by Deborah Charnes
As we all learned tragically last month, Robin Williams, the man who brought immense joy and laughter to the world, was plagued by depression. His unexpected death has put a spotlight on this mysterious affliction that affects so many across the globe. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 7 percent of American adults experience depression in any given year.
While those battling depression or PTSD should seek the help of a psychologist or psychiatrist to ease their pain, yoga therapy is increasingly becoming a recognized complementary form of treatment.
Mary Partlow Lauttamus is the director of the yoga therapy program at the Maryland University of Integrative Health. In her work with the law enforcement community to reduce levels of stress and PTSD, she has found that the “seesaw” triggered by investigating terrorism, homicide and suicide may be one reason why detectives suffer the highest rates of suicide.
While many go unreported, 50 percent of deaths in law enforcement are due to suicide. “Members of law enforcement have unique stressors like 12-hour shifts and unpredictable shifts,” Partlow Lauttamus says. “When a fellow officer falls, they suffer an enormous amount of grief and loss. Stress, unmanaged, erodes resilience.”
“Officer safety” is now focused on more than flack jackets and body building,” says Partlow Lauttamus, who leads a yoga therapy program for the Falls Church, Va., police department. The self-care program is built around hatha yoga, mindfulness meditation and Yoga Nidra, a type of guided meditation where one hovers between sleep and consciousness.
Richard Miller, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, author, researcher and yogic scholar. Miller and his team have completed numerous studies on the benefits of yoga therapy for those with depression and PTSD. Much of the work Miller does is with the military.
“How many (of the active military) are doing it? Too few,” Miller says. “Wherever we go, the good news is we’re really well received. The moment they taste this and sense a feeling of coming home, the more they want more.”
Janice Gates is the former president of the International Association of Yoga Therapists. She is also the author of Yogini, the Power of Women in Yoga. As a yoga therapist, her personal journey dealing with depression is especially poignant.
She credits her yoga practice with helping her break through the darkness that she hid from those around her. “Something opened inside of me,” Gates says. “I noticed the waves and it was like all my years of yoga practice. I got it. I am the ocean. And the waves are just the waves of my experience. One of my teachers said turn towards it. Welcome it. This was my yoga.”
Gates notes people often come to yoga for relief. “Many students come to us looking to heal their physical pain. But many also want the freedom from the suffering that comes from being human,” she says. “They want to find peace.
“The true goal of yoga is to awaken… to transcend, up and out. We are all going to get old. Some will get sick. We are all going to die. A crisis can be extremely clarifying,” Gates says. “My mantra each day is, ‘Every day is a bonus!’”
Deborah Charnes is a certified yoga teacher with advanced training in Ayurveda and yoga therapy. She owns The Namaste Counsel
(www.thenamastecounsel.com) and The Write Counsel (FaceBook>TheWriteCounsel) in San Antonio and can be reached at 210-381-1846.