by Greg Vellner, published July 14, 2007 on NJ.com and in the Trenton Times
So severe was her depression, Amy Weintraub couldn’t do the simplest things.
She was unable to put two shoes in a shoe box. She couldn’t close a folding chair. Finding the right words was sometimes impossible. And then there was the check book.
“Once, instead of sending the amount on the invoice I was paying for my health insurance, I sent the entire balance of my checking account,” she says.
Like scores of others — 121 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization — Weintraub was clinically depressed. And like many of those sufferers, she was put on an antidepressant medication — probably for life, her psychiatrist told her.
But Weintraub emerged from that dark place not so much with the help of prescription drugs, psychotherapy or even comfort food. She found relief in a treatment as old as the hills.
“Practicing yoga daily changed my mood and saved my life,” says Weintraub, 56. “With yoga, there’s an immediate sense of fullness and connection. It’s felt. It’s visceral.”
The former television producer/documentary filmmaker now passionately teaches the techniques that she says helped her recover, and does it through her books, CDs and DVDs: Yoga for Depression: A Compassionate Guide to Relieve Suffering Through Yoga, Breathe to Beat the Blues and LifeForce Yoga to Beat the Blues – Level One.
She also does it through workshops held nationwide, like the one this month in the Princeton area.
“LifeForce Yoga to Manage Your Mood” will take place 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. July 14 2007 at the Princeton Center for Yoga & Health in Skillman.
Weintraub, a yoga instructor who chose Princeton because of a long working relationship with the center’s director, will show how specific postures, breathing practices and meditation techniques alleviate depression and anxiety, as well as help release repressed emotions negatively affecting the mind and body.
In her case, Weintraub was depressed, she said, due to undiagnosed post-partum issues and because she masked her feelings by being a workaholic. She was depressed for a number of years.
Participants in the Princeton center workshop “will leave feeling refreshed, renewed and excited about their home practice with new tools to work with their mood,” she says.
The public, yoga instructors, psychotherapists and other health professionals are invited.
“Psychotherapists and instructors will learn techniques to help their clients focus, relax and have greater access to their feelings,” says Weintraub.
Cost is $110 for the day; $65 for morning session only (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.).
Return to ancient way
Practitioners of yoga — an ancient discipline of breathing exercises and postures — believe in the mind-body connection and that emotions, particularly traumatic ones, affect the body. The physiological benefits of practicing yoga can be documented, says Weintraub.
“The research corroborates my improvement,” says Weintraub, who said she feels great satisfaction in having gone from a client of the mental-health system to a provider.
Yoga elevates certain “feel-good hormones,” reduces a stress hormone and stimulates a specific nerve connected to depression.
“What you’re doing with the techniques is doing something even more beneficial: creating a kind of meditative state,” says Weintraub. The practice enables people to “dis-identify with the negative mind state.”
The result: “The depression and sad mood can be there — you see it and are aware of it — but you are not that.”
Her book, ""Yoga for Depression," has met with rave reviews.
“No matter what your mood, Amy’s unique ‘LifeForce Yoga’ program will bring you balance and joy,” says Lilias Folan, PBS host and author of Lilias Yoga Gets Better with Age “I loved this practice.”
Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom and the Wisdom of Menopause, said: “Yoga for Depression is a godsend. It’s beautifully written, medically accurate and very practical. I highly recommend it.”
And, says Phil Catalfo of Yoga Journal: “Weintraub has written a sensitive, intelligent, painstaking exploration of the deeper psychospiritual issues that make up complex experience of depression.”
Yoga has been touted as helpful in fighting high blood pressure, high cholesterol, back pain and migraine headaches, and has been shown to promote relaxation and reduce stress.
Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, professor of psychiatry at Boston University and a leader in research into post-traumatic stress syndrome, is a believer in the benefits of yoga.
“If you really want to help a traumatized person, you have to work with core physiological states and, then, the mind will start changing,” he says.
The medical doctor said he advocates yoga, yogic breathing and meditation as a means to address chronic stress lodged in the body.
“As long as people sit on their ‘tuchas’ and simply move their tongues around, they may not be able to make enough of a difference,” he says.
In the stretch
Some 16.5 million Americans spend about $3 billion annually on yoga classes and products, according to a Harris Interactive poll and Yoga Journal magazine.
Weintraub’s is a lemons-to-lemonade story and the Tuscon, Ariz., woman says she is sharing the refreshment through her work. The DVD, she said, is the first home yoga practice to address mood management.
“More and more studies are validating what the yogis understood thousands of years ago: Good things are happening on a physiological level,” she says, with a caveat that practicing yoga doesn’t guarantee that, as was her case, all prescriptions can be halted.
“Some people will always need some form of medication just to get them to the yoga mat,” she says. “Some won’t be able to withdraw completely. It’s an individual thing. The yoga needs to be practiced regularly and you need to work with the person who prescribed it to gradually come off medication. It’s never good to go cold turkey.”
If Weintraub’s experience is any indication, practicing yoga might be just what the doctor ordered — or, as in her case, no longer orders.
“After about nine months of practicing, I went to another psychiatrist who after seeing me several times thought I no longer was a candidate for antidepressants,” she says. “That was in 1989 and I haven’t been on medication since. I haven’t been depressed since then”
“LifeForce Yoga to Manage Your Mood” will take place 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. July 14 2007 at the Princeton Center for Yoga & Health, Montgomery Professional Center, 50 Vreeland Drive, Suite 506, Skillman. Cost is $110; $65 for morning session only (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.). For information or to register, call (609) 924-7294 or look online (www.princetonyoga.com).