I’ve mentioned before that yoga has played a huge part in helping me to manage my depression. Since I began doing yoga on a regular basis, I’ve noticed that my moods have been much better in general. I’m better at coping with stressful events and when I do hit the skids and have a depressive episode, it tends not to last for as long.
So how does a bit of stretching and deep breathing help me to manage a mental illness? In lots of ways, actually.
Exercise in general is great for depression. Exercise produces endorphins, which are naturally-occurring happy chemicals in the body. They act like anti-depressants, balancing the chemicals that are lacking in depressed individuals and improving mood, appetite and motivation. My daily yoga practice gives me an endorphin boost which helps to keep my depression at bay.
It gives me a sense of accomplishment
When I’m feeling really depressed, I have this little voice in my head that feeds me all sorts of negative messages. It tells me that I’m a failure, that I can’t do anything right and that I’m pretty much worthless. Overcoming that loop of horrible self-talk can be really difficult.
When I practice yoga, I find myself improving little by little. Some days I’ll be able to stretch a little further than I did the day before. Perhaps I’ll find that I’m able to hold a balance pose without wobbling. Or maybe I’ll manage to pull off a pose that I’ve never done before. It’s these little improvements that give me a sense of accomplishment. It gives me the evidence to shake my head and prove that I CAN do plenty. Those small victories are a huge deal when you’re battling depression, so doing an activity that gives you the opportunity to improve and grow is a great idea.
I have a greater respect and appreciation for my body
A big part of my depression stems from a pretty dreadful relationship with my body. For years I hated the way I looked and tortured myself to get to a point where I could be happy with my body. The problem was, that point never came. No matter how much weight I lost, I still hated my body and could always find some fault with it.
I’ve spent the last few years working to improve my relationship with my body. And that means taking steps to take care of myself and finding ways to make peace with my body. Yoga has been a huge help in this area.
Yoga is very introspective. It isn’t a competitive sport and you don’t need to worry about doing every pose perfectly. It’s largely about doing what you can do, appreciating your body’s abilities and respecting your limitations.
Through my yoga practice, I feel as though my view of my body has changed. I’m more able to appreciate what my body can do, rather than focusing on how it looks. I’ve begun to realise that if I treat my body well, it serves me so much better than if I starve and punish it. I feel that yoga has given me a greater sense of respect for my body, and I feel more at peace than ever with my physical self.
It’s great for stress relief
I am a terribly anxious person, and I tend to stress out about the littlest things. That constant anxiety can be debilitating.
Yoga forces you to slow down and take a few deep breaths. It’s really about focusing on what’s happening in the here and now. After a yoga session, I feel about a million times more relaxed than when I started. When I’ve had a rough day, I try to come home and spend 20 minutes on my mat rather than curling up into a ball and panicking. Before, I used to get anxious about my stress, which would just stress me out more! I’d work myself into a terrible state just trying to figure out a way to settle down. It was very counter-productive. Now, I have an activity that I know works to help me de-stress, which takes a lot of the tension out of my day.
It gives me something to look forward to each day.
I used to get really worked up when I was having a bad day. I remember standing at work, feeling the tension bubbling up after dealing with a difficult customer. I’d be so upset because I was feeling so horrible but I had no idea what to do to pull myself out of that slump. I felt so frustrated and worthless, and I would become convinced that my feelings of sadness and despair would go on forever.
Now, I can reassure myself that I’ve got my yoga practice to look forward to. While it doesn’t work every time, most days that twenty minute practice is enough to lift my spirits and calm me down. Knowing that I’ve got a plan that is usually effective is a huge relief and gives me something to look forward to at the end of a hard day.
Do you use yoga to manage a mental illness? Do you have another method of managing a mental illness or stress that works for you? I’d love to hear about it.