Research tells us that 80% of the time, anxiety and depression are comingled. So you may feel as though your body has no get-up-and-go, but your mind keeps circling around your worries. Yoga can be a way of balancing your body mind, so your state of mind is calm and uncluttered and your body feels more energy. Here’s a simple practice that almost anyone can do that both soothes and energizes so it’s wonderful to do when you’re feeling anxious, and it lifts the depressed mood as well. This practice combines a special breath with a posture and an affirmation.
Please do not practice the breath retention if you have unmedicated high blood pressure. Check with your doctor before beginning a yoga and breathing practice that includes breath retention. You can do this practice in a straight-backed, armless chair.
Part I—Breath to Fortify the Nerves
Come into a standing position with your feet parallel and one fist’s width apart for stability. Draw your tailbone down. Lift your shoulders up to your ears, inhale to 2/3rds capacity and sustain the breath. Make fists of your hands, tighten the muscles of your face, and sustain the breath without straining. Squeeze all the tension into a little ball at the back of your neck. Then release the breath through your mouth, sighing out the tension, the “to do’s,” the obsessive little thoughts, the expectations for how you’re supposed to show up. They’re not serving you. Let them go.
Pause and notice where you are feeling open and relaxed. Notice where there may still be tension and discomfort in your body.
Now stretch your arms out in front of your waist. Inhale and make fists of your hands. While sustaining the breath, pump your fists back toward your waist. Exhale and relax. Close your eyes and feel the effects of the breathing exercise. Sense the energy in your arms, and in your palms. The body is always present. When you pay attention to the sensation in your hands, you become that presence. Repeat.
Part II—Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
Stand with your eyes closed, your arms by your sides, and your palms turned out. Feel the energy you’ve generated in the breathing exercise circulating through your body. Notice the tingling in your arms and down into your hands. Feel the energy pulsing in your palms. Ground into the four corners of your feet. Engage the muscles of the legs, thighs and those around the knees, without locking the knees. Press the tailbone towards the ground, leveling the pelvis. Lift your torso out of your waist and draw your shoulders down and back. Slowly begin to lift your arms out to your sides as though you are making an offering of this energy. Bring your arms over your head with the palms facing each other. Relax your shoulders down again. Continue breathing long and deep through the nostrils, filling with life breath—prana. See if you can cultivate a four count inhalation and a four count exhalation. Feel as though you are holding your arms up, not from your shoulders, but from the core of your body. Ground your feet and experience your connection to the earth. Feel the energy pulsing between your hands. Focus on your breath. Allow your breath to fill this vessel you’ve been given for this lifetime with life energy, strengthening this vessel so that you can hold more prana, more light, more joy; expanding your chest, your heart, your lungs, so that there’s more room inside for your authentic expression of self. Hold this position for eight 4:4 count breaths.
Continue to hold Mountain Pose and breathe deeply through the nostrils. Relax into the sensation that’s strong in your body. Bring the breath there. Bring the attention there and dive through that window of sensation into a deeper experience of being in your physical body in this moment, in Yoga, in union.
Now affirm to yourself: “I am aligned with the healing energy of the universe, and the healing energy of the universe supports and protects me.” However, if this affirmation feels uncomfortable in any way, don’t use it. Try an affirmation you can believe. How about, “I am the energy I feel” or “I am aligned with my highest good”?
When you feel complete, slowly release the pose, lowering your arms to your sides. Stand with your feet a comfortable distance apart, your eyes closed and your arms at your sides, palms face out. Breathe. Relax. Feel. Watch. Allow. You are energy!
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This practice is adapted from Chapter Four, Yoga for Depression (Broadway Books). To read the book, click here.