Ann Friedenheim, a LifeForce Yoga Mentor and psychotherapist who specializes in addictions, was working with “Lenore,” a woman suffering from major depression, referred by the courts to Ann for outpatient treatment after her release from prison. Lenore was hardly able to get out of bed in the morning, let alone muster the energy and motivation it takes to breathe rapidly and forcefully, two elements common to several breathing practices useful in treating depression.
“She was not very happy about being in counseling again,” Ann says, “and was feeling quite angry about the controls placed on her by the criminal justice system.” In addition, Lenore was unable to find work, partly the result of the felonies on her record. These circumstances, combined with being separated from her children, manifested in what had been diagnosed by a psychiatrist as major depression. Lenore, who had once been a heroin addict, was not open to taking medication and struggled with her symptoms. She agreed with Ann on a treatment plan that included yoga.
Lenore often came into sessions feeling lethargic, irritable and unwilling to talk. Since Lenore was open to trying another approach besides talking, she was willing to follow Ann’s suggestion to meet her depressed mood by beginning in a supine position on the floor, where she was guided to follow her breath and was introduced to Yogic-Three-Part Breath (Dirga Pranayama). Since Lenore was lying down and breathing slowly, this choice of breath clearly met her lethargic mood. Ann then began to pick up the pace by introducing sun breaths on the floor, which includes inhaling and raising the arms over the head and exhaling and lowering them to the sides. Ann drew Lenore’s attention to the way she could control her breath and make the inhale and exhale coordinate with the movement of the arms. This cuing can increase the client’s sense of self-efficacy and control.
Next, she asked Lenore to sit up and practice stair step breathing, which is even more energizing. After 15-20 minutes of gentle moving and breath work, Ann said that Lenore felt she could focus and was willing to engage in the therapy session.
You can learn the practices referred to in this article at an upcoming LifeForce Yoga Workshop with me or a LifeForce Yoga Practitioner in your area. The LifeForce Yoga Practitioner Training for Anxiety & Depression offers yoga and health professionals practices for depression, anxiety and other mood imbalances that are suitable to yoga classes and adapted to clinical and yoga therapy settings.
This article was adapted from Yoga Skills for Therapists: Effective Practices for Mood Management by Amy Weintraub (W.W. Norton, 2012).