Intro: Hi, it's Amy here, and welcome to The Prana + Patchouli Podcast. I'm a restorative yoga teacher and this is where I share my self-care tips, spiritual tools, breathwork and guided meditations to reduce stress and raise your vibration. If you haven't already, be sure to hit subscribe, so you never miss an episode.
Today, I want to talk about something that I haven’t ever really talked about before, (so I’ll take a big, brave breath here,) and that’s depression. I believe our stories heal, and so in sharing this part of mine, as well as some of the tools that have helped me to gently navigate my own feelings, my hope is that this episode helps you feel less alone, and more loved and supported, if you’ve been feeling this way, too.
We’ll also practise some breathwork at the end, to bring all of this together, so make sure you stick around for that.
And let me say, if you haven’t experienced depression - which is typically long-term or acute sadness - just allow yourself to take what you need. Depression is usually a compassionate call to lean into a gentler, softer, kinder way. From the thoughts we think, to the words we say, to the actions we take. These feelings can fluctuate, and I’m sure that we’ve all experienced life circumstances that have left us feeling, well, ... less than happy. Or maybe you know someone who has some serious things they’re dealing with right now? If so, I’d love you to share this episode with them.
The practices and tools we’re going to talk about are not meant to trivialise anything you’re grappling with and they’re not “quick fixes”. After all, like me, you might have been cultivating this depression for years, and I certainly don’t encourage any spiritual bypassing. But I do hope they’ll help you, or someone you love, feel lighter and brighter, from the inside out.
Nothing I say is meant to be a medical diagnosis or cure. It’s just my experience from my own life, and from working closely with my yoga students over the last 8 years. If you feel like you need extra support and care, then please please seek it out.
In tough times, we may wish for magic and for someone to take away our pain. But even if that were possible, it would deprive us of our growth when we try to navigate those emotional patterns. For me, depression has been a call to awakening, and the density of that has challenged me to the depths of my being, ever since I was 17, but all so that I could reach a better place - emotionally and spiritually. This isn’t always true, but I have found purpose in the pain, and continue to.
It’s important that you feel all your big feelings —and even welcome them. But through it all, you have a choice: You can lean deeper into despair, or you can lean into love.
And that’s what this episode is all about.
So what exactly is depression? Like I said earlier, depression is acute sadness, which may be caused by a chemical imbalance, or life circumstances. It can arise when you’re not honouring your unique energy, when you’re exhausted, or as a compounding effect of chronic stress that builds up in the body. It can be long-term, or a temporary state of being, that ebbs and flows over time.
With depression, there’s a general low vibe which feels heavy, sad and stuck. This often manifests physically with the sinking of the shoulders and chest, and the closing of the heart, which embodies the helplessness, hopelessness and self-protective withdrawal of depression. The breath is shallow and slow, like a silent protest to life, and you can feel lethargic and tired. Simple movements can feel challenging, and you might not even want to get out of bed. Mentally, thoughts move slowly, too. Even as I describe this, you might feel the energy of that weighing on you.
Sometimes we can sink into depression when we’re feeling overwhelmed. And this can go one of two ways: we can become angry and lash out, or get depressed, doubt ourselves and turn that anger inwards. It reminds me of that episode of The Sopranos when Tony visits his therapist, and she says “depression is rage turned inwards”. I think that Freud actually said something similar first, but that was like a lightbulb moment for me.
When I’m feeling low, it’s often when I’m drowning in thoughts of “not-enoughness” because I’m exhausted, or ruminating on something that’s happened, or feeling bitter about where I am in life, when I feel like I should be further ahead. And those mental stories tend to be full of negativity, blame and judgement - towards myself.
That’s another symptom of depression. You’re often blind to positive experiences and have only negative ones in your line of vision.
And knowing that there’s no more powerful voice than our own, that self-talk can be destructive.
So, how can we start to feel better and move through those moments with more compassion, gentleness and love?
The first step is to witness what you’re going through. Yoga teaches us to observe with a sense of curiosity, instead of judgement. Then, with that space you’ve created, you can respond, rather than react, and choose again. A mantra that I like to use, which works like a pattern interruptor, and slows the momentum of those stories when your mind goes into a negative spiral, is:
“I choose love instead of this”.
This also helps us hone the quality of our inner gaze. In yoga, we talk about “drishti”, which means “gaze point”. And when we soften our inner gaze, we allow ourselves to enter that space of compassionate, non-judgemental observation, and choose love instead.
Which brings me back to this…
You can either lean deeper into despair, or you can lean into love.
The way I do this is to get quiet, tune in with myself, and ask:
How can I be more gentle with myself today?
How can I be more compassionate?
How can I practise self-love?
And then let my inner guide show me the way.
That’s because our body, mind and nervous system already know our true, healthy, emotional set point. They already know what we need to feel better, and so when we take the time to listen to that loving intelligence, we can start to return home.
Whenever I feel myself sinking, I find that my soul naturally craves more gentleness, comfort, support, relaxation and kindness - because I’ve been lacking compassion for myself. What that is, changes from day to day - whether it’s simple self-care practices, real human connection, restorative yoga poses or meditation - but the more I slowly raise my vibration by leaning towards love and feeling good, the more I’m led.
Healing is possible, but it can be an ongoing process, like it has been for me. Which is well and okay. Honour that, be kind to yourself and take all the time you need.
The second thing that has helped me, whenever I feel truly hopeless, is SURRENDER.
It’s something that we talk about a lot on the yoga mat. If you’re practising a pose that’s mentally or physically difficult, you can tighten up, like when you’re stretching your hamstrings or hips. Or even in restorative yoga, when you set yourself up on such a high-rise of props, that you can’t possibly get comfy. Pushing or struggling rarely works. It only creates tension, puts the nervous system into overdrive and you can end up hurting yourself. But the opposite of forcing is surrender. When you allow your body to relax and open up in its own time, you can often go much deeper.
So in tough times, what can you give up or give over?
That might mean giving yourself the grace and space you need to take care of yourself. Focus on the fundamentals like sleep, healing, health, exercise and self-care. Or, if you have to show up, how can you create more ease in your day, so things don’t feel as heavy?
When you surrender control, (which I know isn’t always easy), you open yourself up to support and guidance. You can become receptive to the gifts depression can offer. Perhaps this pain is an awakening to what’s not working in your life, or an opening to the potential for personal, emotional and spiritual growth. Pema Chodron said: “Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know”. So, what can you learn from this? What is your depression trying to teach you? Be brave and look into the darkness of that struggle - so that you can bring it to light. It likely holds a deeper message for you.
I know that it feels frustrating, and you might want that magic quick-fix, but if that existed, it would only deprive you of a great opportunity for learning.
Now you’re probably thinking, “okay that makes sense, but how do I surrender?”
My favourite way to do this is through prayer - to the Universe, my higher self or inner guide. You can pray to whatever you believe in. But it’s the energy that matters - of giving something over.
I like to say something like: Thank you for loving me, thank you for guiding me, thank you for supporting me, thank you for helping me heal and become the best version of myself that I can possibly be.
This always helps me feel better because gratitude instantly raises my vibration, and I feel less alone.
If that doesn’t resonate with you, another more embodied way to feel the energy of surrender is through restorative yoga. It requires less energy than other styles of yoga and it adds to your energy rather than takes from it. And, by nature, this practice is all about surrender, as you allow your body to be completely held by the props, to encourage healing and nurturing from within.
The final step I want to share with you is about being mindful of balancing your outer and inner worlds.
I talk a lot about the need to retreat and turn inwards, especially in our high-speed, stressful world. But when it comes to depression, the opposite is necessary. We close off our hearts in an effort to protect ourselves from the world, and become so inward-focused, that we’re flooded with thoughts, sensations and emotions.
As much as I love and value introspective practices like yoga and meditation, to truly honour all of my feelings, I know that I need to balance that with outrospective tools like journalling, meaningful conversations, and even just going out into the world, having fun and seeking out adventures! Right now, I’m in Paris and I can’t tell you how much this trip is feeding my soul! I think it’s a practice to cultivate that balance.
If you’ve been feeling the same, a simple way to emerge into the outer world is to change your posture, and you can do this with me now.
For a moment, just observe how you’re sitting or standing. Pay attention particularly to where your shoulders, heart and spine are in space, especially if they’re sinking, rounding or closed off. Now, see if you can sit or stand a little bit taller. Drop your chin slightly towards your chest, then gently press your skull back, so your head and neck are in alignment with your spine. Soften your shoulders and lift your heart. Take a deep inhale and then exhale completely. Hopefully you feel better already!
The truth is, depression is a mind-body issue. And that’s why I’ve never really resonated with, or used the term “mental health”. For me, it’s “emotional wellbeing”, because the mind and body are influenced by each other. The body feels emotions, too, and it speaks its pain as clearly as the mind - just not verbally. The two are intimately connected through the power of the breath. And while the mind doesn’t speak the language of the body, the breath does. That’s the beauty of the yoga practice. The breath unites the body, mind and spirit.
Deep breathing and heart-opening restorative poses like supported butterfly or supported fish, can lift and balance feelings of depression. And if we show up to our mat or meditation cushion regularly, we create a well of energy, called prana, which nourishes us even when our life force is low, and can prevent us from falling into depression.
And speaking of the breath, I have one final practice to share with you. It’s called Sama Vrtti, or the Equal Breath. This technique can help energise your body, and also keeps your mind balanced and alert.
Let’s take a few rounds together. You’ll feel the inhale, however it comes in, wherever it goes, and then even the length of your exhale with your inhale. So for example, you might inhale for a count of 5, and then exhale for a count of 5. Not really controlling how it’s moving, just the length of this silent, peaceful breath. Matching the length of your inhale, with your exhale, finding balance. Now just take one more of these, the inhale rolls on in and the exhale rolls on out.
Now let that go, and observe any shifts that you feel. This breathing practice can help you gently observe and navigate your emotions without getting caught up in them. You can stay anchored, instead of getting lost in storms, waves, pain and the ebb and flow of your feelings. You can stay connected to both your inner and outer worlds.
If you want to go deeper with this, then definitely check out episode 20, ‘Your Breath Is A Miracle’, which I’ll link in the show notes.
But as we close out this episode, remember that YOU are not your depression. It does not define you. When you accept this, you can realign with love, as you gently navigate those big feelings, and consciously see yourself in the light of who you really are.
Outro: Thanks so much for listening. If you’re ready to go deeper, I have a free mini yoga retreat waiting for you over at pranapatchouli.com/retreat. It’ll help you find emotional ease, fill up your cup and follow the whispers of your soul. *Deep exhale*. All you have to do is head over there now and enter your name and email for instant access. I’ll be back next week with a brand new episode, so until then, from my heart to yours, Namaste.