Yoga as a coping strategy for bipolar disorder

by Pamela James

I was diagnosed in April with Bipolar II. I am 55 years old. Fifty five.

It was a shock, but then again, it explained all my struggles in life: jobs, relationships, moods, parenting, depression, rage. Thanks to a wonderful psychiatrist, I am on a very successful combination of medications. More importantly, I have incorporated yoga into my life. It is just as important as the meds.

The instructors are so welcoming. I arrive at 6:30 a.m. with my hair in a messy bun, clothes that are sometimes specifically for yoga, but sometimes not. I do not have on any make-up, and I wear my glasses instead of my contacts. I. Am. Me.

The only thing I can think about in practice is the current asana (pose). There is so much to consider about my balance, my core, my bad knees, and my sweaty hands. There is no room for regret over my past mistakes. There is no room for anxiety about the future. I am totally present, grounded, and balanced.

This is what the person with Bipolar II needs most: being present, feeling grounded, and experiencing balance. The meds do all of this “in secret.” I know they are helping my brain disease with no effort from me except to take them daily.

But in my yoga practice, I am creating my own presence, my own grounding, and my own balance. I am in a state of control that I haven’t experienced throughout my entire life.

At the end of the practice, I take Savasana (“corpse pose”). The studio lights dim and I lie on my back listening to soothing music. For one hour, I have successfully emptied my brain, concentrated on the now, and activated my body to feel good about myself.

Slowly but surely, this experience is replicating in my daily life. I can call upon the joy I feel in practicing with good form when I need an emotional boost. I can reproduce the calmness I feel in breathing intentionally when I stress about my condition. I can recreate the peace of Savasana when I begin to feel that I’m cycling.

This tremendous ability to cope would not have occurred to me before I started practicing yoga.

I encourage everyone with any type of brain disease to try yoga. Practice for a few weeks before you decide if it’s right for you. I am so thankful that it is right for me.


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