Breathing through Pain, or What Yoga taught me about Postpartum Depression & Anxiety

Long ago, a wise friend once told me, when I asked her why she practiced yoga so faithfully, “yoga has taught me to breathe through the pain.” And while she meant the pain of holding poses that sometimes defy gravity or common sense, she also meant the pain and frustrations of life.

That coin of wisdom rattled around in the back of my brain for a few years, never falling into the right slot evidently, until EV was about 18 months old. I decided as a new year’s resolution to try yoga as a way to feel at home in my body again. I committed to go one night a week and/or use my lunch break on my two work days to attend class. (Naturally, I didn’t want to get too sweaty and then go back to work. No Vinyassa flow classes for me, thank you very much! So Yin yoga or Iyengar yoga it was going to have to be.)

Having never tried Yin yoga before, I consulted my friend who is a yoga instructor up in the Bay Area. She informed me that she hates it because it’s too slow…so I had a feeling it was exactly what I needed. When you have a high-energy child who talks and walks early, doesn’t sleep much, and wants to do everything “by my own,” a space where I could focus on melting into a pose, breathing slowly, and the challenge was in being still and quiet sounded like heaven to me. It was. I cried. I needed that…like a mother. And as I laid there in Shavassana, or corpse pose, at the end, arms and legs splayed out, letting my spirit float away on my breath, leaving all worry and responsibility behind for a few moments, I felt intense gratitude for that time and space, but also, for the power of the breath.

I only make it to yoga class about once a week, but when I do, it stays with me, sustaining me as a person and as a mom, until next time.

Here are some of the key takeaways from yoga that have helped me on my journey through postpartum depression and anxiety:
  1. Whatever it is, if it hurts, breathe through it.

    I don’t always realize I’m holding my breath when I’m hurting–whether it’s the emotional pain of a loss that feels unbearable to me in that moment, the physical pain of getting kicked in the knee while carrying my tantruming toddler to safety, or one of those intense feelings of anxiety when all the fears and unknowns of life knock the wind out of me. When I remember to keep breathing, slow and steady, I can create calm in my mind and body. It’s biofeedback. When you breathe slowly instead of hyperventilating, you slow your heart rate as well, and then your body doesn’t physically feel anxious anymore. So go ahead. Take some big deep breaths, lion breaths, or sighs like you practiced for during labor. You’ve got this.

  2. Along those lines, breathe first and act second.

    If someone is unkind to you and you can’t function, let alone figure out how to respond, give yourself time to breathe first. We live in such an immediate response type of culture, but it’s ok to give yourself time before you react. Actually, when you stop, breath, and think first, you’ll probably like your response a little better. If you could use some help in this department (couldn’t we all!) download the app, Stop, Breath & Think. Listen to a meditation once a day for a few minutes and watch your patience grow as you practice breathing and mindfulness meditation.

  3. If your mind is not in a good place, count your breath!

    Count to four as you breathe in, hold for four, breathe out for four, and hold the emptiness for four. Repeat, repeat, repeat. This is what military snipers and emergency medical personnel trying to keep a trauma victim alive are trained to do. Counting your breath is not too simple to be effective. It’s for badasses. And you as a parent, doing a thousand things a day that no one notices, are actually keeping another human being alive. You are a badass. So breathe…in for four, hold for four, out for four, hold for four. (Practice it now.)

  4. Do something for you, at least once per day.

    You might not get to do something that takes a whole hour, like yoga, but do something that brings you joy. Even if it’s for 5 minutes, it will start to add up and create a positive shift in your mood. Take a shower. Read a book for pleasure. Drink a cup of tea. Plant something. Go for a walk. Dance it out. Savor a piece of dark chocolate. Have sex. Trade massages with your partner. Build something with Legos that your five-year-old self would be proud of. Send a friend an encouraging message. Or hold a yoga pose and breathe. 😉 If you’re in Reno, come join me for yoga at the Studio!


Want more? Read about more of my go-to coping tools here. 🙂

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