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How Yoga Helped Me Combat Depression and Heartbreaking Loss Without Medication

by Adrienne Smith: It is estimated that by the year 2020, anxiety and depression will be the leading cause of death – over heart disease and over cancer…

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Yikes! While anxiety and depression can come from legitimate chemical imbalances that require medication to curb them, medical researchers are finding that cultivating awareness of our thoughts and the physical state of our being, in combination with medication (if necessary), will prove a better defense to anxiety and depression than medication alone*.

I find this fascinating because this means;

  • We have control.
  • We have power.
  • We have a choice.

It’s not all up to chance, genetics or a pill fixing us. So where does this come from? I believe it comes from the experiences that bring us to our knees, where it seems we have lost everything.

I started to experience this, understand this and got curious about this through yoga. To help explain, I like stories….

My thirty-six years on this planet have been spiced with some major bummers and setbacks and also sprinkled with a whole lot of privilege, love, opportunity, great coaches, mentors and a strong mother.

There have not been many circumstances that have brought me sobbing to my knees, feeling hopeless and utterly sad. There have not been many times when I have been challenged to drag myself out of bed, binged on Netflix or asked myself “Why is this happening?” “Why me?” or “Why us?”

This has been the case even during my teenage years, or when I moved across the country with no place to live, or opened a yoga studio without any employees or when Donald Trump was elected as our next President.

This year, however, I’ve experienced several life events that could wreck a person. I lost my dad to cancer, my husband faced public scrutiny over a health issue that was challenging our marriage, a dear friend attempted suicide and to top it off, I miscarried a child. By the way, I’m simply sharing, not asking for sympathy.

I haven’t been wrecked by these, sometimes sudden, turn of events but at moments I’ve cracked and fallen to my knees decently hard.

When my dad passed away, it hit me hard. I wept… like the booger flying, draining kind of weeping. I struggled to go to bed. I indulged in making sad playlists on Spotify and spent an incredible amount of time in solidarity. I drank an unhealthy amount of wine and consumed enough chocolate to kill a dog.

I went running, and at times, I lost my breath as I sobbed and was forced to slow down or completely stop. I showed up to practice yoga and couldn’t breathe through my nose the majority of the time because I was crying. I showed up late and I left early so I didn’t have to talk to people. I opted not to go to work.

I mindfully stayed away from people because I knew I couldn’t talk without coming to tears. It seemed I couldn’t relate to anyone and what they were experiencing in life because the wound I had when my dad passed died was too fresh, the sadness too great and the brokenness I felt seemed too real.

Key word = seemed.

Roach and McKnally interpret Yoga Sutra 1.30a in The Essential Yoga Sutra: Ancient Wisdom for Your Yoga as follows:

Obstacles occur when the mind is distracted and this can be caused by illness, fogginess in the mind, having doubts, carelessness, and laziness…

Simply put, everything was an obstacle because my mind was foggy, I was full of doubts, I didn’t have hope or care and it seemed easier to just lay in bed than to step out and do anything.

From experience, I know a lot of things can seem to appear one way and be the complete opposite depending on the environment, person and ultimately the mind. I knew that training for and completing an Ironman Triathlon can seem daunting, and be exhilarating.

Making a living in Santa Barbara with your own business can seem outright impossible, or be possible. Losing a parent can seem unbearable, or be life-giving. The phrase life-altering can seem bad, and be the best thing ever.

I don’t want to discount that there is an unexplainable grieving and mourning period when losing a loved one. It’s important to feel all of that. And I did. But I was tired of wallowing in being tired, sad, lost, broken, and without hope.

I was tired of what I was choosing to create. I was tired of the obstacles that my mind was creating about my loss. I longed for hope and lightness in my mind and body instead of the heaviness that had started to become normal. I had a deep knowing that what I believed to be possible was possible – that in my dad’s life, and in his death, I was given more life than I ever could imagine.

Call it faith…. hope, belief, spiritual awakening, breakdown, breakthrough, transformation, rationalization or whatever. Sitting around and stewing and processing why all this seemed to be happening was exhausting. I knew the future I wanted to create for myself was bigger and better than the tired, worn out victim role that seemed to be becoming my norm.

Before starting a yoga practice, I thought this was the only way.

Yep. Doing yoga changed this for me and it changes and sharpens my mind daily. Everything from doing a handstand or not doing a handstand. Opening a door for someone or not opening a door. Simply put, making mindful, purposeful, powerful choices.

I have the power to see my body, my dad’s death, my dad’s life, my community, our president, my miscarriage, my world through whatever lens I choose. My lens has been shaped and sharpened differently than the lens of the person doing yoga next to me, different than my siblings’ lenses, and everyone else’s in fact. The strange paradigm is that all of our lenses could be wrong.

Let’s go back to the earlier topic of depression.

Someone, somewhere went to the doctor and told them of their symptoms. The doctor saw their symptoms through his/her lens. What their patient was experiencing didn’t appear to be normal from their lens. The patient spent more and more time observing their symptoms as wrong, especially because the doctor raised an eyebrow during their visit. The doctor saw more and more patients that had the same symptoms. Lo and behold a new disease was created; they called it “depression.”

If I went to the doctor after my dad passed away, it is likely they would have prescribed me meds. In reality, I was working some shit out.

I was aware of that and I didn’t want to put in a box and classified as depressed. But in order to get out of it, I needed to observe it – see where it was coming from. The highest form of awareness comes from practicing the observation of where emotions and physical sensations are really coming from – and that essentially is how we get out.

I realized that my depression was because I loved my dad more than I ever seemed to express while he was alive. Once I fully cried about that, sat in all of my snots and tears about it, saw clearly how I was punishing myself for what I seemed to think was the appropriate amount of expression of love, I forgave myself. And in an instant, my mind was clear and my life felt whole and complete.

That is yoga.

*I learned of these statistics from Bo Forbes at Yoga Journal Live in January 2016 and don’t have the precise reference

About Adrienne

Adrienne Smith is the founder and chief motivating officer at Power of Your Om.

Her foundational 200 Certification is with Baron Baptiste and she received her 500 E-RYT through Deborah Williamson and Wild Abundant Life.

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