Yoga, Anxiety and Depression

Photo credit: https://www.instagram.com/riva_g_/

Love your disease: it’s keeping you healthy

Dr John Harrison wrote a book in 1984 called Love your Disease: It’s Keeping you Healthy. This intriguing title refers to his thesis that disease is brought about by the unconscious in response to trauma in order to protect the ego from overwhelming emotions until such time as the patient is ready to deal with them. When the discomfort of the disease is equal to or exceeds the discomfort of the trauma, we may be ready to face the root cause, address it, heal ourselves and move on.

It may be the case that anxiety and depression are born of such a mechanism. Depression often arises out of a sense of being trapped in a circumstance in which we are deeply unhappy yet feel unable to change. It may be a career, a workplace or a relationship. Anxiety can also arise from a realisation, perhaps on an unconscious level, that we need to drastically alter our life; we may feel this need for change on the edge of our awareness as an approaching storm.

The fear of setting out to make profound changes to our life can be overwhelming. Terrifying to the point of rendering us unable to choose. It may take all our existing resources, and some new ones as well, to empower us to move into the next phase.

The good news is that something may almost magically appear in our life at this point which meets our needs and supports the process of change in a sustaining way.

My path

For me, Yoga was an important component of finding my way out of the fog. I came to yoga apparently by accident. I had joined a local gym for general fitness reasons and tried out their Body Balance programme, which was not true yoga but had enough yoga content to make me seek out more authentic practice, initially via HowCast and YouTube, and then through local yoga teachers. Just after this I became debilitated by generalised anxiety disorder and clinical depression to the point where I was unable to work. I became agoraphobic. The Body Balance Class was the only place I could go outside of the house and feel safe and find some relief from the ongoing panic that filled my waking mind. So I committed to going two or three times a week, and this was an important component of my healing process.

Is there scientific evidence for the effectiveness of yoga as a treatment for anxiety and depression?

The studies I have found are rightly cautious (due to the need for scientific rigour) but all agree that research shows yoga to be a promising treatment for both anxiety and depression. Furthermore, the evidence suggests that the more severe the anxiety disorder, the more effective yoga can be in addressing it. The actual mechanism of how yoga assists is not scientifically verified, more studies of this aspect being needed.

However the anecdotal evidence I hear from my students is along the lines of “yoga is keeping me sane” and “I slept so well after the other night’s class”. Recently a student who had been having nightly panic attacks was waiting for one after a yin Yoga class- but it didn’t come, much to their surprise.

Conclusion

I am not recommending that yoga should be the sole strategy for dealing with anxiety and depression. Recovery should include consultation with a trusted GP, possibly medication and other professionals such as a psychologist, counsellor and/or a psychiatrist. Medications could also play a part.

But I would personally vouch for a regular yoga practice as an invaluable component of the healing journey. I believe this to be especially true in a yoga class setting where you have the benefit of personal guidance in your practice and a social situation which helps to reduce the sense of isolation often endured in concert with anxiety and depression.

Bring your black dog to the mat and begin to tame him!

Resources

Lifeline

https://www.lifeline.org.au/

No introduction needed. Crisis support and suicide prevention. Available around the clock.

Mindspot

http://www.mindspot.org.au

This is a free, personalised online programme offering assessment and treatment for depression and anxiety. It is based on Cognitive Behaviour Therapy which is the current gold standard for treatment. I have used it and personally recommend it highly. It is run through Macquarie University in Sydney but is completely accessible Australia-wide.

Beyond Blue

https://www.beyondblue.org.au

This fantastic resource offers a 24 hour telephone helpline, an online chat line between 3 pm and midnight, an email support line, forums for discussion and support and information.

Headspace

https://headspace.org.au/

Headspace is a mental health service for young people 12- 25 years. There are physical centres you can attend as well as online and phone services staffed by trained professionals which have extended hours.

Black Dog Institute

https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/

Black Dog Institute has a range of information as well as a helpful directory of GPs with a special interest in mental health.

References

https://www.amazon.com.au/Love-Your-Disease-keeping-healthy-ebook/dp/B072JJ8Z8D

Love Your Disease: It’s Keeping You Healthy

Dr. John Harrison, M.D.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5116432/

Analysis of study of effects of yoga on anxiety. Conclusion is that yoga is helpful, we don’t know why, and the higher the level of anxiety initially, the more yoga helps. Best used in conjunction with CBT.

https://doi.org/10.17761/2018-00003

Yoga may show promise as a treatment for GAD

https://westminsterresearch.westminster.ac.uk/download/815fc35b96d1bc62f2eef3baddfd06c68cb4476607c7db57c96d0da23d93b144/247086/Pilkington_Kirkwood_Rampes_Richardson_2005_final.pdf

yoga-based interventions may prove to be an attractive option for the treatment of depressive disorders

What is Yin Yoga again?

Yin energy is represented as the feminine, dark, passive side of nature. The resting state of the body in sleep. The stillness of earth. The nurturing energy of the mother.

Yin yoga accesses this deep power through holding postures for up to 5 or 6 minutes each, with resting periods in between. This means an entire class could consist of less than ten poses.

Although the postures are based on traditional Hatha yoga asanas, the intention is quite different. Rather than aiming to stretch the body actively, during yin yoga we try to relax and melt into the poses, with most attention being directed to let go of effort and allow the body to release and realign fascia and muscle fibres.

Yin classes can be extremely relaxing, inducing a near sleep-like state of euphoria as you let go and rest in place. To assist with comfort, we will often use props, especially bolsters and blankets.

If you are more used to a vigorous, yang style of yoga such as vinyasa “power yoga”, yin may seem at first not challenging or even boring. But stick with it for three or four classes and see if you benefit from the yin approach. It may take a bit of acclimatisation.

Yin is a relief and refresher from 21st century media overload. Just relax and watch as your body responds to the postures, noticing the changing sensations and the feeling of unblocking your energy channels.

All of this does not necessarily mean that yin is an easy option however… as we all have unique bodies, what one finds restful another may find very challenging. It can take focus and endurance to stick with a posture which elicits a negative response rather than coming out of it at the first opportunity. To understand this, try kneeling up on your heels with toes tucked under for one or two minutes. Simple to set up, this “toe crusher” pose can require a lot of active willpower to sustain for a long count.

Yin yoga can facilitate the easier flow of energy, chi, or prana throughout the body, revitalising organs by working with the meridians in a similar way to Chinese medicine and acupuncture. Joints have time to soften and lubricate and soft tissue to disentangle and realign, resulting in easier movement and greater range of motion.

If Yin Yoga sounds like something you would like to try, Shala Om offers yin classes every Thursday evening in Semaphore. You could also book a private class at your house at a time to suit you.

How do you feel about the commercialisation of Yoga?

Lotus blooming from the mud

Someone on Quora asked me this today and this was my answer.

I am- gradually- starting to feel okay about charging for my yoga classes. It’s cost me a lot to be a yoga teacher, and continues to cost as I have to pay for a venue, props, ongoing yoga training, publicity, website etc.. When I first started, my impulse, like many yoga teachers, was to give classes for free. Then I charged as little as I could to make it accessible to everyone. Until my students asked me to raise the fee because they felt embarrassed paying me so little!

Through all this, I haven’t changed my commitment to offering accessible, authentic yoga to my community. That is the heart, and the reason for what I do. The heart of yoga, as I understand it, is bringing together body, mind and spirit to perceive the divine unity and come to a more complete consciousness.

So, finally my answer to you would be that yoga which is shaped by market forces and trends and is motivated by opportunistic greed is unlikely to be authentic. Anyone who tries to “own yoga” by patents, copyrights and specifying regulations of which they are the sole guardians (I’m talking to you, Yoga Alliance) is likely to be inauthentic.

But nature will find a way. I came to yoga through a very diluted, syndicated yogalates practice at a gym and realised I was not satisfied with it; it led me to seeking out more knowledge about actual yoga. So the profusion of commercial yoga Studios means more people will have the opportunity for at least some exposure to the yoga way and may want to dig deeper.

The other consideration is that even the most commercial studio chain is very likely to have some sincere true yogis teaching within it, so there is another opportunity for people to come into contact with a more integral yoga practice.

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Kick Start Yoga Course (Evening)

Kick start yoga course evening

 

Would you like to give yoga a try?

Would you like to reboot your practice as you come out of lockdown?

Or do you just like doing beginners’ courses?

If your answer is yes to any of these questions, then this is the course for you!

Starting on Monday 11th October 2021, we will meet twice a week and run through a structured programme introducing you to the basics of both Hatha and Yin Yoga styles. Or refreshing your practice if you have been away from yoga for a while.

Times: Mondays and Wednesdays 6.30 pm for 4 weeks

Venue: Shala Om Studio , 3 Kyle Place, Port Adelaide (upstairs, Room 4)

Cost: $100.00 (That is only $12.50 per Class!)

enquiries: Phone or text Unjay on 043 1928 663 or email unjay@shalaom.com

If you know this is for you sign up now using the form below.

 

Only 5places available!

Such a great introduction to Yoga. Unjay is an engaging and passionate yoga teacher whose classes are friendly and fun and filled with variety. I have found something I love to do for ME and will be continuing my yoga journey. Thank you

Fiona E.

I found the course really helped me destress after work! I noticed my flexibility and strength increased thanks to Unjay’s expert teachings.

Caity H.

As someone who isn’t a fan of pretense, I felt I could be myself with no judgement in the class (I could even fall over or not make some postures and feel comfortable!). Unjay guided us through gently and made the class light-hearted and enjoyable. We were taken at a gentle pace, but still had … Read more

Tania K.

Unjay offers a practical and unpretentious approach to yoga which is just perfect for beginners or those who are out of practice!

Joanna G.

It was paced extremely well for beginners to progress well, and the meditation aspects of the course were good to relax to.

Heather F.

Starting with basics but never boring. Suits all fitness levels with no judgement. Perfect course for beginners or people just needing a refresher. Great mix of styles, skill levels and poses for everyone. You will love the guided meditations, breathing exercises and singing bowls.

Louise F.

Casual, achievable for a return to yoga person, twice a week is a good immediate reinforcer + Unjay is skilled and approachable.Loved the small group, great people with a common goal and everyone moving at their own pace. Unjay is very knowledgeable – oh and he knows yoga too!

Trish B.

I would say that Unjay’s style of teaching is inclusive in every sense – I really felt welcomed and part of a community. I have never stuck at yoga before practicing with Unjay; he has a way of making you feel totally comfortable and at ease.   If you want to escape the busy noise … Read more

Rebecca P.

Kick Start Yoga Course (Daytime)

Shala Om Yoga Studio Port Adelaide

Would you like to give yoga a try?

Would you like to reboot your practice as you come out of lockdown?

Or do you just like doing beginners’ courses?

If your answer is yes to any of these questions, then this is the course for you!

Starting on Monday 11th October 2021, we will meet twice a week and run through a structured programme introducing you to the basics of both Hatha and Yin Yoga styles. Or refreshing your practice if you have been away from yoga for a while.

 

Times: Mondays and Wednesdays 10.30 am for 4 weeks

Venue: Shala Om Studio , 3 Kyle Place, Port Adelaide (upstairs, Room 4)

Cost: $100 (That is only $12.50 per Class!)

enquiries: Phone or text Unjay on 043 1928 663 or email unjay@shalaom.com

If you know this is for you sign up now using the form below.

Only 5 places available!

Such a great introduction to Yoga. Unjay is an engaging and passionate yoga teacher whose classes are friendly and fun and filled with variety. I have found something I love to do for ME and will be continuing my yoga journey. Thank you

Fiona E.

I found the course really helped me destress after work! I noticed my flexibility and strength increased thanks to Unjay’s expert teachings.

Caity H.

As someone who isn’t a fan of pretense, I felt I could be myself with no judgement in the class (I could even fall over or not make some postures and feel comfortable!). Unjay guided us through gently and made the class light-hearted and enjoyable. We were taken at a gentle pace, but still had … Read more

Tania K.

Unjay offers a practical and unpretentious approach to yoga which is just perfect for beginners or those who are out of practice!

Joanna G.

It was paced extremely well for beginners to progress well, and the meditation aspects of the course were good to relax to.

Heather F.

Starting with basics but never boring. Suits all fitness levels with no judgement. Perfect course for beginners or people just needing a refresher. Great mix of styles, skill levels and poses for everyone. You will love the guided meditations, breathing exercises and singing bowls.

Louise F.

Casual, achievable for a return to yoga person, twice a week is a good immediate reinforcer + Unjay is skilled and approachable.Loved the small group, great people with a common goal and everyone moving at their own pace. Unjay is very knowledgeable – oh and he knows yoga too!

Trish B.

I would say that Unjay’s style of teaching is inclusive in every sense – I really felt welcomed and part of a community. I have never stuck at yoga before practicing with Unjay; he has a way of making you feel totally comfortable and at ease.   If you want to escape the busy noise … Read more

Rebecca P.

Beginners’ Course, Shala Om, Port Adelaide

Then the snow

Autumn leaves

Then the snow

 

Autumn leaves
Like you

Scarlet
Brands and scars my heart

In the wood between the worlds
Time holds its breath

Your words fell into silence
A stone into still water

The small tsunami
Of a single life

Earth folds her hands
Then the snow

©2005 Unjay

Autumn Yin


Autumn yin lichen

Autumn Yin


Red leaves, yellow leaves

Catching chill drifts
Dust caught in sun rays
Drawn to the scent of damp earth

 

 

©2021 Unjay

Yoga, Silence, Emptiness and the Self

As a yoga teacher, I try to be aware of not filling my classes with talk. (Okay, Saturday morning classes may occasionally be a bit more chatty…)

As a yoga student, I tend to feel a little bit frustrated when the teacher talks continually through each pose. Sometimes they will remind you of one of the most important principles of yoga- listen to your body- and then prevent you from doing so by talking all the way through your hold. We need silence to hear the subtle language of the body. As Ursula Le Guin says, “Only in silence the word”.

Eastern philosophy has a high regard for the concept of emptiness. In western culture, emptiness is regarded as a negative state, a lack of fullness. But emptiness is not nothingness; it is a clearing for new growth. As the word can be spoken only within silence.

Silence is the earth in which the seed of self knowledge grows.

In terms of the classical literature, yoga asana practice is preparation for meditation rather than an end in itself. Through meditation we make the mind empty. This is not to achieve a state of “nothingness” as non-existence . It is when we still or empty the mind that we experience the Self.

What is the Self and why should we want to experience it?

The search for Self can sound like a negative thing. Our language spreads a dubious rumour about the word. Selfish, self-obsessed, self-centred… these antisocial traits taint the word, which is why we differentiate our use with the capital S.

Yoga teaches a concept of many bodies. You can compare the model to babushka dolls, one inside the other. There is the physical body, the energetic body, the mind body, the intuitive body and the bliss body. At the innermost core is the Self. [1]

At the level of the Self, we experience a connectedness and a state of bliss. We see that external issues can not touch our innermost nature. We emanate and exist within a state of universal love and peace.

This experience of the Self can be quite fleeting; usually we only glimpse it for a few moments during meditation, or “peak moments” or when in a state of ”flow”. [2]

Apparently some people are able to flip into a permanent state of Self-realisation. This would be associated in Eastern traditions with Buddha-hood, enlightenment, or sainthood in the Christian tradition. These people are always marked by a sense of calm and unbounded compassion. So we can see that this meaning of Self is not about the individual ego. It is the most connective state of being we have ever seen.

Through the yogic practices of movement and meditation, we can at least begin to get in touch with our higher Self and let that Self begin to shape and fulfil our everyday life choices and experience.

Thanks to @Nikita_TF for making her photo available freely on @unsplash

Basket photo©️2019 Unjay

[1]

1.Annamaya kosha (food) – This outermost kosha feeds the physical body and sustains the other koshas. In yoga, asanas can affect this kosha by nurturing the body.

2.Pranayama kosha (energy) – This kosha regulates the flow of prana (life-force energy) through the body via the nadis (energy channels) and the chakras (intense points of energy). In yoga, both asanas and pranayama (breathing exercises) affect this kosha.

3.Manomaya kosha (mind) – Manomaya is the kosha that contains and controls thoughts and emotions. Various aspects of yoga practice affect this kosha. For example, meditation and alternate nostril breathing can calm the mind.

4.Vijnanamaya kosha (intuition) – This kosha is connected to a deeper level of intuition and inner wisdom. In yoga, meditation and meditative asanas affect this kosha.

5.Anandamaya kosha (bliss) – The deepest layer, this kosha contains ecstasy, love and joy. Some traditions refer to this layer as the true Self, while others believe this kosha opens the door to the true Self.

Anandamaya kosha is considered to be the part of a being responsible for unconditional love, oneness and complete unity with all beings. Also responsible for peace, love and joy in its purest and most absolute form, it is said to go beyond any emotional or physical experience.

Anandamaya kosha, like all the koshas, is interactive and dependent upon the other layers of the body. It is in anandamaya kosha that the sense of oneness, as opposed to a sense of separation from other beings, is truly realized. Within anandamaya kosha lies the understanding that separation and ego are just an illusion. This recognition is said to total compassion, love and happiness, hence anandamaya kosha being referred to as the bliss body.

https://www.yogapedia.com/definition/5886/anandamaya-kosha

[2] …flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)

Will my head ever touch my knee in seated forward bend?

Well, we don’t know. Luckily, from a yoga perspective, it isn’t important.

Yoga is not about the shapes, it’s about awareness. First thing to realise is, it’s your practice. Not anybody else’s. Just like it’s your body, not anybody else’s. Some people are superflexi, that’s how they are made. Some people are not, that’s how they are made. Real physiology comes into play here, size and shape of bones, tendons etc. So it is quite possible that you will never touch your head to your knees in utthita paschimottasana. The good new is, that’s okay.

Regularly practising yoga WILL improve your flexibility and range of motion. It will also calm you and contribute to your quality of life. One of the yogic virtues I recommend to my students is santosha. This is the practice of active contentment. Therefore, when in seated forward bend, don’t think, “oh when will my head touch my knees?”. Instead focus on the physical sensation present in that moment for you, notice where your body is tight (I’m guessing lower back and hamstrings), and being okay with that. You are alive, you are conscious, you are free to practise yoga. All amazing things, and all enough for now.

Be in the present moment. Enjoy it. It’s all a gift.

 

Photo courtesy of Nina Mel