Friday, March 2, 2012

Yoga for Emotional Balance: A Blog Series

Part of the work I'm doing with the Bulter Hospital research study on healthy living and depression, I recently read Bo Forbes' book "Yoga for Emotional Balance." Bo is also coming to Eyes of the World yoga studio in Providence Rhode Island - so reserve your space while they'er still available!

Here's part one of my summary:

Yoga’s Role in Emotional Balance:
“By working in a body-based realm, we can bypass the mental interference. We can feel rather than think the emotional experiences that heal us.” p. xiii

Bo Forbes writes eloquently, and convincingly, that yoga can allow for emotional release without talk-therapy processing. In her experience, yoga literally bypassed the need for psychotherapy in some situations and most definitely aided the process. However, while Forbes deeply believes in yoga’s power to heal, she promotes a very non-active practice to allow for this emotional release to occur. This doesn’t mean Forbes denies the benefits of active asana, on the contrary, she also teaches vinyasa classes. But within her therapy sessions, she build a model based in restorative yoga as the pathway to emotional balance and health.
Forbes’ states that “restorative yoga combines meditation and relaxation in a unique way: it quiets the mind and makes it more reflexive, as meditation does. But the mind quiets while the body relaxes deeply, so reflection and insight become embodied.” p. 5 While she describes active asana practice to be good for the body, and in a way meditative, she found through her experience that relaxing the body through restorative yoga allowed for a more significant release of deep-seated tension, anxiety and fear. A release that also lasted, since restorative yoga is described as building the mental muscles to stick with strong emotions in a way the more physical practices does not.

Forbes’ major contribution to the conversation on yoga for depression is her outlining of a model that allows for four distinct experiences of depression:
  • Depressed body, depressed mind
  • Anxious body, anxious mind
  • Depressed body, anxious mind and
  • Anxious mind, depressed body
Based on the person’s “diagnosis” at any given moment, Forbes literally prescribes a distinct set of poses and orientations. Forbes speaks from the belief that emotional balance isn’t one thing that is achieved once and for all, nor is depression something you are. Rather, she encourages the reader to:

“Imagine a continuum of emotional imbalance: at one end is anxiety, with racing thoughts, incessant worry, and physical agitation. At the other end is depression, with sluggish, negative thinking, lack of engagement in life, and physical lethargy. Where on that continuum would your body be, your mind be? … The interplay between them is so complex that the mind can occupy one end of the spectrum while the body inhabits another. Put in another way, it’s possible to experience both anxiety and depression at the same time. ” p. 1
When prescribing asana, she speaks to the need for “grounding” poses verses “uplifting” poses. Literally, if the mind is anxious, most of the poses face downward (prone) whereas if the mind is depressed the body is facing upward (supine). “People with physical symptoms of anxiety often benefit from grounding and ‘enclosed’ poses to conserve energy and redirect their focus inward. There are restorative yoga’s forward bending or ‘neutral’ poses.” p.18

When speaking to the needs of the mind, she prescribes two very specific pranayama techniques. For the anxious mind, one must elongate the exhale in relationship to the inhale. Building one count, two counts etc. longer on the exhale than the inhale (1:2). She warns against longer inhales than exhales, in order to guard against hyperventilation which would clearly increase anxiety. If, however, the mind is depressed, she recommends equanimous breathing (1:1), balancing the in breath and out breath with equal counts - thereby energizing the mind while remaining alert and conscious.

Without an alternative such as what Forbes outlines, doctors find themselves prescribing medications that counteract each other - first attempting to relieve depressions, for example, and then needing to medicate to allow for sleep and the cycle continues without much relief, especially not long term relief.

Forbes knows her audience, and therefore goes to great lengths to argue for the benefits of an extremely slow, meditative practice. A few sections in the book are dedicated to describing the “instant healing” culture that leads to disappointment and relapses. “We can acknowledge that true healing requires regular, continued, and specific practices that build over time. And we can engage with these healing practices in a long-term, committed relationship.” p.26

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