For me, depression was like a rogue wave. It would come out of nowhere and then I’d be under it: tossed and turned and tormented. This lasted for a few days, sometimes even a week, before I resurfaced.
From my late teens to early twenties, I was on medication and spending a few hours a week with a therapist. I felt like a victim to the waves of depression, because I didn’t know how to control, combat, or even anticipate these times of despair. I was terrified that I'd never lead a normal life.
So, in an act of sheer desperation, I went to a yoga class. When I walked out of that class, my journey to freedom had begun.
Years later, after I had relocated from Chicago to Maui, I was driving down the road, the ocean on one side, Haleakala volcano on the other, and a rainbow spanning the road. Seeing this, I felt an incredible surge of happiness. I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I'd felt that terrible sadness of depression.
How could down dogs, cobras, and half moons have made my life so much better? How could this practice have transformed me in a way that western medicine never could?
Here are 5 ways that yoga helped me overcome depression:
1. It allowed me to be a beginner again.
In my youth, I was an overachiever, and part of my depression was a growing fear of failure that left me paralyzed. Yoga allowed me to be a beginner again, to be easier on myself and try new things. In the postures, I could move, breathe, be present, be challenged, and even fall and get back up again, which translated off the mat, too. In life, I started moving again, taking risks, trying new things and that momentum helped me move out of depression.
2. Yoga gave me distance from my thoughts.
Much of my depression was created by negative thought patterns. Through the yoga practice, I gained distance and space from my thoughts, and since I wasn’t as attached to my thoughts, they didn’t hold as much sway. Eventually, I was able to recognize and even discredit the negative patterns more swiftly, eliminating the pull of negative emotions that led to depressed states.
3. It made me feel powerful.
When depressed, I felt stripped of my personal power. As I became more proficient at the postures, my self-esteem improved. I began to feel accomplished and empowered. Off the mat, I’d come into a challenging situation where I’d normally shrink away, and instead I’d think, "Well, if I can do a handstand, I can do this too!"
4. I connected to my better self.
When I was dealing with depression, it became part of my identity. Through yoga, I was able to identify with a deeper part of myself: my spirit, soul, or higher self. Once the depression wasn’t me, then there was nothing inherently wrong with me, and my tendency towards depression was something that I could improve, like a posture. Like tight hamstrings, it was eventually going to change.
5. I learned to be compassionate to myself and others.
When I was depressed, my relationships with family, friends and loved ones suffered. There was so much self-loathing and “self-beating,” which unfortunately, seeped out to others, too. Through the yoga practice, I learned to be softer, kinder, and more loving to myself and others.
I never imagined I’d get to live my life with this much happiness, love, and contentment. Yoga has served as my primary tool for self awareness and self healing and I hope that by sharing my story many others will come to the practice, so it can works its magic on them, too.