and comfort you in this difficult period:
Ujjayi Breathing can create heat in the body, but it can also be very relaxing. It is therefore ideal for the start of practicing exercises, if you feel unsettled, or your mind is very full. Ujjayi translates as “victorious breathing,” as it triumphs over shallow breathing. Breathe in Ujjayi as long as you like. In some styles of Yang Yoga, Ujjayi Breathing is also practiced while doing the poses.
Sit in Easy Pose on the mat, and straighten your spine while placing your hands loosely on your legs. Now let the epiglottis narrow, with a deep flow of breath out into the throat area, as though you were making a whispering sound with your mouth closed or were breathing onto a mirror to clean it. The sound of Ujjayi Breathing is reminiscent of a distant sound of the sea. With this sound in the throat, you can inhale and exhale calmly and deeply. Come back into a natural flow of breath and feel the effect.
Dragonfly (Upavistha Konasana)
1. Sit on the mat with outstretched legs, and open your legs wide until you feel a comfortable stretch in the sides of the legs. Take a yoga bolster or a rolled-up blanket and lay it centrally lengthways in front of you so that your stomach is touching the bolster when you bend forward. If you want to massage the lower stomach organs, then lay the bolster flat on the floor. You can reach the upper stomach organs better if you place one or two blocks under the lower end of the bolster. If you are not very mobile, you can also place additional blankets or blocks on the bolster to raise it. Then relax your back and legs, and bend forward as far as your body will allow. Rest your head on your hands or props. Direct your breath gently to the stomach and pelvic area.
2. Alternatively, you can also go into Half Dragonfly by stretching your leg out to the side and bending the other one inwards, pulling your foot to your pelvis. You can then also change the position of the leg.
3. Another variation is Dragonfly with a side bend. Sit up straight again and tilt your upper body to the left. Place the bolster on the left leg so that your arm is supported comfortably. You can either take your right arm behind your back, or lift it at an angle over the head to increase the stretch.
Remain in Dragonfly for three to five minutes, including Dragonfly in the supine position or Half Dragonfly, and changing sides. You can stay in the side bend for one to two minutes per side, and in the rotation for around five to eight breaths. Then come back to the center and relax into Supine Position. Alternatively, you can just do the forward bend.
Come onto all fours, and place a blanket under the knees if you are sensitive to pressure
here. Then take your right leg from between your hands and place your left knee on the floor. If you want the position to be gentler, then pull the left knee forward slightly; for more intensity, take it further back. The right knee can be placed in front of, above, or behind the ankle, but this should not cause any pain in the knee. Let the pelvis sink towards the floor very passively. Now place the hands either left or right next to the foot, or both on the inside. The position becomes more intense if you support yourself on your forearms, and it is slightly easier if you use props—for example, blocks or a yoga bolster.
Lie on your stomach and cross your outstretched arms at shoulder height under your body. Your right arm is in front of the left one, and your palms are facing upwards. Place a block or folded blanket under your forehead, or a yoga bolster under your chest if you wish. Give your weight up to the floor. If the tips of your fingers go numb in this position, then you should change it—for example, with the head up higher or moving your arms a few centimeters up or down.
Remain in the position for two to three minutes and then change sides. Release your arms again and then relax into Supine Position.
Practice this meditation daily as you wish, as long as you feel completely freed by this.
Recall something that made you feel uncomfortable: something that annoyed you, for example, or an injustice that was done to you or something that sucks your energy. Now think of an energizing place in nature, a place where you really feel good. Sense this place precisely. Imagine gentle drops of rain falling on you, which are colored violet. These drops are running over your whole body, first outside and then inside too—like an external and internal shower. The violet water flows over your hands and feet and out of you again, and takes everything with it that should no longer be part of you. If you feel externally and internally cleansed, then imagine your crown chakra opening up and radiant white light flowing into you. The rays are flowing through your whole body, and they replace everything that you have just given up with new positive energy and strength.
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This article includes poses from Be Healthy with Yin Yoga: The Gentle Way to Free Your Body of Everyday Ailments and Emotional Stresses by Stefanie Arend (She Writes Press, August 2019).