Going through depression is a dark and difficult place to be. Depression may come alone or it might be partnered up with anxiety, PTSD, bipolar or other mental health issues. One of the hardest parts about depression can be the overwhelming feelings of complete worthlessness.
On top of feeling so awful, we can also end up giving ourselves a hard time just for not feeling okay, especially when working in a role that supports others. So, as a yoga teacher who holds space for others and as a person who struggles with depression, I’m here to tell you that you can still be a good person and be depressed. You’re not feeling this way because you got something wrong.
Yoga isn’t a magic cure, but it does build resilience
There are a lot of studies out there about how yoga can help improve the lives of those with depression, anxiety, PTSD and other issues. People turn to yoga as a form of self-care through difficult times and I myself often think of yoga as the thing that saved my life when I was at my worst. This is true but not because it “fixed” me and cured all my issues. It didn’t. What it did was give me a way to support myself and self-regulate through dark times. It helped me to build resilience, which means that I’m better able to bounce back; it doesn’t mean that I no longer fall.
Recovery is not as simple as just going on a walk or seeking help
I come from the world of wellness and holistic healing. In this world it is often framed that disease, whether physical or mental, is a message from your body or psyche telling you that you may need to change the way you do things in order to recover. I don’t necessarily disagree with this but sometimes I feel like there’s the underlying assumption that if only you commit to yourself and to healing, you’ll be okay, and if for any reason you’re not okay it’s because you’re getting something wrong.
But what about when you do all the “right” things and still end up battling with the same issues? I already quit all my old self-destructive habits. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t take drugs, I don’t even stay up past midnight! I practice yoga and meditation every day. I eat really healthy and drink plenty of water. I exercise and get out in nature. No matter how depressed I am, I never give up. I reach out.
I’ve had CBT, EMDR, talking therapy, have been to see an Ayurvedic therapist, NLP practitioner and have joined support groups. I even spent 3 months living in an empowerment centre in Brazil! You name the self-help technique and I’ve probably tried it. Give me a list of self-help books or spiritual texts and I’ve probably read them.
Anxiety is always with me to varying degrees and depression hits in cycles. When one or both are particularly bad, I can notice myself feeling really indignant. I cry to the universe “but I do ALL the right things, I SHOULDN’T be feeling this way. I try SO bloody hard! I put all the work in!”
All this time I’ve thought I was fighting for myself but recently I’m starting to wonder if I’ve actually just been fighting with myself. It’s a hard balance deciding whether to force myself out of bed on a really depressed day and get on the mat or whether to try to sleep it off. Perhaps I’ve been desperately trying to seek solutions to “get better” instead of just finding a way to be okay with not feeling okay.
Vulnerability is strength, not a weakness
There can be a real fear around showing vulnerability. I can be quite quiet about my mental health struggles because of this sense of dread that if people know they’ll think I’m not fit to do my job properly, not fit to hold space for others. But I’m starting to realise that my personal struggles with my mental health are exactly what make me qualified in many ways.
Someone very close to me said that when I teach yoga, I can be like a different person. She said she sees me light up and exude confidence. Another close friend who has been to many of my classes says that knowing my own personal struggles is what makes her trust me as a teacher. She says when I’m encouraging people in class to be kind to themselves, it means all the more coming from someone who knows so deeply the difficult battle of learning to love oneself. To her, it feels authentic and makes her trust the process I am guiding her through more.
Taking a leadership role when not feeling the best
Stepping up into a leadership role and having the responsibility of holding a healing safe space for others is one of the main things that lifts me up out of my hole. When I have a purpose greater than myself I feel more able to actually connect to who I feel I’m meant to be outside of the darkness of depression and overwhelming nature of anxiety. Think of the Wounded Healer archetype, which shows how one of the ways we heal ourselves is through feeling we have something valuable to share with others as an offering.
There can be an assumption that to hold space well for others you have to be operating from a place of perfect stability and be totally healed yourself. But how many of us humans can really say that we feel 100% all of the time? Of course if I ever needed to take a step back I would. I’d never jeopardise the experience of my students and it’s always okay for people struggling to take time off if needed. The simple point is you can be depressed and still do a good job.
But don’t just take my word for it! Check out these articles from other yoga teachers opening up about their struggles. Don’t Sweep the Sadness Under the Mat is by Jim Catapano and he says “Asana helps but it does not cure.” Rachel Scott wrote Not Everyone Who Practices Yoga is Happy and That’s Okay and Elle from Yoga Buzz wrote An Open Letter To Yogis With Anxiety and Depression.
Jasmine is a yoga teacher and writer from the North East of England. She’s currently travelling South America. She’s passionate about sustainability, meaningful work, connecting to others and learning more about well being practices from around the world. To find out more about Jasmine and her yoga journey / writing click here.