MHA is honored to share Amy Weintraub's response to our request asking if she would contribute to the Get On Your Mat For Mental Health blog. If you are new to Amy Weintraub, scroll down to read more about her and her pioneering work and book, "Yoga For Depression".
GET ON YOUR MAT FOR MENTAL HEALTH, MHA's mega outdoor yoga event is next week, Wednesday, June 20 at 5:30 pm. Register ($10) at www.mhawestchester.org
The practice of yoga can help us stay connected with ourselves emotionally. If we’re paying attention to our breathing and to sensation in the body as we practice, yoga becomes a portal into what we are truly feeling. The practice allows us to witness what is arising in the body-mind, with less reactivity, so we are able to respond to life’s challenges without reacting to them.
Yoga helps support overall emotional health. First, there’s the cultivation of what the yogi’s call “witness consciousness.” This sense of witnessing helps us realize that yes, we have emotions, but we are so much more than the current mood, so much more than the self-limiting beliefs we may have about ourselves or the world. Yoga, including yogic breathing called pranayama, begins to clear the constrictions we may have around the every day challenges we face.
We feel more expansive and spacious within, and more connected to others without. It’s not surprising that we have this subjective experience of reconnecting with ourselves and with others, because that’s exactly what’s happening bio-chemically. Research has shown that we are lowering the stress hormone cortisol when we practice yoga, and we are raising GABA levels, a neurotransmitter that protects us from anxiety and depression. We are also raising oxytocin levels, the ”bonding” hormone that allows us to feel more connected to others.
Although there are specific poses that a beginner can do that can help us keep emotionally balanced and connected it’s hard to isolate poses out of the context of a breathing and centering practice. I would recommend a class or an instructional DVD—some type of formal instruction for a beginner. But in general, a simple forward bend is calming. Back-bending poses are more energizing. A simple supported backbend, combined with deep yogic diaphragmatic breathing through the nostrils, extending the exhalation longer than the inhalation can both lift the mood and calm the central nervous system.
In my own life, to stay balanced, wherever I am (and I travel quite a bit!) I practice every morning, usually at sunrise, and wherever I am, I try to be outside as the sun rises to practice some pranayama breathing and some standing, strengthening poses. Throughout the day, I may stop for a moment to shift the energy with a smile breath. I begin by closing my eyes and breathing deeply into the bottom of the lungs. Next, I drop my chin to my chest as I exhale. Then I lift the corners of my mouth, lift my head, inhale and open my eyes. It’s a five-second lightening-up mood elevator. Smile breath creates a real paradigm shift in my mood. Before I get out of bed, I start my morning with yoga nidra, which means Yogic sleep. Yoga Nidra is a guided meditation that reminds me of who I truly am, beneath the current mood or the morning stiffness in my body.
Amy Weintraub, MFA, E-RYT 500, founding director of the LifeForce Yoga Healing Institute, the author of Yoga for Depression (Broadway Books, 2004) and Yoga Skills for Therapists: Effective Practices for Mood Management (W.W. Norton, 2012), has been a pioneer in the field of yoga and mental health for over twenty years. She offers the LifeForce Yoga Practitioner Training for Depression and Anxiety to health and yoga professionals and offers workshops for every day practitioners. The LifeForce Yoga protocol is being used in residential treatment centers, hospitals and by health care providers around the world and is featured on the LifeForce Yoga® CD Series and the first DVD home Yoga practice series for mood management, the award-winning LifeForce Yoga® to Beat the Blues, Level 1 & Level 2. She is an invited speaker at conferences internationally and is involved in ongoing research on the effects of yoga on mood. She edits a bi-monthly newsletter that includes current research, news and media reviews on Yoga and mental health.
Amy leads workshops and professional trainings at academic and psychology conferences internationally at such venues as the Boston University Graduate School of Psychology, the University of Arizona Medical School, the Psychotherapy Networker Symposium, the Integrative Mental Health Conference, the Cape Cod Institute, Kripalu Center, Omega Institute, Sivananda Ashram, Yogaville, Esalen, Patanjali University in Haridwar, India and Yoga studios throughout the United States.
Amy’s recovery from depression began more than thirty years ago on her meditation cushion, but it wasn’t until she began a daily Hatha Yoga practice in 1988 after her first visit to Kripalu Center that her mood stabilized. In addition to her Hatha Yoga studies in the US and India, Amy has been trained in Advaita Vedanta Nondualism, iRest Yoga Nidra, psychology and Internal Family Systems Therapy. Richard Miller is her mentor.
Amy has won numerous literary prizes for her short fiction, including national prizes from Writer’s Digest Magazine, Explorations and Wind. Her novel-in-progress, and her film documentaries have received awards from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, San Francisco State University, and many other national competitions. She also edits books on spiritual psychology, including the much-praised Yoga and the Quest for the True Self by Stephen Cope (Bantam). She holds the Master of Fine Arts degree in Writing and Literature from the Bennington Writing Seminars, Bennington College and currently lives in Tucson.