ON December 22, 2014
Few of us are completely untouched by depression. And when our mood is upended, the loss of hope and confidence can be almost paralyzing. Work accumulates. We smile and interact in familiar ways, but are not really engaged. We avoid calling friends, withdraw from social settings. And as time passes we find ourselves increasingly cut off from the sources of energy that normally sustain us.
Fortunately, most of us have recovery strategies for times when moods turn sour and energy wanes. We listen to our favorite music and spend time reading, or drawing, or whatever refreshes us. Often there is someone we can talk to. We exercise, take walks, or pray. For some, medication may also be a necessary part of mending. All these things can help—and it is important to keep every option open.
The meditative practices of yoga offer a simple and nurturing technique that you can add to your repertoire—the practice of relaxed breath awareness. A powerful tool for preventing the onset of depressed moods in the first place, breath awareness restores energy during acute phases of depression, lightens your emotional load, and creates needed distance from gloomy thoughts. And it complements other healing strategies by providing an underpinning of relaxation and emotional stability. So when low moods threaten to take the joy from life, breath awareness provides a consistent and ever-available inner focus that will help you make the journey back to health.
Three Dimensions of Life
How can the awareness of breathing be so useful? The importance of breathing is accented in a story from the Chandogya Upanishad. There, the eyes, ears, mind, and breath are found arguing about their relative importance. The eyes and ears, representing the body, claim that they are the most indispensable for life. But in turn, the mind and the breath argue their own cases. To resolve the issue each agrees to vacate the body for one year, leaving the others to manage without it. At the end of four years, when each aspect of the self has returned, a winner will be declared. One by one the eyes, the ears, and the mind depart but even through blindness, loss of hearing, and a coma-like existence, life continues. Then the breath begins to leave. Suddenly, all the remaining functions are uprooted, as if a strong horse, hooves bound with ropes, was tearing its fetters from the ground. Awestruck, the body and mind beg the breath to return and humbly accept it as supreme.