Originally published in the Summer + Fall 2020 issue.
How can a yoga pose like standing on your head alleviate depression and anxiety? Well, for one thing, it changes your perspective, which can reduce stress and foster a sense of balance.
“Yoga is proven to help treat and prevent depression and anxiety. It’s a management tool and a prevention measure,” says Jana Stratton, manager of Yoga Pod Fort Collins.
When combined with essential oils, which can shift mental states immediately through our powerful sense of smell, yoga can really help soothe and uplift spirits.
“Practicing ujjayi breath (victorious breath) is one of the most effective and accessible tools to shift your mental state,” says Leslie Glenn, a yoga teacher in Breckenridge. The breath involves constricting your throat to create a longer and more balanced breath cycle. The oceanic sounds it produces also encourages focus and mindfulness.
To perform ujjayi breath, breathe through your nose and slightly constrict your throat, as if you are breathing in through a small straw, until you hear a soft whispering sound. Practicing this deepens meditative experiences and the quality of every pose. Adding eucalyptus oil to the breathing exercise aids in moving from distraction to focus.
While practicing the following seven poses for depression and anxiety, choose only one or two essential oils to use on any given day based on your intended result; using all seven oils at once would likely overwhelm the senses.
EAGLE POSE (GARUDASANA)
“This balance pose requires deep concentration and is extremely valuable to shift from a scattered or overwhelmed state to a sense of pure presence,” Glenn explains.
HOW TO: Stand tall and fix your gaze on one single point. Transfer your weight onto the right foot and softly bend the knee. Lift your left leg up and cross it over the right. Hug the thighs together and shins towards one another. Use a block under the left foot for more stability, or point your left toes and hook your left ankle behind the right calf. Pause to create stability in your lower body and then wrap the left arm under the right as if you were giving yourself a big hug. Snug the elbows towards one another, lift the forearms perpendicular to the floor to bring the back of the hands to face one another and hook at the wrists, if possible. Enjoy the ebbs and flows of this balance challenge to build resilience on and off the mat. Hold for five to 10 breaths and then switch sides.
Essential oil to move from imbalanced to balanced: doTERRA Balance Grounding Blend or Frankincense
CHILD’S POSE (BALASANA)
“As we rest with the forehead down on the mat in child’s pose, our senses turn inward and the body and mind experience an inherent grounding. Our sometimes overwhelming or overstimulating world is able to transition to a state of quiet stillness. The forward folding shape and hip opening position invites us to calm the rhythms of the mind and rest in presence. The overall shape allows us feel supported and connect with our innate state of balance and wellbeing,” Glenn says.
HOW TO: Start in a table top position with your hands grounded under your shoulders and knees under the hips. Position your knees wider than your hips with your toes touching. Sink your hips back to your heels and stretch your arms toward the front of your mat. Settle your forehead on the mat or on a block. Allow the body to breathe and settle. Hold for 10 to 15 breaths.
Essential oil to move from ungrounded to grounded: Vetiver Oil
BRIDGE POSE (SETU BANDHA SARVANGASANA)
Spending a lot of time rounding our shoulders while computing, driving or looking at our phones can result in a protective position. This pose helps open the shoulders and chest “as we strive to meet each moment with an open mind and an open heart,” Glenn adds.
HOW TO: Lay on your back and bend your knees up the sky. Bring your heels in close to your glutes and press your arms down along your sides. Press into the feet and lift your hips up. Optional: Bring your hands to interlock underneath the low back. Hold for five to 10 breaths.
Essential oil to move from closed to open, or uninspired to inspired: Neroli Oil
RECLINED TWIST (JATHARA PARIVARTANASANA)
“Twists help the body and mind to assimilate the world and help us tune into a state of balance. They also aid in digestion — our physical digestion of food, as well as the digestion of our experiences into wisdom,” Glenn says.
HOW TO: Lay on your back with your arms perpendicular to the body. Bring your knees into your chest and then over to the right side. Gaze to the left. Hold for five to 10 breaths and then repeat on other side.
Essential oil to move from overwhelmed to collected: Bergamot
LEGS UP THE WALL (VIPARITA KARANI)
This is the ultimate reset. It’s a gentle inversion and a great way to shift your perspective, calm the body and the mind, according to Glenn.
HOW TO: Sit with your right hip touching the wall. Roll to the right until your back connects with the floor and your legs extend up the wall. Find a comfortable distance from the wall where you can settle in and stay for five to 10 minutes.
Essential oil to move from feeling unheard to worthy: Lavender
HEAD STAND (SHIRSHASANA)
“Anytime you invert the body, it stimulates blood flow to your head, which activates the detoxification of your adrenal glands and helps drain the lymphatic system. Switching the body’s blood flow increases the availability of oxygen and glucose in the body, which is like food in your brain; when the brain has food, it increases [hormones like] serotonin and dopamine. In the esoteric sense, it flips your perspective, changing where you are at in space,” Stratton explains.
HOW TO: Begin on your hands, with knees and forearms shoulder-width apart. Clasp your hands and lift your knees off the ground and reach up, through the heels. Intermediates can do a shoulder stand (rock back onto the shoulders). Beginners can do downward dog to get the benefit of inversion.
Essential oil to activate crown chakra: Lavender, citrus or mint
WIDE LEG FORWARD FOLD (PRASARITA PADOTTANASANA)
Forward folds encourage us to move our attention inward. “As you breathe into the fold, you are invited to experience an inner calm present in the both body and the mind,” Glenn says. This variation also provides the benefit of a subtle inversion, since the head is below the heart.
HOW TO: Lift the arms out perpendicular to the body and step your feet out as wide as your wrists on either side, about 3.5 to 4 feet apart, depending on your height. Lower your hands to your hips and fold from the hips into a wide leg forward fold. Rest your hands on the mat under the shoulders, on a block or with your first two fingers and thumb around each big toe with the elbows bent out to the sides. Hold for five to 10 breaths.
Essential oil to move from unsettled to calm: Cedarwood
Photos by Kim Fuller.