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My journey through depression with yoga and Reiki

gratitude journal and yoga for depression

I was first diagnosed with depression as a teenager. I started my healing work with a counsellor right away. I was prescribed anti-depressants at 20, although I didn't continue taking them for very long. The first time I tried yoga I was 21. I can't tell you why I wanted to do yoga, I just did. It wasn't common in 2001 like it is now. I wasn't aware of any yoga studios in the city where I lived. I used a VHS tape called The Joy of Yoga. I had my first Reiki session in 2003.


Yoga and Reiki taught me so much about depression. Depression taught me so much about yoga and Reiki. This journey taught me so much about healing work, the human experience and the purpose of all of this.


My experience of depression is unique to me. I appreciate and recognize that mental health can be complicated and it is not my intention to over simplify or tell others what they should do. I intend only to share my personal experience and insights.


Depression for me came in waves. In the 26 years since I became aware of my depression I have experienced the deep depths to the bottom and the rise out and up to bliss and true inner peace many times. Waves down into the darkness and pain often lasted a few months at a time. I would often start to feel a knowing that it was coming and during the up times which fortunately could last several months to a year or more I was full of gratitude to know what real peace could feel like and that every state is temporary. Interestingly, in the past year I feel very different. I finally feel free of the waves. I no longer feel like I am vulnerable to depression anymore. I truly believe I am finally free because of all of the work I have done. I'm not afraid of dropping into the deep anymore.


Yoga

I didn't know what the benefits of yoga were when I rolled out my mat for the first time. In the beginning I found it physically challenging. It took a lot of discipline and a few tries to complete the full session but when I did what I experienced in savasana taught me so much about depression. Namaste is the other end of the spectrum from depression.


The way that I experienced depression was a mind cluttered with excessive thoughts. I had the awareness that many of the thoughts and beliefs running through my head like a mess of trains travelling in all directions at once were toxic. As an observer of these thoughts I could recognize that my healthy self didn't believe many of these things, but in these periods of depression, I did. These were times of deep pain, times of fatigue and a loss of motivation or purpose.


Lying on my yoga mat in savasana I experienced a quiet mind. The trains were gone. I experienced Namaste. I now had a true experience of the light within myself with a knowing that this light was within everyone, underneath all of their trains (pain), thoughts and belief (ego).


I started doing yoga most mornings. For me it was like taking out the trash and starting the day with a clear mind. In my mid 20s the movie The Secret came out and I added gratitude journalling to my practice. I loved how empowered I felt having yoga and gratitude as tools to keep me not just well, but high.


I also had a pattern of falling off of the wagon, allowing myself to get busy with other things or straying from my daily practice and after weeks or months of not doing yoga, depression would return. It would return gradually but with it came a lack of care for myself. That's the thing about depression. I knew what was good for me and that it worked, but in these times of pain and fatigue I no longer cared enough about myself to do it. As painful as it is, you have to feel worthy of not feeling pain and have the energy to do the things to come out of it. Each time I dropped down I'd have to go all of the way to the bottom before I would get so sick of myself that I'd return to my daily practice. It was like my feet had to hit the bottom of the lake before I could push off. The return to the top was much faster than the descent, fortunately. A return to daily yoga worked every time for me.


Reiki

I couldn't afford my first Reiki session, but I did it anyway. I didn't know what Reiki was, I just knew I needed it. It was an excruciating time in my life. I had recently ended a toxic relationship, I was broke and left with an overwhelming debt from that relationship, I was very underweight. I have this vivid memory of a child yelling at me from a schoolyard across the street from where I lived asking me if I was anorexic. I was so unwell.


My first Reiki session was with Shawn. I grew up with Shawn. I knew he did Reiki, although I didn't really know what it was. Reiki is such a simple modality and yet at times of deep pain, it brings enough reprieve and energy to help me return to the things that are good for me again. It was like I healed and processed what was up for me much faster. I felt like that energy healing session helped me heal 95% of what needed to be healed from that breakup and dark time. It wasn't a bypass, it was a genuine fast forward through the healing. What a gift.


I continued to use Reiki during the low waves but also during times of light. When Shawn moved to Toronto I found Suzanne. I remember showing up to Suzanne's for my appointment my face puffy from crying. She was such a safe space and Reiki brought so much light that I could skip away from my session's because I felt so much lighter.


In Reiki we have a secret symbol we use for distance healing. Distance healing is possible because Reiki is not limited by time and space. The meaning of this symbol is the light within me honours the light within you. Reiki has the same effect as savasana at the end of a long enough yoga practice.


What I learned

Depression to me is a forgetting of who we really are. The ego or pain body is so loud that all we can feel is our pain. I do believe from my experience that this pain does serve a purpose. For me depression has gifted me opportunities to heal. Each journey down into the depths was a death of a part of me. Each return to the bliss was a rebirth. Each rebirth was a remembering of who I really am and who we all really are, light.


I didn't talk about it in this post, but ongoing counselling has also been a big part of my journey. I was so fortunate to have an amazing counsellor from the time I was 18. I still see her sometimes despite her attempts to retire. She taught me a lot about space holding, validating feelings and being comfortable with people's discomfort. Perhaps that can be for another post.


If you are experiencing depression, in addition to working with your healthcare provider I definitely recommend you try Reiki and yoga. If I could go back in time to talk to myself in those early times of depression I would just want me to know that I never regretted not giving up. The times of peace and happiness were worth all of the dark excruciating times. I would give myself permission to let it be big during those dark times. It's okay to be tired, it's okay to rest, it's okay to feel your pain for that time. Our pain is valid. Human suffering is real. I truly believe our purpose for having these human experiences is to heal. Healing happens in the feeling and the pain did serve a purpose.


yoga asana
Michelle doing yoga in 2010



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