Health and Fitness

The ‘common sense stuff’ of depression

Local healers discuss the energy of our moods


Depression. A lot of us know it, know that realm of feelings beyond the basics of "sad," when the big web of energy and mood - which isn't always easy to decipher in the first place - can seem even more muddied and hard to wade through.

And depression impacts a lot of people. According to a 2015 survey by the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 7 percent - more than 20 million people - of all adults in the United States experienced "major depression" at least once.

Yet depression is no singular experience. It can be very severe, like when someone actually can't get out of bed, or more moderate. Sometimes depression is tied to specific situations, like after a woman gives birth or seasonally when the dark gets long and the temperatures cold.

Talk therapy, counseling and medication are among the recommended and most common ways of treating depression. Those treatments are just some of the ways to work with body, mind and spirit to understand depression and start healing its sources.

The Taos News talked with several local health professionals and practitioners to get their different takes on mild to moderate depression and holistic, mostly simple steps people can take to support themselves in their journey of of healing.

Taking a holistic approach

Cathy Hope, an herbalist and owner of Iris Herbal Products based in El Rito, said that when it comes to treating depression, it's good to start with the language around it.

"First, we call too many things depression. Then, we don't understand that there's nuance to depression," Hope said. "We live in such a binary culture - it's x or y, black or white, gay or straight. But it doesn't work that way. Your liver," for example, "isn't just working or not working. Depression is a continuum."

And some "depression" isn't in the category of a clinical "mood disorder," she said, but rather the deepest feelings that people can, do and must go through - like what happens with death.

"If someone you love dies, you're sad. Be sad. Don't try to medicate away your feelings," she said.

However, if someone comes to her wanting to deal with their depression, she takes a "holistic approach" that looks at a person's whole situation.

"Number one," she said, "we rule out physiology." Hope "goes deep" to try to identify things like vitamin deficiencies and side effects from medication.

Number two: Hope looks at the home. "Is there domestic violence? If there is, let's get you out of that place, let's get you out of that situation. Is there child abuse? Or elder abuse? A lot of older people are lonely, their kids don't visit any more, they can't do things for themselves. A lot of the common sense stuff is overlooked," Hope said.

After that, Hope considers diet ("too much sugar?"), hormones and periods of major bodily change.

Still, she recommends moving and exercising while getting whatever support is available - a buddy to get you to the gym, a neighbor willing to come over.

It's only after walking through those facets of health that Hope notes St. John's Wart, a nifty little plant, has shown to be helpful for people with mild to moderate depression.

Energy blocked

Dr. Neala Peake is a spiritual and energy healer with a Ph.D. in psychology. About a year and a half ago, she joined the team at Taos Whole Health Integrative Care, a clinic blending Eastern and Western approaches to "restore balance and give voice to what is happening within," according to the clinic's website.

Peake described her work - including with depression - as "emotional acupuncture."

"I see depression as energy not flowing well. Emotions or wounds we don't deal with, blocks our energy," she said.

And when energy is blocked, gummed up in the body, mind and spirit, "the body doesn't perform well ... creating a feeling of sluggishness and darkness," Peake said.

In her work with Taos Whole Health, Peake uses meditation, energy healing and more traditional psychology to help people begin unseating their stagnant energies. She recently started a healing group that's "a blend of all those practices."

The National Institute of Mental Health recommends talk therapy, or psychotherapy, to "help a person identify and change troubling emotions, thoughts and behaviors."

In Peake's space for group healing, folks can support each other to define "what their core issues are, unblock energies and get to greater emotional and physical health."

Energy moved

Ashleigh Beyer, a yoga instructor who has taught in Taos for six years at Shree Yoga and AuraFitness, agreed with Peake that energy is key to the conversation around depression and practical ways to address it.

Essentially, yoga moves blocked energy.

"If someone comes to me concerned about depression and they have the energy to move, I would get them to move as much as possible to move the energy in their system," Beyer said.

Beyer has people do yoga that "brings more energy, or prana in yoga terms, to the center of their body, to the heart and belly rather than the head. There's too much energy in the head when you have depression or anxiety."

"From your belly you can access your will. In your heart you can access love. And you can access presence from either," Beyer said.

Presence, she said, helps fight depression because "if you're right here, there's less hopelessness." But getting into the present moment can be the hardest part of all, she said.

"You're not meditating wrong if you're having a hard time," she said. "You can practice for 50 years and still have a hard time finding the presence of mind. Just notice that you're thinking. Notice these are the feelings of hopelessness, or dire anxiety ... or - fill in the blank."

"Even that awareness is a fantastic start because it's putting space between you and your thoughts, rather than letting them drive you around town," Beyer said.

Beyer thinks a variety of yoga could help a depressed person out, but added that restorative yoga - where you hold poses for a longer time instead of steadily and quickly cycling through them - "create a better mind-body connection and that leads to a better sense of empowerment over life situations," an idea she learned from yoga writer Gail Boorstein Grossman.

If someone is feeling anxious about going to a yoga class in person, Beyer said watching a yoga class online (even while sitting on the couch) can be a good way to "get an idea" of what's in store.

But if someone is ready to physically go to a yoga class, she suggests showing up 15 minutes early, telling the teacher its their first time and communicating about depression or other issues they're working on.

"That immediately creates this openness and the teacher will advocate for them throughout the class," Beyer said. "Show up to that first class ... don't miss the chance that could totally change their life for the better."