Monday, November 25, 2013

12 Steps to Defeat Depression: Mind-Body Medicine Part 2

            In this post we’re continuing with our Mind-Body Medicine to defeat depression. In the last post, I covered Biofeedback, Guided Imagery, Meditation and Muscle Relaxation.
            Today we’ll delve into Music Therapy, Pilates, Relaxed Breathing and Tai Chi.


Music therapy was first recognized as a bonafide treatment when musicians treated injured United States military personnel. It’s used in a variety of ways to improve mental and physical health. Patients may listen to a particular piece of music and then discuss how it affects them. It can also be used to achieve a state of relaxation. Studies have shown that music therapy improves students’ sleep quality and reduces pre-exam anxiety.

(My choice of music can relax my overactive mind and helps me concentrate on the subject at hand, or energize me. I select the genre and tempo based on my mood or activity. Music has always been an integral part of my life. Without it, I feel a potent void and stagnant.)

Music therapy can revive your spirit, get you up and moving, and, for some people, actually reduce pain and suffering.

So don’t forget about music as an important part of your healing process. It can be combined with other treatments, like visualization, to optimize and enhance results.
It can improve mood, reduce heart rate, blood pressure, and anxiety. And some anti-depressant medications actually work better with music therapy!


Pilates is a low-impact exercise program developed by Joseph Pilates in the 1920’s. Its aim is to strengthen the body’s core muscle groups. And research does show that people who practice it do increase their strength.

The goal of Pilates is quality rather then quantity, so you may perform only several, repeated exercises during a session.

Pilates studio membership, which give you a personal, trained Pilates instructor, can be expensive, so I’d recommend first getting a DVD of Pilates floor exercises you can follow at home and then decide if it’s something you can and want to pursue.

Although little research has been conducted on Pilates to determine how it affects mental health, I give it a thumbs up for several reasons:

1) It promotes and improves strength and balance;

2) It can give you a sense of body control and awareness (always a positive to the brain); and,

3) You use your body weight for resistance. (That usually results in fewer injuries, if your movements are smooth and controlled.)


Before you read any further, stop to notice how you’re breathing. Is it shallow or deep and full? When you inhale does your tummy expand, or are you a “chest breather?” 
(Hint: Your tummy should expand. J )

Short, shallow, rapid breathing—which is usually caused by tension, stress or anxiety— doesn’t allow you to fill your lungs with oxygen. Without adequate oxygen intake, your blood gets very little of the life-giving and sustaining oxygen to transport to your body tissues or brain. So everything ends up running on a deficit. That translates to sluggish metabolism, dull thinking, possible headaches and depressed mood.

So shallow breathing means stagnant air breathing. You always have a residual volume of stale air sitting in your lungs that you’re unable to push out. When you breathe deeply, you leave only a small amount of that stale air in your lungs; when your breath is shallow, you leave a large amount of it in there. That means fresh, oxygenated air can’t get in!

And when you’re breathing in a rapid, shallow manner, as you do under stress, that actually sustains an elevated heart rate, perspiration and blood pressure.

How it’s done

First, inhale. With mouth closed, relax your shoulders and inhale slowly and deeply to the count of six to ten. Your abdomen should expand. (Don’t be surprised if the first few times you do this you have some discomfort as your tissues expand. They’ll get used to it after several attempts.)

Second, hold. Hold the air in your lungs and count to four.

Next, exhale. Count to six as you slowly release the air through your nose. (We used to have patients exhales through their mouths, but research shows it’s best to exhale through your nose to keep the respiratory tissues moist and to cool the brain.)

Finally, repeat the process five times. Try to perform these exercises twice a day.
Relaxed breathing is a must-do activity if you want to optimize your health along with receiving a host of additional benefits. It’s easy, free and can be performed anywhere. It bathes the tissues in oxygenated, healing blood, which means good stuff gets in and bad stuff can be transported out!

TAI CHI (TAI-chee)

Sometimes described as “meditation in motion” this Chinese-origin activity was originally developed as a form of self-defense 2000 years ago.

I like it because no matter what your age, you can see benefits of decreased depression, increased balance, (especially helpful for older adults), high blood pressure management, anxiety reduction, increased aerobic capacity and improved sleep. It’s slow and gentle, with little to no negative side effects. (The only negative ones may come in the beginning if you overdue a stretch or twist.)

The smooth, continuous, flowing movements will take a little time to learn, but it’s low impact, safe, and can be performed almost anywhere. One of the best locations is outside! (I had my first Tai chi lesson on a beach in Mexico. It was delightful!)

If you don’t want to join a class, get a DVD to watch and learn. I do recommend that you initially practice your movements in front of a mirror so you can check your form and body positions. For some internal, unbalanced reason, I always had my right arm lifted higher than my right, and I couldn’t “feel” that mistake.

For an activity that reduces stress, increases flexibility, improves muscle strength and definition, increases energy, stamina and agility, and takes your mind off your problems, it’s hard to beat.

Have fun trying out these activities and adding them to your depression fighting toolbox! And let me know how it goes.

For my United States readers, have a blessed, THANKFUL, Thanksgiving! And Happy Hanukkah to those lighting the first menorah light! We won’t see this combination of Thanksgiving and first day of Hanukkah again until the year 79, 811! Blessings to all, as we remember God’s goodness to all of us! 

If you'd like to learn more about the Thanksgiving-Hanukkah connection (as well as the connection to Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles) go to and read the following articles: "The Hanukkah—Thanksgiving Connection: Who Knew" on their front page, and "A Three-in-One Festival" found in their November newsletter. Click on their "Publications" tab then "Newsletter."


NEXT WEEK: More Mind-Body Medicine: Yoga, playtime, down time, connecting time, and focus time.

Until next week,

Thanks for joining me!