BY MELISSA AGUIRRE
YOGA THERAPIST, EDUCATOR, CERTIFIED C-IAYT, ERYT 500, YACEP HOLISTIC LIFE COACH AND STRESS MANAGEMENT SPECIALIST
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ELIZABETH REY
What is Mindfulness, and how does it apply in Yoga?
The simplest definition I have heard on Mindfulness is by Jon Kabat Zinn. He says Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose. Mindfulness is our ability to attend the present moment, experience the pauses, notice discomfort, and witness our mental narratives. We all have access to this tool but it takes practice to change.
Yoga is a container to practice these tools. We use the postures as an instrument to explore pause, to witness thoughts, and develop sensory awareness, which leads to self-regulation. This is why Yoga blends breath, mental hygiene, and movement into one experience. However, there are so many different styles out there that it can be confusing where to begin. Not all Yoga, especially the performance and fitness-based Yoga, accesses these experiences. If you tried Yoga and did not enjoy it or felt it was difficult, I would encourage you to try a different class and/or teacher. Yoga is kind of like ice cream; you have to find what flavor feels best.
What are some benefits of mindful practices for people facing depression or mental health issues?
Mindfulness invites us to explore our mental narratives and develop reframed thoughts, self-sovereignty, and continued inquiry.
From a physical stance, mindfulness-based practices teach conscious control of relaxation-inducing GABA, parasympathetic activation, and reduces inflammatory activity in our cells. Practices like Yoga, tai chi, and others activate cooling responses in the body, increase circulation, and aid the body into optimal functioning that has been shown to decrease inflammation related to depression. Yoga guides participants to befriend the body, work through subconscious patterning (our default reactivity patterns), and revitalize the body as a whole.
Often, mental health and physical health mirror one another. Research in Mindbody medicine has shown the impact that physical health can have on the mind and the impact mental health can have on the physical body. If a patient struggles with ‘getting out of their head,’ using physical mindfulness based practices, they can help develop new neural pathways that disrupt negative feedback loops. Healthy sensory input such as self-massage, smelling essential oils or a yummy stretch can begin healing those deficit neural pathways that keep patients in fight or flight states. Mindfulness turns executive functioning on in the brain and has also shown to thicken the prefrontal cortex (our ability to see the bigger picture).
What type of mindfulness practices are helpful for people with depression or other mental health issues?
Yoga has been shown to have a profound healing impact on patients with depression. I would encourage people to begin with gentle Yoga, yoga nidra, and journaling. It may be a 20 minute practice or small things here and there, but little by little, you will begin to see the impact in mental clarity, energy, and less reactivity. In Yoga, we believe depression is simply a problem with prana (energy), so doing things that gently energize will shift the body and mind. For some, that may be a power practice with lots of inhales. For others, it might be restorative Yoga. Give yourself permission to meet yourself wherever you are because depression looks so different from person to person.
If this information interests you, I suggest reading Yoga for Depression by Amy Weintraub, or Becoming Supernatural by Dr. Joe Dispenza for those who like science.
Depression can be debilitating. That is why grace, compassion, and meeting yourself where you are is so important. It looks different for everyone – some people would benefit most by beginning with someone specialized in mindfulness modalities for mental health (do your research on the yoga teacher, coach, or provider). If this is not accessible, try exploring practices online. There are many free resources to get started, and even using an app like Insight Timer or reading a book listed above are beneficial.
To begin at home tips:
Stretch your arms above your head or stretch where you literally expose your armpits is energizing for the body.
Big inhales in, sighing out. Inhales are energizing. Exhales are relaxing. Use the breath to begin awakening healthy frequencies into the body. Most Americans breathe shallow, which can keep the cycle of depression and inflammation heightened.
Journaling/ Stream of Conscious writing/ listing – Pen to paper can be magic. Even reading poetry or quotes and write how you feel (important for reframing, inquiry, and vagal tone).
Yoga Nidra can be found online, or an experienced yoga teacher can guide you.
Mindfulness Based Professional Counselors and Therapists can guide you in getting started.
Sit outside and feel the sunlight.
Drink water (this is imperative for your cells to operate optimally.)
If you are struggling with depression, anxiety or other mental health ailments contact Melissa Aguirre to either get connected to a therapist specialized in mindfulness modalities to provide services that integrate both. Melissa can also guide you to resources, practices and mind body services that can begin your journey of reclaiming your mental wellbeing and aligning to your highest self-sovereignty.
Melissa Aguirre offers coaching, trainings, workshops and other mindfulness based self care services to awaken the most vibrant you.Connect with her for more information on her work and how she can support you.