Cathy writes: “In my own experience, yoga is a powerful tool through which to handle the emotional and spiritual impact of depression. I have suffered a range of depressive symptoms for many years, starting off with simple PMS related to my menstrual cycle. It escalated into deeper depression and feelings of extreme loneliness and abandonment as a teenager that presented itself in a binge/purge eating disorder which remained untreated. As an adult, I was diagnosed with depression which I now put down purely to the stress of working too hard, having a desperately unhappy home life and simply not having enough headspace to make sense of my world.
I was prescribed Fluoxetine, an anti-depressant medication which is used in depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and bulimia nervosa. After years of unsuccessfully trying to deal with depression chemically, my personality had changed, I was still in an emotionally really bad place and not moving forward. Looking back now, I realize that I was in a cycle of repetitive destructive behavior that recycled itself. It had cataclysmic effects on not only my physical health. My spiritual and emotional well-being suffered. So did my relationships and therefore my family. It impacted every element of how I related to the world.
Then I discovered yoga.
Walking into my first yoga class was the best thing I ever did in my life. As I lay on the mat at the end of the class, trying hard to relax into Savasana and to breathe at the same time, I realized that the only way for me to move forward is to learn to let go. It was a revelation. No one had ever given me permission to simply just stop, do nothing but breathe and to actually take time out for healing and resettling to take place. I was certainly not capable of allowing myself the luxury of “doing nothing”! But lying there, struggling to focus on a simple guided meditation, I knew that the peace I sought was not to be found anywhere else but inside myself.
That was in 2009. To this day, I have not skipped a single week without at least one yoga class. In fact, as my interest in yoga progressed I started doing more and more. The more yoga I did, the happier I felt. The more space I allowed myself, the more clarity I discovered. The less I did through doing more, the quieter my heart and mind became. The more I breathed, the less I worried. The less I worried, the calmer I felt. The calmer I was, the more able I was to step outside the depression and realize that I had a choice: Allowing life to beat me down and turn me into a victim, or choosing to push the bad stuff away and only allowing the positive and uplifting things in. I started to like myself, so I started eating better and not punishing myself with starvation or over-feeding.
As the lights came on in my heart and my mind, so my body became lighter and healthier. I made a decision to drop the Fluoxetine cold turkey. I had no withdrawal symptoms after years of being dependent on a tablet to make me happier.
As the effect of the chemicals receded, I started discovering the true me again: A woman who could laugh, cry, run, sit for hours and breathe. A woman who was alive, bright, enthusiastic, and able. And right there, inside me, was the truth about my calling in life: to share the joy of yoga and the benefits it gave me with others. This was my catalyst to renew my focus and find a refreshed drive to achieve and succeed.
There is no quick fix to depression. Everyone suffers it in different degrees. I would certainly not recommend simply dropping your medication. And never ever will I presume to tell anyone with depression to “man up, push away the negative feelings and smile”. That is something very commonly heard by depression sufferers, and I am the last person in the world who would want to trivialize or patronize about the devastation of depression.
What I will say, is this: I have been there, done it, got a few very grubby T-shirts with sarcastic slogans, and I survived. Not only survived, but thrived! And I believe that my healing (Which is still taking place by varying degrees, every day of my life) is directly attributed to my yoga practice.
I will also say: Try it out. You have nothing to lose. No one will judge you. Everyone will support you. Your body will love you for it. And, like me, you may just find a moment’s headspace to escape from the torture. That is the gift of yoga. Reach out, take it. It’s yours to do with what you please.”