this article can be found in the latest RI Monthly
Q+A with Joy Bennett, All That Matters Yoga Instructor
Joy Bennett struggled with depression for years until a regular yoga practice helped her recover. Today, as a LifeForce Yoga instructor, she visits studios from Lincoln to Wakefield to share a yoga style designed specifically to manage mood.
How did you discover yoga?
Quite by accident, actually. A number of years ago, I was in the throes of a deep depression and started attending a gentle yoga class on Thursday mornings, mainly because I was sick of being alone all day. After a few classes, I noticed that Thursday became the one day of the week that I did not cry. So I kept practicing yoga, and I kept getting better. I realized that going to class was not about accomplishing the perfect posture but learning to build a new relationship with my body and spirit. It made such a difference in my life that I eventually decided to reach out to others who are suffering—first becoming a yoga teacher and then studying further with LifeForce Yoga Healing Institute founding director Amy Weintraub.
What is it about this type of yoga that helps relieve anxiety and depression?
The breathing techniques work to bring prana (life force) into the body. Depression is an absence of prana. Working through the postures and the breathing, the person is able to let go of obstructions and drop some of the loss or grief stored in the body. Yoga can also balance the biochemistry of the brain and stimulate the endocrine system to create a state of healing relaxation. There are aspects of the class you might find in others, but Amy took the things that are most powerful for balancing the mood and packaged them into a greatest hits line-up.
Doesn’t all yoga help mood to some extent?
Not necessarily. Some styles are very vigorous and practiced in a heated room, which can actually exacerbate an anxiety attack. For someone who is depressed, I think there are two speeds of yoga: slow and slower. A relaxing style is going to do more for them than a vigorous class with demanding postures, which could set them up for failure and bring them over the edge.
If someone’s in the depths of depression or on the verge of a panic attack, what is something simple and effective they can do that might provide some relief? First, I’d tell them not to forget to breathe. At this point they might not be ready to do a more complicated posture, but here’s a helpful pranayama technique: Count the beats of your breath with a pause at the top of the inhalation and the bottom of the exhalation. So, you might inhale for four counts, hold for another four, exhale for six counts and hold it out for two. You can tailor the counts to what feels best.
Should people practice LifeForce Yoga on its own or in conjunction with other treatment methods? LifeForce Yoga can be an important component of mental health, but I encourage my students to explore all the resources available, which also include medication and talk therapy. My husband is actually a psychiatrist, and I help out in his office, so I’ve seen the positive affects of medication, too. Some people who try this type of yoga think it will help them get off of their medication, but I think it can all work together.
—Jenna Pelletierfor another glimpse of joy click here