The holidays are supposed to be a time for celebration, but for many they can be a source of stress. This time of year can be particularly rough on people suffering from anxiety and depression. According to Thomas Cummings, Ph.D., a psychologist and yoga instructor at Mindful Matters Wellness & Yoga Center, yoga and meditation can provide great support for those with anxiety and depression disorders.
“We know that we can calm the mind through calming the body,“ says Cummings. “There’s an extremely close link, an interplay, between the two. Yoga is a way of aligning mind and body so that one isn’t the victim of the other’s weakness.” Cummings uses a mindfulness technique called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in sessions with his patients. In additional to traditional therapy, he employs a regular practice of sitting and walking meditations and yoga. The technique helps patients practice healthy ways of thinking like living in the present, learning to let go, and equanimity, or being content with what is.
“All of these things develop a mindset that is resilient to the stressors in life that can make us anxious,” says Cummings. “We can get anxious because things don’t go our way, because people can be cruel to each other, and because it’s a struggle sometimes. But through the practice of yoga, meditation, and therapy, you can make your mind an ally.”
Whether you’re looking for help with anxiety and depression or you’ve got a case of the holiday blues, try these yoga poses to help you decompress:
Benefits: Stretches the torso and neck, gently massages the spine
How To: Kneel on all fours with your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your knees. Breathe in and slowly look up, pushing your stomach down and your hips up. Breathe out and slowly arch your back, bringing your chin into your chest. Repeat.
Try this variation: Sway your hips side to side slowly. Cummings calls this “Happy Dog” pose.
Benefits: Releases tension the back, neck, and shoulders
How To: Kneel on your mat and with your tailbone on your heels, or as close as possible. Fold forward, touching your brow to the mat with your hands overhead. Hold for at least five breaths.
Try this variation: Kneel with your knees wide, tailbone to your heels, and fold forward between your legs.
Benefits: Stretches legs and hips, stimulates digestion, calming, relieves headaches and insomnia
How To: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and fold at your hips. Reach your hands down as close to the mat as possible. Hold for at least three breaths.
Try this variation: While you’re folding, grab opposite elbows with your hands and slowly sway your upper body side-to-side.
Legs Up the Wall
Benefits: Relieves mild lower back pain and tired legs and feet, reverses blood flow
How To: Lay on your mat with your legs at a 90-degree angle up a wall. Hold for at least three minutes.
Try this variation: Place a pillow under your head or lower back for support and comfort.
Benefits: Relieves tension and stress, stretches hips
How To: Lay on your stomach with your head toward the front of your mat. Place your hands under your shoulders and push your chest up off the mat. Place your left knee behind your left hand so that it’s bent with your foot toward the right side of your mat, at a 45- to 90-degree angle. Push your hips toward the mat. Hold this pose, called Proud Pigeon, or lay over your left knee, placing your elbows or brow to the mat. Make sure your hips are level. Hold for at least five breaths. Repeat on your right side.
Benefits: Reduces stress and anxiety, improves ability to regulate emotions, improves focus and memory
How To: Sit cross-legged with your hands on your knees. Close your eyes. Hold for at least three minutes. During this time, expect thoughts to come and go. Just observe them, watch them pass by like clouds in the sky, and maintain focus. With practice, meditation will become easier.
Look for more on yoga for anxiety and depression in the spring edition of Island Scene magazine.