Why downward dog is good for the black dog
Does your mind need a good spring clean? Often when the warmer weather rolls around we get motivated to start making changes. We expect to shrug off winter heaviness. But what about when you're still lying around in bed even when you can see sunshine outside and the BBQ invites are piling up? Not enjoying what you used to find fun, having zero motivation and thinking negatively can be warning signs of sliding into depression. If you're worried this may apply to you, consider the benefits of yoga to improve negativity.
1. Listening to the instructor keeps you present
Yoga is great for helping to break out of negative thinking because it is designed to be a practice which requires conscious awareness. Unlike something like running, where you get into a zone and just run (and your thoughts run too), yoga demands your attention. Even once you know the poses, a yoga class is filled with instructions like ‘now focus on your breathing’ or ‘really feel the impact of this stretch on your lower back’. These phrases bring your mind back to the present, rather than allowing it to wander off down back alleys filled with negativity. As a bonus, this ability to break the pattern of negativity and focus back on the present extends past the doorway of the yoga studio. You’ll improve your ability to stop unhelpful thoughts and bring your focus back to the present in your regular life too.
2. Increased body awareness
As the instructor keeps directing the focus back to your body and how it’s feeling, they’re training you in something important – listening to your body. When you’re depressed, it can feel like everything is dulled down - like you’re wearing a suit of cotton wool, or a coat of wet cement, that weighs on you and slows you down. This affects your thinking, making it more difficult to get energised and motivated, as well as impacting your physical movement. A focus on your body while it’s gently activated provides a challenge to that feeling. You wouldn’t voluntarily balance on one leg in your day-to-day life, so it’s easy to avoid movements that help you to feel more acute sensations. Yoga asks you to put yourself in positions you wouldn’t otherwise, and so you experience a change in sensations. This helps you to see that there are times you don’t feel so heavy, reminding you that feelings fluctuate and change, and trains you to look for those sensations after the class has ended.
Participating in an activity where you have the potential to improve is great for self=confidence and boosting a low mood. People who feel depressed often give up these types of ‘mastery’ activities because of fear of failure, or because they don’t feel fun anymore. But if you can get yourself to a class, and keep going, you will improve. That helps with the fun feeling – and provides evidence that you are an okay person who is capable of achievement. So sign up for a term pass the first time you go, to increase the chances that you’ll stay the course and get the resulting self-confidence and mood boosting benefits.
Yoga is non-threatening exercise. There are no bright lights. There is no yelling. You can take it at a pace that suits you and no one will mind. Comfortable, loose clothing is encouraged. For people who are struggling to get moving due to feeling depressed, yoga is a very gentle introduction to exercise (well the beginners class anyway) that still brings the benefits of exercise – lower stress levels and a boost to our endorphins (those lovely feel-good chemicals).
5. It's just for you
When you’re thinking negatively, it usually includes a dose of being self-critical, which is no good for your mood. It becomes a cycle – you expect the worst and that you won’t be able to cope, you beat up on yourself for not being a better, more cope-y person, and then that leads to you expecting more bad things – because that’s what people who aren’t good enough end up with, right? No!! Break that terrible cycle by doing something that shows that you are worth caring for (i.e. good enough). Attending a yoga class is an act of self-care (which I’m really big on – check out more about self-care here), it says to the world (and yourself) that you are worthy of good things.
6. You don't have to talk
Look – I’m big on the importance of seeking help when you’ve got a problem, particularly of the mood or mindset variety. I’m a psychologist after all! But I get that sometimes, you don’t want to talk about it. You want a place to escape yourself and your problems, a place that might help you change without being as confronting as a doctor’s or psychologist’s office. If this is where you’re at, then yoga can help you to use some of the techniques a psychologist who was treating depression would discuss with you – such as paying attention to the present, or engaging in activities with the opportunity for improvement and which feel good. You can start to practise these ideas in a place like a yoga studio, gently and at your own pace. Getting this head start might then bring the confidence boost you need to get yourself to the doctor’s to ask for a referral for a psychologist.
So pull on those comfy pants and get yourself down to your local yoga studio. Your mind will thank you!
If you’re ready to seek further help for feelings of depression, know that psychological therapy (particularly cognitive behavioural therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy) has been scientifically tested and shown to assist with improving symptoms of depression. If you live close to Salisbury, Brisbane, call me on 0421 720 635 to book your personal consultation to start feeling better, today. Not in Brisbane? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and ask about my remote counselling options.
Lana Hall, Psychologist. Helping you to live your best life, using the power of psychology.