Week 3 Yoga Poses to Manage Your Mood

Week3yogaposes`Over at breatheOnline we’re starting week 3 and focusing on yoga poses to help us manage our anxiety and depression. 

Getting ready for this week I’ve been reading, researching and even just reflecting on my own practice, what it’s meant to me and how I manage with yoga.

There are so many yoga poses that help mange my anxiety and ptsd. Legs up the wall, supported child’s pose, supine supported twist, prasarita padottanasana. I use them regularly to manage my emotions. 

The biggest gift from yoga though is that feeling that I got the first day I pressed up into down dog. it was this scary, exhilarating, peaceful feeling. It was coming home to me. I was 26 and I’d never felt that feeling.  I felt it for a moment and then it slipped away. I remember thinking, wait! what was that? it came back for savasana and I was hooked.

Now 21 years later, it comes quickly and lasts past my practice. Sometimes it stays with me for days, but a yoga practice is like showering. You have to do it often to get the results.

Without this simple gift I would be lost.  Well, more lost than I normally am, but it’s a tool that I can pull out quickly and easily.  When I feel lost, which I often do, I can get on the mat and find myself. And not just find myself, but my most honest and authentic self. This is the place where I can’t lie to myself. I can’t hear the voices in the back of my head or the critical people around me. On the mat, there’s only Melissa.

I invited my BreatheOnline class to practice legs up the wall for at least five minutes every morning this week and notice the difference after just a week. Join us! 

BreatheOnline is a six week long course to manage anxiety and depression in a new way. We’re just starting our third week. You work in your place, at your pace, so you can join us and I’ll get you caught up! 



Spring life hacks for depression and anxiety

birdsThe birds are singing outside my window in Lawrence, Kansas and yesterday I watched a male and female robin flirt. Today it’s going to be 55 degrees and all the snow has melted. It’s Spring.. Maybe not officially, but it’s on its way. I’m going to get out there, get some sun and a lot of exercise today, cause tomorrow it’s supposed to be cold again. For a lot of us Spring is a time of huge energy. It’s the time with Mother Nature is renewing; pushing out buds, shooting up sprouts, growing tiny animal families. The energy of Spring is near palpable. It’s an exciting time of year. The air holds possibility. Except, if you have anxiety or depression. Years ago I was told that my insomnia would get worse in the Spring, my ulcer would act up in the Spring, feelings of unease and difficulty adjustment would be stronger in the Spring. Spring and Fall tend to be the more difficult times for those of us who experience difficulty with anxiety and depression. And you don’t have to be chronically affected to feel the effects of the season. So what do we do? This is the time of year to be doubly vigilant. I do what I yogastretchknow works and do more of it. So, maybe add ten minutes onto your fitness routine. Going to Zumba? Maybe add ten minutes of stretching to the end or walk on the treadmill for ten minutes to warm-up beforehand.  I know that exercise is the number one thing I  can do to naturally manage my anxiety. It works even better for depression. I’m not suggesting you dump your meds. I’m just saying get in at least 30 minutes of intense exercise a  three times week-whatever intense means for you. Dr. Stephen Ilardi explains in one of my favorite TED talks. The other really big thing I can do is watch what I eat. For me I watch my carbs and sugars. I have an insulin issue (yes, the diabetes was a misdiagnosis) so this is super important, but for anyone dealing with depression and/or anxiety sugar can make all our feelings of high emotion feel even bigger. Sugar causes mood swings and a lot of us already have issues staying even. Sugar also depletes our energy and staying energized is important for managing our moods-and just for feeling good in general. We’re all individuals, though, and you probably know what makes you feel bad and what can make you feel better. At least for the Spring try to cut out the things that make you feel bad. I eat lots of fresh veggies and fruits. Luckily it’s so easy to eat well in the Spring. There are so many yummy veggies, think tiny asparagus and succulent lettuces. My doctor says forget the food pyramid. Try to get eight servings of veggies and eight servings of fruit a day. Getting 8 & 8 in makes me feel great! I also eat high protein and I try to skip the white rice, potatoes, desserts and candy snacks. Even chips can make me feel down and worry.  There are times when I can eat those things in small doses and know that there might be mild consequences, but not in the Spring. I’m certainly not perfect, in fact I’m writing this after a night that I had a few beers. I am the first one to want to grab a  slice of pizza or a night out with the girls, but for this time of year I need to weigh out whether it’s worth it or not. If I really need some girl time I plan for it.  I try to hydrate early in the girls  nightday. I make sure I eat lots of protein before and after and when I’m out I limit my drinking and resist the urge to munch on carbs that are so inticing when there’s alcohol in my system. While it’s really fun to cut loose, this time of the year it can be harder for me to recover. Being smart makes the difference between a difficult and a great day. It can also make the difference in spiraling deeper into anxious feelings. Once the spiral starts, it’s hard to get out. I’m human. I fail. I certainly still have nights where I don’t sleep because I can’t turn off my brain, days where I have trouble being productive. There are times where being in a new situation, a party where I don’t know many people or a networking event, makes me sweat and my heart pound and there are times when I just can’t. Learning these simple tools from dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and being a yogini has made all the difference in my anxiety. It’s what inspired me to teach Yoga for Anxiety and Yoga for Depression. I’m not a doctor. I’m not an expert. I’m someone who has been through a lot of difficult shit in her life that left some scars. legsupthewallIIInterested in learning more about what works for me? I’m working on private long distance learning, but for now join us for in Lawrence, KS  for workshops, Yoga for Depression March 7 and/or Yoga for Anxiety March 14. They are life changing! Questions? Interested in more info about long distance learning? I’m so excited about his new program. Let’s connect!

A Letter for Moments of High Anxiety

This post popped up as a memory on Facebook. I originally wrote this on December 2rd, 2014, not a year ago as I originally mentioned on Facebook. . It’s a good one for re-sharing. Enjoy! 

A letter to one of my favorite clients who is the midst of loss and anxiety. Writing to her helped me see myself, helped me see the progress, the work still to be done. Working with wonderful people like this mom helps me heal myself as much as anyone else. Thank you for trusting and being open and honest, vulnerable and willing to do the work. Thank you for the the honor of your presence in my life. 

Dear Mom Who Is Feeling Really Anxious Today,

I hear that you’re struggling and I know how that feels. I hear that you’re frustrated and sad, edgy and lonely. I hear you and know that it’s okay. I’ve felt that way too.
I completely understand the struggle with prioritizing and getting things done and trying to decide what can be set aside for a time. Hang in there. As you know, this will pass and it will get better. What you’re going through right now is incredibly normal. I hope you’re not beating yourself up. Dealing is tough stuff and it takes time and there’s no right way to do it and there’s no correct amount of time to deal with it.
As a mom it’s sometimes hard to take care of ourselves when we have little ones to focus on. When I really struggle I remember the airline safety rules, put the oxygen on yourself first and then take care of those around you. I know how hard that is. There was a lot of time when my kids were little that it was just me and my kid cause my ex worked a lot of hours. I would just focus on getting through each hour. I would think, okay the park and then we’ll have lunch and then it’s nap time! And I couldn’t wait for that nap time. It was the tiny amount of time in the day that was purely mine and I tried really hard to resist laundry and starting dinner and all that stuff.
My need to be superwoman was really strong. My mom was a stay at home mom and I honestly thought I was supposed to get 32,000 things done in a day. It wasn’t until my kids were older that I realized that I was just supposed to be human and humans hurt and we need naps and we need time to ourselves and we need what we need and that’s okay.
I realize you know all of this, but sometimes it helps to hear someone else say it.
I think in times like these it helps to say “What do I want?, What do I need?” Don’t worry so much about the commitments you’ve made, the responsibilities you think you have. Just focus on what’s going to help you the most. Getting quiet on the mat with some restorative poses will help you figure that out. Legs up the wall is simple, really effective and you can do it during Sesame Street. Think about the DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) skills we talked about. Do things that will soothe your nervous system. Take long walks, do restorative poses, soak in the tub with bubbles and candles, drink green tea and sit in silence while you watch the birds out the window. Just spend time in peace and answers will come. Stay in the dialectical, stay away from black and white thinking and be radically compassionate towards yourself. Take as much time as you need and even when it doesn’t seem like it’s helping, keep doing what you know to do. Allow yourself to be human.
My father-in-law died when my daughter was about five and for a few months she seemed fine and then all of the sudden she wasn’t eating and she wasn’t sleeping and she had GI issues and I dropped everything. I dropped all of my responsibilities and I took her away for a few weeks. You wouldn’t believe how helpful and understanding people were when I was willing to be vulnerable and honest and just say I can’t and I need your help. I’m not suggesting you’re doing different, but if you’re not, know that it’s okay and asking for help will get you help.
So, hang in there and do what you know to do.
I promise, it’s going to be okay. Someday you will look back at this time and it’s not going to seem as big as it feels right now. You will shake your head and smile remembering how hard it seemed right now and how hard you worked to get through this and you’ll be so proud of yourself. I promise.
Try to relax and have a good evening.

The panic in the middle of the night

Last night, quite late, I got a phone call from a longtime student. I’m a sketchy sleeper which she knows and I knew she had to have a really good reason for calling so I answered. She was in the middle of feeling paphonenicky and couldn’t calm herself down.  Now this woman has been my student for years and knows a lot about managing anxiety and panic. She’s had some really big, really major life changes this year and sometimes it just gets away from the best of us. She couldn’t calm down, so we talked and I walked her through  some poses and we got through it. At the end of the hour+ long call, she promised to call me in the morning to check in and lamented that I wasn’t in the living room when she was having these moments. When she got really worked up she couldn’t remember the things I taught her and couldn’t focus enough to do the poses and I hear ya, girl cause I’ve been there.

So this is for Sara (name changed).

1. When it’s the middle of the night and your mind is super busy and starts talking your heart into beating faster and your breath into shortening, remember this too shall pass. No one has ever died from a panic/anxiety attack. No one has ever worried themselves to death. You will survive this.

2. Talk to your breath. Encourage it to grow slower and longer. Focus on the exhalation. Lengthening your exhalation will stimulate your parasympathetic  nervous system which helps you feel relaxed and content. Place your hand on your belly and focus on slowing the breath and slowly, breath after breath lengthen the exhalation. Don’t worry about the inhalation. It will follow suit without you doing a thing.


Legs up the wall with bolster or folded blankets helps open the chest, increasing breath.

3. Once the breath is slower and you accept that you aren’t dying, try a yoga pose. Legs up the wall, Viparita Karani, is a soothing and relaxing pose that supports the spine and opens the chest. Great for circulation this pose is good for a host of ailments. Increased circulation helps oxygenate the brain combating worrisome thoughts and feeling overwhelmed. Lengthening the cervical spine increases peacefulness. Whether you are using a bolster or not you should not feel a big stretch.  Hamstrings should feel comfortable enough to hold this post for up to 20 minutes. If feet fall asleep rest legs in Supta Konasana.

*Note: If you are in the middle of panic do not use bolster. The extra chest opening may make you feel more panicky and actually shorten the breath. Save the bolster for a time you’re feeling calm.


A great way to rest tingling feet during legs up the wall, increases circulation to the pelvis.



4. Child’s Pose. Balasana is a great pose to use a bolster with for increased feelings of peace and support. You are essentially in a fetal position, which helps you feel that all is right in the world. It opens the low back, an area that contracts when we’re feeling stressed.


Laying on the front of the body in a twist stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. Be sure to use some sort of support for full relaxation.

5. Twists help calm the mind and if you lay on the front of your body you, again, stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, increasing feelings of rest and relaxation. Try twisting as your last pose and you can even do it in bed. Clients with insomnia report that this twist helps them fall back to sleep within 15 minutes.

Finally, just remember that panic and anxiety are temporary. They won’t last forever and if you are at a place of thinking about yoga poses that might help, you’ve come so far from where you once were. It’s easy to let panic and anxiety rule our lives, and I’ve definitely been there, but you don’t have to let them at all. You have the tools to change the pattern of anxiety and panic in your life. Good luck and call if these don’t work!