How Yoga (kinda) Cured My Depression and (possibly) Saved My Life
My last bout with depression was especially brutal. A daily, possibly pandemic-induced fight to keep my head above water.
Stripped of most social interaction (and weekly pickup soccer!), my mental health had degraded to what felt like a crisis point.
My wife (Hannah) was concerned.
She gently reiterated her offer to write a yoga class just for me—one designed to fit my body's needs.
I was desperate.
I said yes.
She wrote the class.
And after a week or so of finding excuses to not take advantage of her genius-level yoga instruction (because that's what depression does), I settled down into the first pose.
About a third of the way through my tailored, twenty minute class, I felt the depression lift off of me. It was as though I'd been smothering under a weighted blanket, and someone just whisked it right away. Gone.
At the two thirds mark, I started crying. No idea why. Relief, probably.
Two days later, I did the class again.
Halfway through, I started laughing.
For no reason I could pinpoint.
I've been doing this class for the past three months, and the depression hasn't really come back in force. Coincidence? Not a freakin' chance. I can still feel the depression lumping around at the edges of my consciousness; and every time I skip a day or two, that long gray tidal wave surges back in.
Until the yoga pushes it back out again.
I want you to know that I don't really believe in any of this.
All the humming and chakras and voodoo hoodoo kinda weirds me out.
Which is not to say that I'm one of those people who thinks that the positions of yoga are some full body invitation for the fleet forces of hell to swoop in and snatch my everlasting soul. It's just that it's more, like, a thing for middle aged women who are unhappy in their marriages and enjoy shopping for 60s-themed apparel at Anthropologie... right?
I don't believe in it, so I'm pretty sure it's not psychosomatic.
Still, as my buddy Clive Staples used to say, "Keep your eyes open and your mouth shut, and everything will lead to everything else."
Apparently our bodies and our minds are connected. And apparently if, in the course of your life, you happen to do damage to your body—whether it's to the chakras or mystical energies or nerve pathways or all of the above, I don't know—then that damage will play itself out in your mind as well.
According to some Harvard study I found as I tried to understand what had happened to me, yoga can help with all that. The study wasn't clear on why (apparently the world's scientists aren't falling all over themselves to study a practice they foolishly believe is the province of unhappy, middle aged Anthropologie women) but the correlation was there.
"I can't understand why you're not flipping out about this," I said to my wife. "The effect your class has had on my mental health is insane! I was crying for no reason! Then laughing!"
She shrugged it off and told me that crying in yoga classes was commonplace, and that it wasn't entirely unheard of for someone to come up after a class and thank her for changing their life.
It might be normal for her, but for me... it was a whole new world.
I understand that depression can be deadly serious.
I nearly lost a good friend to depression, so I know that there are times when medication saves lives. But I also know that Western medicine has a serious over-prescription problem, as doctors desperately slap chemical bandaids on problems that they (and we) don't really understand.
There's no guarantee that you'll have the same experience with yoga as I did.
After all, you most likely don't have a live-in yoga instructor who knows your body intimately.
Still, if you've ever thought about getting into yoga for mental health reasons, why not give it a shot? And if you're curious about the kind of yoga Hannah teaches, she's just launched a new Youtube channel, with free weekly beginner yoga classes. It's a gentle, low-risk way to ease into yoga... and quite possibly change your life.