Depression symptoms include a lack of interest and enthusiasm for life, low energy, loss of appetite and feelings of unworthiness. These symptoms can have a tremendous impact on daily life.
Through attention to the breath and conscious movement of the body, yoga teaches us how to be in the present moment and practice self-acceptance, which is key in alleviating depression. Yoga gives us an active role in the healing process, allowing us to be our own healers. Yoga does not expect anything from you other than to start where you are.
Yoga can be such a transformational practice, in fact, that medical research shows that a regular yoga practice diminishes symptoms of depression so much that the subjects no longer qualify to participate in the study!
The following is a list of yoga poses to help soothe symptoms of depression by moving energy in the body, opening the heart, shifting our perspective, and restoring both body and mind. With a consistent yoga practice, we can find some relief from depression.
Inversions in yoga are an opportunity to literally turn your perspective upside down. Depression often comes a feeling of hopelessness and a sense of being “stuck.” Inversions requires deep focus and strengthens your core.
After an extended stay in an inversion, take a rest in child’s pose with the head down for at least 30 seconds to avoid dizziness.
Here are a few common yoga inversions:
Practice your handstand against a wall if you’re still working on your balance. Make sure the shoulders are warmed up. Press your palms firmly into the floor, about shoulder-width apart. Kick one leg up toward the wall and then the other. Practice taking one leg off the wall.
Core strength, strong, flexible shoulders and focused attention to the breath will be indispensable in practicing this posture.
Downward Facing Dog
Start in tabletop with your hands under your shoulders and hips under your knees. Lift the hips, pressing them back and up towards the ceiling. Press your hands into the floor, cultivating an outward rotation of the arms and shoulders. Lif through the arms and press into the knuckles of the hands. Feet should be about hip-width distance apart. Bend the knees if necessary and press your chest towards your thighs. Let the head hang and relax your shoulders as you breathe.
Wide-Legged Forward Fold
Stand with legs about four feet apart, adjusting to suit your height. Place your hands on your hips and fold from your hips while keeping a flat back. You may be able to place your hands on the floor, tucking your chin and letting your crown reach down towards the floor. You can also use blocks underneath the hands if you can’t quite reach the floor.
This posture can also be practiced with fingers interlaced behind your back for an additional stretch into the shoulders.
Lie on your back with legs extended long on the floor. With arms by your side, raise the legs to a vertical position, lifting through the lower back. Bend your elbows and place your hands on the back of your ribs to support your back. Draw your elbows close to each other. This will create a strong foundation for the inversion. Your aim is to support your weight on the elbows, and across the back of the shoulders without straining your neck.
2. Heart Opening Back Bends
The heart center is a place for cultivating compassion for self and others. If you suffer from depression, opening the heart is an expansive, loving action to counter feelings of sadness and unworthiness.
Lie on your stomach. Come up on to your forearms, aligning the elbows under your shoulders with palms flat on the floor. Press into your pelvis as you lift up through your belly and reach your heart forward through your chest. Allow your shoulder blades to come together softly and your neck to lengthen away from your shoulders.
Deepen the sphinx backbend by placing the hands under shoulders and squeeze your elbows to the side body. Press into your palms and lift your chest up with the heart leading the way. Relax your shoulders away from your ears. Take at least five full breath cycles here.
Start lying on your back. Bend your knees and bring the soles of the feet to the floor with your arms down by your sides. Press through the palms and feet to lift the hips. Keep pressing up through the hips as you breathe. For a deeper stretch, clasp your hands together underneath the back.
Set up for bridge pose as described above. To progress to wheel pose, raise your arms, bend your elbows and reach behind you to place your palms on the floor under your shoulders. Your fingers will be facing your shoulders.
Activate your legs and arms, gently squeezing knees and elbows toward each other. Use your arm strength and press into your feet to life up into wheel. Keep pressing into the feet as you reach your hips up toward the sky with the crown of the head relaxing down.
Recommended: Browse more of our guides on the art and practice of yoga to harmonize your body, mind, and soul.
3. Restorative Poses
These poses promote deep relaxation on a cellular level. Many common yoga poses can be modified with bolsters, blocks, and other props to create a more rejuvenating experience. Practicing restorative yoga provides relief from the exhaustion and overwhelm that depression can cause.
Legs up the wall
Bring yourself close to a wall, and lie down on your side with your bottom against the wall. Roll onto your back and lift your legs so that they’re resting up against the wall, soles of the feet facing the ceiling.
Rest with your arms open out to your sides or on your stomach. Focus on the sensation of energy moving through your legs, over the soles of your feet, ankles, toward your knees and back into the pelvis.
With the legs up, you’re reversing the weight of gravity on your legs and draining lymph fluids, which refreshes the lower body and supports your overall wellness.
Also known as corpse pose, this posture can be practiced from five to 10 minutes.
Lie down on your back with your legs extended and relaxed, toes falling naturally out to the side and your arms are by your sides with palms facing up. Draw your shoulder blades together slightly, lengthening your neck and settling into the floor.
Slightly tuck your chin. Close your eyes.
Take three deep breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling completely out your mouth. Allow these clearing breaths to replenish and renew.
When you’re ready, release control of your breath and settle into the floor, allowing the earth to support and hold the full weight of your body.