Now that the sparkle of holiday lights has faded, winter’s darkness and chill has fully set in. Few of us are surprised when we find ourselves feeling stuck and probably at least a bit depressed. Like a stern schoolmaster, winter extracts from us qualities we would never have brought out ourselves intentionally.
Depression is a mercurial thing. Does a feeling of heaviness greet us when we awaken in the darkened morning? Is it a fleeting bad mood? Are we just “processing” something? Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States and countless self-help books address it. We dread it. And shame does not take long to follow.
But as we know that the darkness helps us see the stars, these “stars” can metaphorically represent the subtle patterns in our own lives. These patterns (clues) are hard to read during normal busy days. But in the quietude and darkness of winter we begin to notice patterns otherwise unnoticed. Though it is often grueling effort, in time we come to understand that this darker period is fertile ground for us to do deeper work, work that can set us free if we let it, gritty work that we would probably not do otherwise.
What is this work? Observation.
For those of us committed to living life fully and consciously, this is a gift rather than a curse, if we allow it to be*. As my recent essay explained, this difficult place we find ourselves in can be alchemical for us, both deeply informative and transformative.
In yoga, depression is an imbalance of the seventh chakra (one of the body’s seven energy centers), which is located at the crown of the head. It is our connection to Spirit, or Source. Energy moves in through this seventh chakra (the analogy of a radio receiver works well here) and is filtered by the sixth chakra, the intuitive mind. We get a sensation or a gut feeling: “don’t walk down that dark alley”, for example, or “write that book”, “take an art class”.
When the seventh chakra is open and balanced, we are in the flow, tapped into our life purpose, and connected to doing what we love. When this chakra is imbalanced, we are out of touch with our life purpose and feeling disconnected from that which is meaningful. Here, depression sets in—that feeling of hopelessness that can impact us in truly devastating ways.
In my personal experience, handling the more superficial depression helps in staving off the deeper depression, so it’s a valuable investment of our time.* Do these suggested activities each day to help turn your depression into a treasure trove of spiritual gold:
Exercise boosts your mood. Any exercise that gets you body flowing works - walking, biking, jogging, and so on, is great but yoga can be helpful as it is intended specifically to balance the seven chakras. In a class, see if you can focus on inversions safely (headstand, shoulder stand, even down dog.)
Journaling is good for the mind. Grab a journal and put it by your nightstand. Before you get out of bed to go to work etc, write free form. No edits, no worries about structure. Just let it all out on the page. (Check out Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way for helpful hints on how.)
Meditation is listening (observing). Spend quiet time (maybe after writing in the a.m.?) and listen to any discomfort you are having. Just notice.
Joseph Campbell has said follow your bliss. When you listen to your gut/intuition, what comes up? Before the doubt, is there a joy? Follow that. Sit with it, and write about it. See if there is some small thing you can do today to activate this pleasure principle. This way, you begin to feel your way to your own magnificent future, rather than just intellectualizing it. Use your pleasure emotions as an emotional guidance system—your own personal inner GPS.
*Note: This essay addresses minor depression. If you are experiencing major depression, please reach out for professional support.