Yoga and meditation for mental health
This June we are focusing on mental health, and the benefits of mindfulness and yoga to reduce anxiety and depression. We will be talking to mental health professionals and healers who are mixing mindfulness into their practice of helping others find peace within.
Up first we talked to Amberly Kelley-Dotson. Last month she finished her 500-hour certification through the American Viniyoga Institute’s Foundations Program for Teaching and Yoga Therapy. She weaves therapeutic yoga into her work as a recreational therapist, teaching clients how to use yoga and mindfulness in their daily lives to calm their thoughts. Visit her website to learn more about Amberly, book a therapy session, a private yoga class or sign up for her monthly Queer Yoga class.
Explain how yoga and meditation benefits mental health?
Amberly: I often think of yoga and meditation as just yoga. And not as two separate things. My teacher [Gary Kraftsow] says we use asanas to prepare our bodies to sit, so we can do pranayama to prepare our minds to be still, so that we can meditate, so we can become quiet.
It’s a stepwise process of learning to recognize that we are not our thoughts. And that thoughts come and go, and that’s the function of our brains. If we can find that separation, and reconnect with our true self, that inner seer, and see those thoughts – That’s a huge impact on the way we move through life and the way we do not get caught up in the spiral.
It’s like recognizing habit patterns. That is one of the beautiful things about a yoga practice. We can use asana to notice habitual movement patterns that may or may not be serving us. We can use pranayama to do the same for our breath and mediation to do the same for our thoughts.
Then once that pattern is established, it’s going to affect the way you move through the world.
How do you use Inner Space Yoga props in your teachings?
Amberly: Bolsters are fantastic for pregnancy, for anything reclined or side lying. I use them a lot for people in reclined position. I have several clients that are seniors and getting flat on the ground is something that is just not comfortable for them. So having props to elevate them to access postures that are beneficial to them is so helpful.
Using props helps people find a comfortable position where they can access rest. Rest is a necessary place to calm their mind. And that’s tricky for some people. So, anyway I can make that more acceptable, the better.
What poses do you teach the most, using a yoga bolster to help reduce anxiety and depression?
Amberly: If you can sit comfortably, the best thing you can do to relax the nervous system is breathing. When done safely, a forward bend has a nice soothing affect.
But my favorite pose to teach, and a lot of people don't know about it, is Cakravākāsana.
Cakravākāsana is s a movement. It is my favorite posture ever. It allows space to access all four parts of our breath. And you can’t necessarily do that in other asanas.
It’s like cat cow but it’s a little different. In this you are keeping your pelvis relatively neutral, and you use your hands as traction on the ground, lengthening your spine and lifting through the sternum, but not taking the tailbone up. That is on the inhale.
On an exhale, you go back, let your tailbone go under you, your elbows touch the floor and your forehead reaches towards the bolster. Keeping your feet apart, you can stretch your lower back more than if your feet are together.
- Uttanasana / Standing Forward Fold with bent knees
- Upavistha Konasana /Wide Angle Seated Forward Bend
- Adho Mukha Virasana /Child's pose
- Prasarita Padottasana / wide angle forward fold
- Paschimottanasana /seated forward bend Stretch of the western side
For breathing and meditation ideas, read our Meditation of the Month blog.