You Can Be Depressed and Still be a Good Yoga Teacher

Hoggphotography01smallres

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

Hoggphotography02smallres

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.

BrunaBrandao-9829
Jasmine teaching yoga in Brazil. Photo by Bruna Brandao
jas looking back
Portrait by Hogg Photography

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.

The photos used for the majority of this piece were part of a series by Hogg Photography as a collaboration with a short story Jasmine wrote for LITRO magazine on embracing the shadow. 

Advertisements

Free up Your Flow With Yoga Dance

I’m all about creative collaboration as I think one of the most inspiring ways to work can be with another human whose unique skills complement your own. That’s why my friend, Scout, who is a dance teacher, and I decided to design and run our own Yoga Dance workshops in Newcastle, UK. The idea was to encourage free movement in the dance combined with the therapeutic benefits of yoga breath work and postures.

Each workshop is themed and we set an intention at the start just like in a usual yoga class. The difference is that we play music throughout, we are not confined to the mat and alongside regular yoga postures there are also guided dance movement exercises, partner work, group games and more!

I am now traveling South America and Scout is pursuing her own creative dreams in London. I taught a Yoga Dance workshop in Brazil recently with participants from all over the world! People fully embraced the free movement of the dance and gave some very positive feedback after. They particularly enjoyed the combination of beginning with a meditation and stretches, ending with Savasana and being free to flow and dance in between.

So, in order to spread the joy of Yoga Dance around the world, I made a playlist that you can listen to at home! All you have to do is roll out your mat, pop the speakers on and let yourself flow. There’s no need to think or plan, just feel. Ask your body “How do you want to move?” and let the answers come naturally. Invite in a sense of fluidity to the movement by listening to the music and allowing your limbs to follow the rhythm of each track.

Click Here for the Spotify playlist.

Enjoy!

Feature photo by Julia Gundlach for the Rosemary Dream Project

Different Styles of Yoga Explained

yoga yin
Photo of Jasmine assisting a student taken during class at Rosemary Dream, Brazil, by Brunda Brandao

People ask me all the time “so what type of yoga do you do then?”

The answer is so many different styles! Yoga itself is a lived experience that continues once the mat is rolled up but in terms of asana (posture) practice, I shake it up a lot depending on how my body is feeling and what my particular needs might be on any given day.

For my classes as well, I integrate different aspects of yoga into the class depending on the needs of the students or I teach specific classes like Restorative Yoga or Energising Flow so that people can choose a class based on what kind of practice they feel like doing.

When people who are completely new to the world of Yoga turn up to a studio seeing a whole bunch of names on the schedule that they may never of heard of before like “Vinyasa”, “Hatha” or “Iyengar” it can be difficult to know where to start and what it all means!

So we put together this really simple visual aid introducing 6 different types of yoga as part of a blog post originally written for The Rosemary Dream Project in Brazil.

yoga graphic

Chapter 1: Nature Connection & Shamanic Practices

img_20181228_123425_842

Taking a leap

At the end of November I flew out to sunny Brazil from cold England on a one way ticket. Before leaving I was anxious about the unknown, about having no fixed plans but somewhere inside I knew that I was ready to jump in and see where the current took me.

South America is home to all kinds of sacred practices from the wisdom and culture of indigenous peoples. Indigenous communities have been established across South America long before colonialism, and many of their ancient practices are still used today, bringing well being, healing and connection to nature. The violence towards indigenous communities and threat to their existence is still hugely problematic across the Americas.

I want to introduce just two of the practices that I’ve been lucky enough to partake in so far, thanks to the knowledge and sharing of the people I have met here. I write this having only spent 6 weeks here. There is so much more to learn about the rich and diverse culture of Brazil and the other countries I will travel here.

One thing that all the indigenous practices have in common is a respect for and connection to nature, which has made me reflect a lot on the relationship we have to nature in the West. I’ve been thinking about how the way colonialism tares apart indigenous communities is directly linked to the way capitalism and the western world disrespects and violates nature and the earth’s resources.

Here are 2 of the sacred practices I learnt about here in Brazil:

20181229_101515

Temazcal

A sweat lodge to purify the body, that originated with pre-Hispanic Indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica. We were lead in a Temazcal ceremony by our Brazilian shaman, Fernandez, along with her partner and their little boy. It involves entering a small enclosed space. Hot rocks are heated in a fire and brought into the centre of the dome. The ceremony takes place in the dark and the heat.

I’m not going to write too much about the details of the experience because it’s one of those special things that can’t really be described with the limitations of language. Also if you ever want to do it, I think it’s best to do it with no pre-judgements of what it may or may not be like. I will say that the whole process is supposed to symbolise re-entering the womb space, connecting to your birth mother and grandmother and to the whole universe. When you exit the space it symbolises a rebirth. After the ceremony I felt purified, calm, connected and very very sleepy!

Silence, solitude and fasting

I was inspired by the Vision Quest which is a rite of passage in some Native American cultures. It involves a fast for 4 days and 4 nights alone in nature in a spot specifically chosen by the elders for this sacred journey. This was intended for the young person to vision their purpose and see how they could best serve their community.

I decided myself to take just 2 nights and one full day alone in nature camping with the security of knowing the main house and other campers weren’t far. I wanted to challenge myself but not too extremely for my first fast in silence! I fasted from food but still drinking some water. In this time I discovered something very important to me, that embracing stillness and simply observing nature is full of joy. I felt like a child watching the ants with curiosity and getting excited by the simple colours of leaves or a butterfly passing by.

I was surprised that boredom is not something I felt. In fact I mostly felt an all-encompassing sensation of calm and gratitude for being able to take time to surrender to stillness in this way surrounded by the beauty of nature. There was no-where to go, nothing to do and I loved having nothing to say for once. It is from this place of deep rest that I emerged ready to live my purpose and the next weekend I ended up launching a new business collaborating with my design friend on a project to support change-makers across the world.

Towards the final hours of my fast on the last morning I had sleep paralysis and intensely vivid dreams in which I thought I was dying and was visited by someone from my past which healed a wound for me. I awoke feeling weak and shaky, I stumbled down through the forest to the house of the community I’m staying and my first words were actually “can you help me make breakfast?” to which a kind friend replied “of course, lie down, stay there” and brought me a delicious first meal.

img_20181206_065249_410

The next practice I am going to learn about is cacao ceremonies. Other things I’ve been involved in here include ecstatic dance, connection workshops, meditation, yoga, capoeira, woodwork, singing, hikes and fire ceremonies.

Usually words are my strong point but right now, I actually don’t have the words to fully describe this place and all that I’ve experienced so far. All I can say is that I feel connected and in flow and am incredibly grateful.

To all my friends and family back home, and around the world, sending love, peace and big hugs your way!

img-20181227-wa0012

 

Ayurvedic herbs and spices

Introducing Ayurveda

Ayurveda is a system and philosophy of health from ancient India. It is based on the concept of bringing balance to the mind, body and soul, which are seen as intrinsically linked. This can be a complex topic so I’ve broken it down into a brief introduction.

Ayurvedic herbs and spices
Photo by Bruna Brandao

What is Ayurveda?

In Sanskrit Ayurveda translates to “the science, or knowledge, of life.” This shows that Ayurveda is an all-encompassing set of systems that works with many different factors in an individual’s life such as diet, lifestyle, Yoga practices, sleep, connection to nature and more. It is a holistic approach to healing and is known as one of the world’s oldest systems of medicine.

In Ayurveda there are 3 doshas – Vata, Pita, Kapha – which define 3 different types or categories. They are derived from the 5 elements which are ether, air, fire, water and earth. Each element can be understood and experienced by the energy and principles that they are associated with. The doshas convey particular physical, emotional and mental characteristics.

To read more follow this link to The Rosemary Dream website who I wrote this article for!

Moving Through Autumn With Yoga and Ayurveda

 

As we come up to the Autumn Equinox, we prepare to move from the lighter days and high energy of summer into a slower pace of Autumn. Our bodies and energy levels can be highly influenced by our environment and the natural cycles so it can be wise to adapt our Yoga practice to suit the seasonal change. Autumn is a time for gathering energy for the upcoming winter, as well as for taking stock after the summer just passed. Nature slows down the pace after the productive summer where flowers burst into bloom and there was an abundance of fruit and vegetables. In autumn, we harvest nature’s bounty and the leaves on the trees begin to change colour before falling from their branches. In harmony with nature’s process, our bodies can also start to slow down and we can use this as an opportunity to reflect, take stock and let go.

Some themes to focus on throughout autumn are:

  • Celebration of abundance and giving.
  • Taking stock, reflecting on the year so far and cultivating gratitude.
  • Honouring change.
  • Regrowth.
  • Letting go.
  • Accepting impermanence.
  • Balancing light and dark.
  • Slowing down.
  • Grounding.

According to Ayurveda, a system and philosophy of health from ancient India, the vatah dosha is the predominant dosha associated with autumn. Vata governs movement in the body, the nervous system and the process of elimination. Its elements are air and ether. During the autumn, everyone can be prone to an imbalance of vata and can benefit from vata balancing practices during this season. Routine is really important to ground the restless moving quality of vata associated with wind and air. Irregular appetite, dry skin, changes in digestion, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, anxiety and feeling generally a bit all over the place can all be typical of vata imbalance and the autumnal season.

Ways to balance vata off the mat:

  • Routine: regular meal times, regular sleep times and practicing Yoga at a set time every day.
  • Try to get to sleep by 10 pm ideally and prioritise a bedtime routine. There is a suggested Yin Yoga bedtime sequence here.
  • Focus on drinking plenty of water.
  • Eat warming, freshly cooked foods.
  • Self-massage with warm oil.

Ways to balance vata on the mat:

  • Focus on grounding Yoga postures or more so, focus on bringing a grounding element to your Yoga practice. This could be bringing awareness to the solid foundations of the earth beneath, paying attention to the feet and how they connect to the floor in all standing postures and noticing all points of contact between the body and the mat in all seated postures.
  • Core strengthening excercises.
  • Engagement of the bandhas to access the deep front line.
  • Consider a regular meditation practice and dedicating time to pranayama. Autumn and winter can also be a good time to practice Yin, Yoga Nidra and give yourself more time than usual for savasana.

When we move through the transition of seasonal change with an appreciation of the natural cycles and honour the effects that the rhythms of nature have on our own mind, body and spirit then we can begin to find balance, ease and a sense of belonging. I hope that some of these suggestions were helpful. I also have three videos to share with you for your home practice that are particularly good for the autumn.

A grounding asana practice (20 mins) good for connecting to your roots, tapping into your inner stability and building strength. I find this type of practice very beneficial when I’ve been a bit all over the place with my mind running in 100 different directions at once and I need to LAND back on the earth, back into my body.

Autumn can also bring with it feeling run down or catching a cold so I made a very gentle Yoga video for when you’re unwell (17 mins).

This is a great practice to help you feel grounded and connected. This guided meditation and short visualisation follows the theme of Autumn. As the leaves begin to fall, we can take the time to sit with ourselves, tune in and notice what we are ready to let go of ourselves.

Meditation: Getting Started

An introduction to meditation written by Jasmine Sara for ROSEMARY DREAM, outlining 6 different techniques to cultivate inner calm and focus.

Meditation Graphic

Meditation is a practice to cultivate inner peace. It’s a way to bring the practicing individual to the present moment so that they can rest in awareness of what is. Meditation is not about being “better” at anything. More so it’s a practice of simply “being” full stop. It’s a technique to invite awareness, helping to focus the mind so it can let go of becoming lost in endless trains of thought or of any attachments to these thoughts.

A lot of people notice the mind can get distracted easily during meditation, which for me is a great example of why it is called a “practice” because it’s learning how to train the mind to focus which really does take practice! Like most things, the experience can differ greatly from one day to the next. The idea is to let go of any attachment to the experience so that rather than there being a “good” or “bad” experience of meditation there is only an experience. This means letting go of the desire to grasp hold of the experience if one practice feels incredibly peaceful and to let go of any feelings of frustration if during another practice the mind seems to be continuously distracted. With meditation, we accept all that arises and welcome it without judgement, even the stuff that we may rather not be feeling or thinking about.

There are many different techniques that a person can practice for their meditation such as mindfulness, breathing exercises, chanting, visualisation, focusing the mind on one sound, listening to guided mediations and numerous other techniques. Some meditations can be done lying down, walking or moving but many are done sitting still and upright with a long spine. Some people may feel good sitting cross legged on the floor, whereas others may be more comfortable sitting on a chair. It’s really about finding what works best for each person.

There are many different types of meditation rooted in various traditions such as Buddhism, Taoism and Yoga. Because of how vast the world of meditation is, when starting out it can sometimes be difficult to know where to begin and which technique to choose! So I’ve outlined here 6 different techniques. Some people like to try them all then choose one to stick with, others like to pick one and commit straight away and others like to practice a variety of different techniques on different days or at different times depending what they feel like in the moment. The great thing about any wellbeing practice is that each person gets to choose whatever they feel works for them.

For the below techniques, a good way to start is to set a timer for 10 minutes and resolve to stay the course for the full duration of the allotted time. All are carried out with the eyes closed unless stated otherwise. For all techniques, begin by arriving in the space. This can be done by taking a few full breaths, noticing the sit bones rooting into the surface beneath and feeling for the crown of the head reaching up towards the sky.

Breath Focus

Follow the inhale and exhale all around the body so the awareness stays with the breath, without consciously changing the breath. Notice how it feels to breathe in and out, the way the chest rises and falls and the way the body fills up with air then releases. Notice if there is a natural pause between breaths. If it helps to stay focused on the breath then count the inhales and exhales. Every time the mind moves away from breath focus, gently bring the attention back to the breath.

Candle Meditation

This can be done in a dark room if that feels comfortable. Light a candle and place it at around eye level so that it can be looked at without slumping the body over. Keep the eyes open, still and focused on the flame of the candle, simply staring at the light throughout the meditation.

Grounding & Connecting Visualisation

In the mind’s eye visualise a tree with its strong sturdy trunk, roots that ground down into the earth and branches that reach up towards the sunlight above. Bringing the awareness to your own body, imagine roots growing down from the sit bones and digging down deep into the soil. Stay with this for some time then imagine the head absorbing light from above. This could be seen as an energising white light pouring down into the body through the crown of the head, connecting you to the wider universe.

Gratitude Reflection

This is time to focus on expressing gratitude for all the people and things you are grateful for. This means reflecting on all the blessings in life. Blessings in disguise can be included which refers to those things that might be experienced as painful but hold a lesson or message.

Body Scan

Move the awareness around the body noticing physical sensations from the top of the head to the tips of the toes. Notice everything about how the body feels and consciously relax or soften any areas of tension.

Loving-Kindness

This comes from the Buddhist tradition of Metta meditation. In the mind and heart generate feelings of kindness, benevolence and compassion. Begin by offering these feelings of loving-kindness towards yourself, then bring to mind’s eye a good friend and develop these feelings of loving kindness towards them. Next, a person considered as “neutral” then a person considered as “difficult”. Extend that loving kindness to all 4 beings then gradually extend it out to the entire universe.

These 6 techniques are all a great way to begin practicing meditation. Some may appeal more than others but all are beneficial, especially if practiced daily/regularly. It’s also very helpful to have the guidance of a teacher or to practice in groups, as well as alone. The most important thing is for each person to find what feels right for them in crafting their own path of cultivating wellbeing.