by MHAM Volunteer Stefanie Motta
As anyone who has experienced anxiety or depression knows, support from friends, family, a therapist, or an advocate is crucial. Yet, learning skills to support ourselves through difficult times can empower us to heal throughout an entire lifetime. One of the most effective self-care practices that I have found is yoga. This ancient Indian practice has been embraced around the globe as a system for achieving physical, mental, and emotional health, and research is now showing that regular yogic practice can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.
After healing from her own depression using yoga and meditation techniques, yoga teacher and author Amy Weintraub, has dedicated her career to helping others feel better. In an interview for the May 2013 issue of Yoga Journal, Weintraub explains why yoga can be an effective component of any mental health treatment plan, “It lowers cortisol, the stress hormone; it activates the parasympathetic system, which is calming; and it deactivates the limbic brain, which is overactive in people who are very anxious or have a history of trauma.”
One of the most noticeable effects of my yoga practice is the sense of calm and peace that come from deep breathing along with the physical postures. When we are stressed, anxious, or depressed, our breathing often becomes shallow and constricted, which can trigger more stress in turn. In addition to the regular deep breathing of a yoga practice, there are many additional yogic breathing techniques that can help us relax when we feel triggered by a stressor or a depressing thought.
“Bee breath” which is named after the buzzing sound that bees make, is one of my favorite yogic breathing techniques. It is instantly calming, and you can try it any time you feel anxious or your mind is spinning. Because of the sound you’ll make, you may want to find a quiet, private place to practice this technique. Sit, or stand comfortably and take a slow, deep breath in and out, allowing your shoulders to relax away from your ears. Now with your eyes closed (if that feels comfortable) take another deep breath in through your nostrils, seal your lips, and breathe out through your nose while making the sound of the letter M until you need to inhale once more. You will make a buzzing sound in the back of your throat each time you exhale through your nose. Repeat this for a few minutes or as long as it feels good.
According to Weinbrub, “The message of yoga is that deep within you, you are whole and healed, no matter what is going on in your life.” Tapping into that mindset and empowering ourselves with tools like yoga can help each of us to find healing on our own path.