As the River Flows – Why Yoga Helps Heal Depression

There is an old joke that goes something like: “What is a human being?” Answer: “A container invented by water, so that it can move around.”

Our body consists of almost two-thirds water, and as we all know, even a little lack of water can lead to discomfort and serious dehydration to disease and even death. What is less commonly recognized is how important the movement of all sorts of water-derived fluids throughout our system is for our health and well-being. Let me venture this: As this river of life flows through our body, so does the expression of our life force. Block its flow, and the flow of the life force within you will be blocked.

It is well-known that movement, or exercise, and in particular yoga asanas and yogic breathing help relieve depression and anxiety. How you ever wondered why? Again, as the river flows, so does our life force. When our life force flows freely and unrestricted, we can conquer mountains. If that light is dimmed; we lose our energy and zest for life, and even small problems seem insurmountable. We may even face that dark night of the soul that depression sufferers know all too well.

It is in recognition of this simple truth that Amy Weintraub, well-known for her international known with yoga for depression, named her particular approach to working with yoga to combat depression LifeForce Yoga.

There are energetic aspects to depression and anxiety, end these are encompassed by this simple concept as well. But even just looking at the physiology, the life force analogy makes much sense. Most all of our physiological processes are dependent upon the movement of fluids through our system, be it the delivery of nutrients, oxygen, hormones, digestive enzymes, and antibodies to the tissues where they are needed or the flow of lymph and the removal of waste products from the intracellular matrix. Most systems of natural health point consider blocked circulatory channels a major factor in the development of disease.

The River of Life

The network of blood-carrying capillaries in the body is estimated to be 50,000 to 60,000 miles long—a lot of miles for traffic jams to arise! And that doesn’t even count the capillaries and vessels of the secondary circulatory system, the lymphatic system, which is responsible for immune functions and the removal of waste products. When circulation of the blood and movement of lymph is restricted, all functions of the body suffer.

The lymphatic system, in fact, may be one of the most overlooked systems in the body, yet it is vitally important for our health. The lymphatic system is an important circulatory system in its own right; in fact, the body contains about 50% more lymphatic fluid than blood.

When not working efficiently, the lymphatic system reduces the ability for the brain and other organs to do their work. Toxins normally filtered out and destroyed by the lymph system are offloaded onto other organs, and overloading them. As happens in the intestine and colon with poor health and nutrition habits, stagnant lymph fluid may contain old deposits of dead bacteria, metabolic toxins, and dead cells.

While the cardio-vascular system circulates oxygen and nutrients in the body; the lymphatic system eliminates waste products and detoxifies cells and organs. Both are equally important. The wisdom of the body has “songs of healing” already built in, to heal you, but the messages in this biochemical music can’t get through to the cells, if the lymph fluid is not circulating well.

Unlike the cardiovascular system, the lymphatic system has no dedicated pump of its own. It relies on, yes, movement and breath, for its circulation. By relieving chronic muscle tension and stimulating vasodilation, expansion of the capillaries, yoga asanas, and exercise in general, frees up the circulation of lymph and improves lymphatic drainage. The result is enhanced tissue nourishment, more effective detoxification, and increased overall well-being.

Freeing Energetic Blockages

Of course, this discussion concerns only the mechanical effects of yoga asanas and pranayama,  actually offering only a mere glimpse of these. But we are much more than a mechanical confluence of muscles, skin, and bones, and yoga’s therapeutic benefits, of course, derive from much more than the manipulation of physical components. The underlying reality pattern of the body is an interplay of energy currents, in which physics, chemistry and quanta of energies interface with the nebulous, fundamental reality of consciousness.

As such, any yoga practice involves not just physical, but emotional and spiritual components as well. In this framework, there is no real distinction between blocked energy and tension causing dysfunction in the musculoskeletal system and past blocked emotions or emotionally charged memories stored in the mind-body system. As such, as yoga enhances flow, it can be a means to release blocked energy trapped in the bodily tissues. When muscular tension is released, so are often long-forgotten emotions or blocked memories.

As Swami Ambikananda Sarawati, author of Healing Yoga, puts it, “We hold the past in our bodies, as well as in our minds.”

The healing benefits of yoga, ultimately, arise in the interface between classical physics and quantum energy, in the fundamental reality of consciousness that precedes mind and matter. True healing takes place in this space, simply by paving the way for the body’s own healing intelligence to awaken and remove pain and imbalance.  For this to take place, we simply have to be present, and allow the newly freed flow of the force of life within us to nourish, heal, and restore mind and body to wholeness.

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