Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Yoga, When It's Not the Answer


When I fell in love with yoga I adopted the belief that the practice was the magic answer to all pain, physical or emotional, but after an individual inquired about yoga for depression I now wonder:  When is yoga not the appropriate advice?

It was not unusual when a fairly new student to my class asked if yoga was good for depression.  I replied “of course!” beaming that someone wanted yoga to help transform and better their life, but something told me to add; “it can be depending on the individual.”  I then asked if something had triggered the depression, and how long this had been an issue.  I was compelled to ask these questions for two reasons.
  1. Although I am a strong believer in the benefits of yoga I am not a medical doctor, and there are times when  medical assistance is necessary.
  2. Yoga is not a one-size-fits-all prescription the needs of a person are as unique as the individual, their current situation, and their environment.

The individual answered my question telling me that a close family member had passed away the week before, and that they were very depressed.  A bit shell-shocked I inquired if they had struggled with depression before the loss of a loved one.  The response was:

“Well, no. But I’m having a hard time.”

As badly as I wanted, and knew the individual wanted me to affirm that yoga could take away the grief it just didn’t feel right.  It may not have been the desired or even best advice, but I suggested that they should continue practicing yoga as they had in the past. But that it was very important to allow these feelings to run their course, and to not ignore the many emotions that arise during the grieving process.

I’m sharing this experience with you because it is a perfect example of our constant pursuit to be “happy,” and our desire to “fix” or “deny” any emotions that are uncomfortable.   Does it really matter if it’s situational or chronic depression if yoga feels good?

I’m not sure if it does matter, but I think it is important to know the differences between the two and why certain emotions exist.  Depression is an illness that has a tangible chemical imbalance, and that’s why it can be treated with medical assistance.  Recently studies have helped to explain why yoga in conjunction with professional assistance helps with chronic depressions showing that:
Brain scans of yoga practitioners showed a healthy boost in levels of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) immediately after a one-hour yoga session. Low brain levels of GABA are associated with anxiety and depression, the researchers said.

Grief, however, is a healthy reaction to the tragedies life can throw at us, and is necessary to moving forward in life.  The Help Guide suggest that:
After a significant loss, you may experience all kinds of difficult and surprising emotions, such as shock, anger, and guilt.  Sometimes it may feel like the sadness will never let up. While these feelings can be frightening and overwhelming, they are normal reactions to loss. Accepting them as part of the grieving process and allowing yourself to feel what you feel is necessary for healing.

During the stages of grief it’s important to stay healthy, and yoga is a great way to do that.  Yoga offers physical exercise, community, and introspection all of which can help to cope with grief, but those amazing benefits should not be expected to eliminate or even speed up the process of grieving.

Are we using our asana practice to become and stay mentally healthy, or are we just trying to get our yoga “high” so that we can suppress our emotions?

1 comments:

[...] few months ago I was approached by an individual who wanted to know if yoga was helpful in dealing with depression, but as I inquired to know more about the individual and their unique situation I learned that this [...]

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