Fitness Magazine

Attachment (Raga), Depression, and Plan Z

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina

Attachment (Raga), Depression, and Plan Z

Plan E

Did you read my recent post about attachment Attachment (Raga) to Our Ideas About Ourselves? Because I’m starting to feel I’m going to be exploring this topic for some time. For one thing, just a couple of days someone close to me found out that he has heart disease, and I know this means he’s going to have to let go of some of his plans/dreams for his future. I don’t know how this is going to play out, but I know it will be painful for him because he was particularly “attached” to his vision of how he should live his life. Also, I know that Jill is going to write something very interesting about her attachment to her appearance. (Jill and I are having a very interesting time exploring the overlap between Buddhism and yoga philosophy.)

But for today I simply want to clarify something about my previous post, because a conversation on Facebook made me realize that something I said may have been misleading and I really want to be sure that I do not see meditation or a even well-rounded yoga practice as a cure for depression. I’ll begin with the Facebook comments from the reader, Lynn Somerstein, and me, and then I’ll comment further. (The really wonderful thing about this Facebook discussion was not only that it made me think, but I also ended up chatting with Lynn, who is a psychologist, a yoga teacher, and a writer, privately. So now we’re friends and may even work on some projects together in the future!)Lynn: Although I read your blog regularly and gladly, I think today's post is a dangerous oversimplification of what depression is, does, and how it should be treated. People who are depressed often are unable to meditate-- instead they focus on all that they feel is wrong and they experience this as meditation, rather than a symptom of their illness. Depressed people need therapeutic help.Nina: Sorry if you thought this was about depression. It is not. The person in question is getting professional help and medication. I always recommend that and consider yoga as a supplement only. However, I do think that part of recovering means being able to let go of certain things, and I know this from having gone through this myself (including therapy). I have written some about yoga for depression on the blog, which if you read those posts you will see that I never claim yoga can cure depression. –NinaLynn: Thanks Nina. Yoga and Psychotherapy together are a great help for depression and anxiety too. Thank you for answering my comment. I do read your every post. Namaste.The post I was referring to about the limits of yoga for helping with depression was Yoga is a great thing, but...., in which I addressed the issue directly. I addressed the issue of problems that people with depression, anxiety, and other emotional or mental imbalances might have with so-called "relaxing" poses in When Relaxing Isn't Relaxing. Baxter also wrote a relevant post  Friday Q&A: Can Meditation Be Dangerous? about this.After this discussion I contacted Lynn privately to ask if I could use her comments in a post and she agreed. After she agreed, I asked her if there was anything she wanted to add to her comments. By then, she had read my articles, and she sent me the following comment by email:
I agree, as you wrote in "Relaxing Isn't" that opening your eyes can help. For those who simply don't profit from meditation using a simple movement that can be connected with the breath, like walking or swimming, for example, may work better; as the body and breath unite, the mind quiets.

So, yes, just to be completely clear: I do not believe that meditation or yoga alone can cure depression, and anyone who is suffering from this illness should seek help from a professional. And thank you, Lynn, for helping me realize I needed to clarify this.
However, yoga can be a wonderful supplement in the recovery process, as the asana practice (like walking or swimming) can help get you out of your head and into your body, and sometimes can certain asanas can energize or calm you (depending on which you need). See Tamasic and Rajasic Depression. Patricia Walden, a senior Iyengar yoga teacher, who herself suffers from depression, teaches workshops on yoga for depression, and you can find out more about her work in Yoga As Medicine by Timothy McCall (Patricia was Timothy’s first main teacher, and he did his teacher training with her). I have taken her workshop several times, and have been very inspired by her work. I still believe, however, that for some people, part of the process of recovering from depression (and maybe this is an essential part of therapy, but I can't speak to that) includes letting go of certain attachments, including the agenda you had for your life. And before you can move on to that step, you need to be ready to admit that attachment, as Patanjali says, IS an affliction.
2.3 avidya asmita raga dvesha abhinevesha klesha

The five afflictions (klesas) which disturb the equilibrium of consciousness are: ignorance or lack of wisdom, ego, pride of the ego or the sense of ‘I,’ attachment to pleasure, aversion to pain, fear of death and clinging to life. —
Yoga Sutras, translation by Edwin Bryant 
To end on a lighter note, I’ll tell you a little story about letting go of plans that I’ll call “Plan Z.” On Sunday my companion and I went into New York City for lunch and a walk around Alphabet City (so many wonderful community gardens there!), and our plan was to take the PATH train home in the mid-afternoon and then do some work we needed to finish. Let’s call that Plan A. Well, it turned out the PATH was completely closed down due to a fire in the tunnel. So Plan B was splurge on a taxi (we weren’t going very far from home, and if there had been a way to walk across the Hudson river, we could just have walked). After a long time trying to flag one down and failing (Other people who couldn’t take the train? People leaving from the Climate March? Both?), we moved on to Plan C, which was calling Uber and/or a car service. Uber was surge pricing, which offended my companion, and we couldn't get through to the car service, so we came up with Plan D, which was to take a ferry to a certain city in New Jersey, and then walk home from there. Our backup plan for that was to go to Penn Station and take a train to Newark, but we knew by now that Penn Station was going to be super crowded. (My companion joked that Plan Z was that we would drink the entire bottle of artisan cucumber vodka we had purchased as a gift for someone and spend the night in Washington Square. Obviously, we weren’t going to do this, but it was a joke that we kept making that cheered us up, and also allowed us to discuss the whole concept of staying calm while letting go of plans in a light-hearted way—okay, maybe black humor—but we like that stuff.)We decided to walk on the High Line (the beautiful elevated park) to make the most of our walk to the ferry, but we were rushing a bit because it was getting later and later, and the ferries stopped at seven. When we finally made it to the ferry terminal we found that the ferries to the city we wanted to go to didn’t run on weekends, so we made a snap decision to take the ferry to Hoboken instead, and figured from there we could either take the light rail train or walk. We called this Plan E. Plan F was if we couldn’t get on that ferry, we’d go to Penn Station. Long story short-ish, we got the second ferry to Hoboken (some other people had the same idea about how to escape from Manhattan) and that had nice dinner in an outdoor restaurant. Refreshed after our rest and meal, we were able to walk the rest of the way home. Obviously, this “escape from Manhattan” could have been very stressful (we had reasons why we needed to get back home that night) but our joking about all our plans and backup plans and how we had to keep letting go of them, helped us stay calm and even enjoy many aspects of our adventure. There were people playing bagpipes below the High Line at one point—why?Subscribe to YOGA FOR HEALTHY AGING by Email ° FollowYoga for Healthy Agingon Facebook

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