Thursday, September 5, 2013

Guest Post - Yoga for Depression Part 2

Thanks to Kate Durie for providing us with a second piece on Yoga for Depression!  We loved learning about different poses and techniques  to help in the restoration of the body & mind!  

Yoga for Depression (Part 2):
Four foundational practices you can start, today!

Welcome back. If you read part one of this post, “Yoga for …Depression?” you may remember the transformative potential Yoga can have on our lives. I lived it first hand, facing depression and chronic pain, following a Traumatic Brain Injury.

The easy and the hard part? It. Takes. Practice. Time.
An open heart and an open mind.

Even the best drugs, treatments or therapies will only result in lasting change if it is taken or experienced regularly. What we’re talking about here lasting change. The kind of change that rewires our bodies, our minds, our nervous systems. Old, well-worn pathways.

We think we’re comfortable here, because it’s familiar. “This is the way it is,” you say. But we’re not comfortable, are we.

This can change. Let’s start right now.

Here are four foundational practices that you can begin to incorporate into your life, immediately.

#1: Getting still. The power of noticing.

Without question, awareness is the first step of change. Sounds simple, but this can be really hard if our minds and bodies are busy racing from one thing to the next, one thought to the next … or even tuning out, numbing out, and shutting out. Hard, but totally and completely possible.

How do we get there?

Pick one thing at a time & become a 3rd party observer.

Start checking in with yourself throughout the day. Pause. Start noticing if/when your thoughts are racing, or when a familiar negative story is playing in your head. Just notice. No judgment. No reaction. Just notice.

Check in with your breath. With your body. Where are you breathing? In your chest? Your belly? Do you find yourself holding your breath? How long are your inhales, your exhales? Just notice. Do you feel tension in your body? Restlessness? Pain? Stiffness? Where? When? Just notice.

Notice your habits. Eating is a big one. Drink choices. Bedtime routines. Interactions with people. Procrastination. Excuses. How do you spend your time? Anything. Everything.

Why is noticing important?

This is the first step towards change. Awareness. And you can do this.

You are increasing your inner wisdom: body and mind. The more you practice this check-in process throughout the day, the more natural it will begin to feel.

You are learning to cultivate the witness. The ability to experience what is, to simply “BE” without judgment or reaction. To see the choices we make. To be more conscious as we go about our day. Learning to notice, recognize and accept the way things are without immediately trying to change them, and watching as these states of being change, or even pass altogether.

Set a reminder on your phone, or pick an activity like getting into your car, pouring yourself a glass of water, or any other activity that you do regularly throughout the day, as a reminder to check in. How am I breathing? What types of thoughts have been spinning around? How do I feel in my body? How is this different from the last time I checked in?

Then … just watch, listen, feel. Notice.

#2: Big, deep, belly breaths.

Most of us can only survive three minutes without air, so technically speaking we all know how to breathe. Yet most of us are on a default breath setting that keeps us in a perpetual state of unease, stress, and even disease.

Breathing from our chest, the short shallow breaths we are so accustomed to causes havoc on our bodies, signals a fight/flight/freeze response in our nervous system, and starves our blood of oxygen.

We were born knowing how to breathe deep, full, expansive breaths. Watch babies. They are pros. Yet, as we age, many of us lose touch with our natural therapeutic ability to breathe. Something we can absolutely reclaim!

It’s free. It’s immediate.

Bringing mindfulness back to our breath, learning how to breathe deep long nourishing breaths, and how to use various breathing techniques (like 1:1 or 1:2 breathing) can have an immediate and positive effect on our emotional and physical well-being.

The best part? It’s free! Accessible any time, anywhere. And it is completely within our control. We are more powerful than we think.

A great place to start is simply to observe your breath. What is your default setting? If you started with the noticing exercises above, you may already have a good sense of this.

Let’s practice together.
Begin by counting the lengths of your inhales and exhales. Not changing them yet, just counting, just noticing.
One count is roughly one second.
Engage your inner witness - as though you’re observing your breath from the outside in. Not reacting, not changing, not judging. Just observing.
You may notice that your inhales are longer than your exhales, or vice versa. You may notice your breath is short, rapid, shallow, you may notice that you unconsciously hold your breath from time to time throughout the day, or any other variation.

Next, place your left hand on your chest, right hand on your belly.
As you inhale expand your belly, pushing into your right hand.
As you exhale, practice drawing your belly button in towards your spine.
Fill your belly on the inhale, puffing it out as much as feels comfortable. Draw your belly in on the exhale.
Repeat this for 3-5 breath cycles.

Eventually you will move into a 3-part breath, engaging all four quadrants of the lungs, but deep belly breathing is the best place to start, to increase our awareness, and it is an easy “go-to” during stressful situations or moments of tension.

Noticing and counting our breath alone often results in automatic change to our breath pattern. That’s okay. It’s pretty cool actually! Just remember that for most of us, learning to breathe more mindfully and healthfully takes time. Give your body a chance to catch-up.

Noticing without reacting or judging is how you will truly cultivate the calming, relaxing, and nourishing powers of breath.

#3: Finding YOUR way “in”.

Yoga is so much more than most of us believe it to be. Physical postures, breathing techniques, mindfulness, and meditation – even a way of being. Yoga is all these things and more.

Illness, injury, age, mood, experience, availability can all make a 60-90 minute power yoga class an unlikely proposition. If this works for you, great! But let me be really clear. This is not the only way. Far from it.

Practicing in community is powerful stuff. For a lot of us, finding a yoga studio and attending a class is our “way in”. That’s what worked for me, and made sense given my past experience with fitness classes. But…

In can be hard to find the right class. The right teacher. The right location. The right time. I get it. It can be especially challenging if we’re brand new to yoga or contending with various injuries, illnesses, or scheduling difficulties. There are so many variables.

The key is practice. Regular practice. If you want to see real, positive, lasting change, you want invite some form of yoga into your life 2-3 times a week.

And … You have options!

Group classes: Check out one of the many studios in Ottawa. Here are just a few:
Pure Yoga (hot only)
Yogatown (hot only)

Start with classes that include the word gentle, beginner, restorative, yin, meditation, or even therapeutic.

Once you get a feel for what feels good in your body, you can seek out classes to meet you where you are, that day, that week, that month. Ask! Yoga teachers are more than happy to speak with you before or after class if you have any questions. Or, ask the person working at the front desk what they would recommend given your preferences.

Home practice: Carve out a space in your home and keep your yoga mat in plain sight. Start building ‘mat time’ into your daily hygiene. Wake up, wash your face, get on your mat. You get the idea. How can you build a home practice from scratch? Here are a few ideas:
Pick up a book, go online (YouTube), buy a DVD and start building your own home practice. Google is an incredible place to start. Whether you follow a pre-defined routine or mix and match postures that work for you, the Internet is an endless source for videos, pictures, and ideas.
You can begin with a few minutes of deep belly breathing, 1:1 or 1:2 breath, or any other breathing exercise, then add 1-3 sun salutations, a couple standing poses, followed by a few seated/reclined/restorative postures, and savasana.
Start slow. Take breaks. Above all, listen to your body. Our body often knows better than our head.
The most important part of your practice is your breath. Cultivating focus on breath is a powerful way to calm your mind, body, and nervous system.
If you lose your breath while you are practicing, or catch yourself holding your breath, pause, ease up, and come back to that slow and steady, deep belly breathing. Your breath is your guide.

Private classes / Yoga Therapy: If a public class or DIY approach doesn’t sit well with you, consider a private session or Yoga Therapy.
This can be a more costly option in the short term, but will provide you with 1x1 personalized support to get you started in the comfort of your own home.
A private session with a Registered Yoga Teacher or Yoga Therapist will take into account your personal needs, restrictions, and preferences. The teacher/therapist can come to your home, and will meet you where you’re at in that moment.
This is a great way to learn and design a home practice that you can then continue on your own going forward.
Many yoga teachers offer private sessions. If you contact one of the local yoga studios, they can help you find a yoga teacher or yoga therapist who is open to private sessions.

When it comes to depression, anxiety, or any other health concern for that matter, our best “way in” is to practice a type of yoga that will meet you where you are (e.g. depressed lethargic body, anxious restless mind), then move the energy in a healing direction. Find the style, the pace, the duration that works for you.

When we’re dealing with depression or are brand new to yoga, going out into the world can feel overwhelming, intimidating, too much. I want you to know you have options! Get curious. Give yourself permission to try. I encourage you to explore one of the options listed here.

#4: Get restorative. On you.

Restorative poses (combined with breathing techniques like 1:1 or 1:2 breathing) and long holds are powerful way to release tension, increase body awareness, calm your body and mind or energize your body and mind, depending on what you need.

Here are 5 wonderful restorative poses to help with feelings of lethargy, slowness, heaviness, as well as racing thoughts and worry. Trademarks of depression and anxiety. The key here is backbends, heart openers, and balanced or extended breathing.

Before your begin to practice, always take a few moments to check with your body, your mind, your thoughts. Make note of how you feel in each of these areas, before and after. Even write it down.

Props: In addition to your mat, have a couple thick blankets and cushions (or bolster) close by. Yoga props are great if you have them, but regular house-hold items work great too!

Relaxation Pose: Sit down on your mat, knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place a twice-folded blanket under your back, with the rounded edge beginning at your waist and extending beyond your head. Place two blocks or cushions/bolster under your knees, and lie down on your back. Explore different placements of the props under your knees, finding the most comfortable position for your lower back. Draw your arms out to a 45 degree angle, hands facing slightly upward.

Gentle Backbend Pose: To begin, you will keep the set-up for Relaxation Pose, and add an additional blanket or bolster under your back. Using the second blanket, fold it two or three times (first lengthwise, then widthwise 1-3 times depending on your comfort and blanket shape). Place the blanket on your mat, where your upper spine will be. Lie back over the blankets, so that the fold is under your upper spine. Adjust to find comfort. Stretch your arms out just below the level of your heart. If using a bolster, place it lengthwise under your back, starting from your lower spine and making sure it extends to your head (so your whole head is supported). Return the blocks/cushions/bolster under your knees, as in Relaxation Pose.

Inversion Pose: Fold one or two blankets (first lengthwise, then widthwise) so it forms a wide and long rectangle. Experiment with one or two blankets and go with what feels most comfortable. Place the blanket(s) on the front half of your mat with the rounded edge facing the back of your mat, leaving the back half for your shoulders and head. Lie down on the blanket(s), so that your upper shoulder blades and head are grounded on the mat, while the rest of your body (heart to feet) are elevated on the blankets. Adjust until you find a comfortable position. Draw your arms out to the side, about 45 degrees from your body, with palms facing slightly upward. Start with your knees bent, feet flat on the blanket, and let your knees fall together, letting go of all muscle tension. If it does not strain your lower back, you and extend your legs out straight, feet relaxed and open, or place blocks/cushions/bolster under your knees.

Butterfly Pose: Using the same blanket set-up as Relaxation Pose but twice the height, sit down on your mat with your legs out in front of you. Leave a couple inches of space between your bum and the edge of the blanket. Bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together, lowering your knees out to the sides of your mat. Place blocks or cushions beneath your thighs, so that no effort is required to keep your knees up. Draw your arms out to the side, about 45 degrees from your body, with palms facing slightly upward.

Legs-up-the-Wall Pose: Bring your mat up to a wall, with the short side flush against the wall. Take a stack of two blankets folded four times and place them within reach of your mat. Sit with one hip against the wall, then slowly swing your legs up the wall, lying down in the centre of your mat. Work your bum as close to the wall as your hamstrings allow. Bend your knees, walk your feet a few inches down the wall, and lift up your hips, then place the blankets under your hips, about an inch or two from the wall and straighten your legs. Draw your arms out to the side, about 45 degrees from your body, with palms facing slightly upward.

After you have found a comfortable resting place in each pose, begin to find your breath. Slowly deepening the inhale and lengthening the exhale. Observe your thoughts, feelings, and sensations without becoming involved in them, without reacting or judging. Acknowledge them as you breathe in, and release them as you breathe out. Become the impartial, 3rd party witness. Breath through any thoughts, feelings or sensations, then let them go. Slowly balance your breath so that your inhale is equal to your exhale. If your mind is active, let your exhale be longer than your inhale, moving into 1:2 breathing. Counting your breath is a great way to cultivate focus and draw your senses inward. Hold each posture for 2-10 minutes (or longer if that feels right).

When it comes to restorative postures, the important thing to remember is that the most subtle practices can create the deepest relaxation and have the greatest positive impact.

I also encourage you to simple Google any of these poses for pictures, as well as additional guidance and support.

What’s next?

Take what serves you. Leave the rest. This is your journey. You have total permission to make this yoga practice your own.

Practice. Print out this list. Keep it somewhere close.

Remember, even the best drug in the universe will only work if you take it as directed, which means regularly and consistently, usually daily. Yoga is great medicine. Plain and simple, yoga heals. But like any deep lasting change it can be slow medicine. The most important part of the Yoga Rx is PRACTICE.

Practice is not an all or nothing equation.

Our mind automatically jumps back to thinking a 60-minute yoga class is the only way. It is not. Every little bit counts. And the more often these ‘little bits’ happen, the more change you will see. Just get on your mat, on your cushion, or even your bed or chair. Five minutes can make the difference. One of my favourite sayings is “if you can show up and breathe, you’re doing yoga.” This may your way in.

Every step you take towards incorporating these practices into your life paves a new pathway in your brain, begins to rewire your nervous system, and is the catalyst for change. Transformation. Give yourself permission to try. I promise, you can do this.

"It's not too late at all. You just don't yet know what you are capable of."
- Mahatma Gandhi

Need help getting started? Let me know. As I complete my Yoga Therapy Certification, I will be looking for 5 clients to guide through the entire assessment and intake process, leaving you with a personalized Yoga Therapy recommendation and program. I would love to be of service to you on your healing journey.

xo Kate

Kate Durie
Registered Yoga Teacher, Blissologist, Yoga Therapist (in progress)
Kate is a Registered Yoga Teacher, and has trained under renowned yogi and Blissologist, Eoin Finn. Kate is currently in training to become a Yoga Therapist, specializing in yoga for chronic pain, depression, anxiety, and other various conditions. As a Traumatic Brain Injury survivor, Kate understands first hand how Yoga is more than a series of asanas. Yoga heals. With every breath, every movement, every intention, yoga is transformative.

Connect with Kate on...
Twitter & Instagram: @kateudurie
Facebook: /kateunderhilldurie (coming soon)


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