Monkey Mind and I are old friends and long-time rivals.
It’s an uneasy friendship, built on claustrophobic proximity over many, many years. I’d love to tell you she’s a cute little capuchin who sits on my shoulder and mostly behaves except for whispering inappropriate thoughts about people in my ear, but in reality, she’s a rabid, sleep-deprived howler who hurls feces and insults until someone’s in tears, usually me.
It’s not really her fault, though. It’s those two hooligans she runs around with—Anxiety and Depression.
There’s a meme I’ve seen floating around the Internet: “Depression is not caring about anything. Anxiety is caring too much about everything. Having both is a living hell.” Every time I come across it, its accuracy brings me up short, because it’s as if a complete stranger opened the trapdoor to my brain and snapped a picture. I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression for more than 20 years—sometimes more anxious, sometimes more depressed, sometimes doing okay, sometimes yanked between the two in a vicious tug-of-war. There are few things worse than the tug-of-war days, a million thoughts assaulting my brain from every angle and not enough energy to face a single one of them.
Anxiety and Depression make it difficult to feel normal.
How can you feel normal when the thought of getting out of bed and taking a shower feels like a Herculean feat of strength? How can you feel normal when you have to rehearse what to say to the cashier at the drive-thru window so you don’t pull away feeling like you’ve made an ass of yourself? How can you feel normal when the things normal people do every day feel impossible?
The National Institute for Mental Health believes that 18% of adults in the United States suffer from anxiety disorders, making it the most common mental illness in the country. That’s 40 million people suffering from anxiety. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America report that 15 million American adults suffer from Major Depressive Disorder. Anxiety and Depression frequently occur together, so there is a significant overlap in these statistics, but that’s still a whole lot of people suffering.
Maybe you’re suffering, like so many of us are suffering. What can you do?
You can take it to your mat.
Yoga has been proven time and again to help with Anxiety and Depression. In April 2009, the Harvard Mental Health Letter published “Yoga for anxiety and depression”—an accurate title, if uninspired. The article states:
By reducing perceived stress and anxiety, yoga appears to modulate stress response systems. This, in turn, decreases physiological arousal — for example, reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and easing respiration. There is also evidence that yoga practices help increase heart rate variability, an indicator of the body's ability to respond to stress more flexibly.
Sounds great, right? I’d love to “respond to stress more flexibly.”
My Anxiety and Depression both rely heavily on negative self-talk, on Monkey Mind running rampant, on the false narrative I create for myself that says I’m weak, abrasive, flighty, awkward, and weird. And the only time I feel like I can tell Monkey Mind and those two punks she hangs out with to take a hike? When I’m on my mat. When I’m focused on muscle and ligament and bone and breath. I have the most success with Power Yoga and Ashtanga—intense forms of asana that push me to stay present in my body or risk falling on my face—but I’m starting to appreciate the slower, subtler forms as well. In the stillness of savasana, I occasionally feel I’m drawing closer to an understanding of Ishvara pranidhana, the niyama that translates to “surrender to the Divine.”
I’m not suggesting that yoga can replace medication or talk therapy, at least not for everyone, but it can be a tool in your toolbox, a weapon in your hand to fight back the invaders.
One more thing...
Despite the statistics I referenced above, Anxiety and Depression would have you believe you’re in this fight alone.
You are not alone.
Anxiety and Depression are liars. If you wrestle with either or both and haven’t realized that, then please believe me: They are liars.
Anxiety will tell you everything’s your fault, regardless of how minor or how global. It’ll tell you you’re responsible for things you can’t possibly control. It’ll tell you you’re a failure. It’ll tell you you’re not good enough, smart enough, strong enough. You are. You are enough, just as you are in this moment.
Depression will tell you nothing matters, even the things that mattered to you just days (or even moments) ago. It’ll tell you there’s no point to any of this. It’ll tell you the daily struggles of life are just not worth it. They are.
There is beauty in this life. There is beauty in you.
When we say “Namaste,” we mean, “The light in me recognizes the light in you.”
by Shanna Hull