Sit Up Straight, Part Three: Ariel Yoga

Not long after I published my first post on learning to correct my posture, a friend told me I should try Ariel Yoga. She said the inverted postures allowed your spine to hang freely and your head to be “loose and bowling-ball-y.” She said she left the classes feeling taller and straighter, and suggested it might improve my walking posture. There was a studio she’d been going to that was only a few minutes’ walk from my apartment. I was sold.

The first class was expectedly awkward. Like any form of yoga, I spent my first day turning my neck around trying to look at the other people and confirm I was doing everything right. Ariel yoga is done using a large silk hammock to support and alter typical yoga stretches and postures. The hammocks are mostly opaque, but just see-through enough that if you press your face against them you can still see what the teacher is doing. We started class by sitting in our hammocks and doing basic stretches normally meant for the floor. Sometimes the hammock versions seemed less helpful than the standard poses, while others were leagues better in the hammock. I’ve never known a pigeon pose to stretch my hips quite as well as a pigeon pose suspended two feet off the ground.

Ariel YogaAfter a few starter stretches to get us comfortable with the hammocks, the inversions began. The most basic is called the Spiderman, in which you hang upside-down with the soles of the feet together and the knees bowed out. You know, like Spiderman. The first moment I did it I felt the effects. Because the hammock holds you up by the pelvis and not the waist or the legs, nothing is straining or yanking. Your entire spine is allowed to relax against the pull of gravity, all the way up to your tailbone. It was amazing. I felt like my lumbar spine was massaging itself.

We did a few more inversions that first day, and a few more stretches. Like any yoga class, we ended with the savasana relaxation pose. It was so amazing to be floating in the air with every part of the body evenly supported by a silk hammock. While I still I wasn’t sold on the concept, it was worth trying again. Besides, I’d bought the beginner’s two-class pass.

My second class made more sense and involved less peeking through the hammock to see what I was doing wrong. I was still in the beginner level, full of students just as clueless as myself. I already felt more confident in the hammock, and was able to try a few things I hadn’t done the first time. I bought another set of three classes, and started to move on to the All Levels classes. I did a Flying Dog series that was pleasant murder on my hip flexors. I did a one-legged balancing Sun Salute that made all other Sun Salutes seem like child’s play. And in each class I got to flip upside-down and feel the weight of my entire existence empty out of my coccyx like an hour glass. It was great.

Unfortunately, Ariel Yoga didn’t seem to have any direct effect on my posture. I still slouched, even on the short walk home from class. I did notice some positive, indirect effects. I was stronger, and there was more movement in my life. Holding myself up at the computer was getting just a bit easier, because my body didn’t feel so stuck in itself. The individual postures and inversions in Ariel Yoga didn’t matter as much as the fact that I was exercising again. I was building muscle again. I had been trying to strengthen my glutes and abs after reading about Anterior Pelvic Tilt, but my yoga practice was working out my whole body. Being inverted felt good on my back while it was happening, but the real benefit was the ab strength I used to get back up.

After a couple weeks of classes I decided that Ariel Yoga wasn’t a complete cure for my posture, but it was a fun, easy, and most importantly convenient way to increase my strength and flexibility. I loved that it took less than 10 minutes for me to get dressed and walk to the studio, and that it was challenging but never made me sweat enough to require a shower. Then I heard the news. My precious studio was moving to “a great new space” in Belltown. I’d either have to pay for the bus or pay for parking, and both would require at least a 20 minute travel commitment to ensure I got to class on time. My perfect little yoga situation was gone.

And so the search continues.

Living Adjacent to Depression

I am not living with depression in the typical understanding of the term. I am not living my life while depressed. Instead, I am living in an apartment with a man who is sometimes depressed. This depression comes and goes in waves, but because depression can take hold of someone so completely, when it takes hold of him I stop living with the man, and start living with Depression.

While it may be difficult to believe, with an unwelcome visitor like Depression you’d rather the intrusion be big and obvious. When Depression first came into our lives, it was so quiet we didn’t even notice anything was wrong. Like a cat burglar who replaces all your valuables with cheap knockoffs, Depression can take so much without you realizing what is happening. But over time it became forceful and loud. It would grab the man I love and hold him down on the couch. He couldn’t get up, even when he was dressed and ready for work. Depression would cover the man’s body in molasses so he couldn’t move fast, if at all. Depression would put a hand over the man’s mouth so he couldn’t speak. Depression tried to keep itself secret, but I could tell. It was obvious. I knew there was an intruder in my house.

Depression ran away for awhile, and it didn’t come back much. Occasionally it would surprise us, showing up suddenly one Monday morning, but we would act quickly and get it out of the house within a day or two. We were on to it. We knew its weaknesses. We were winning. Depression had to make a new plan.

These days Depression doesn’t break down the door and wrestle the man to the floor. Instead, it sneaks in quietly while I’m away at work. It does its work in tiny batches, never being too obvious. That’s when Depression goes from a guest to a roommate. And Depression is a terrible roommate.

Unlike the man I love, Depression doesn’t do the dishes. The man and I divvied up chores when we first moved in, and part of the agreement was that he was fully in charge of the dishes. However Depression wasn’t present during that discussion, and it never agreed to do any dishes. Normally the man does his chores on a daily basis; he stays on top of it. But Depression doesn’t care about dishes in the sink. Depression lets them pile up until one whole sink is full, then the other. And when Depression does finally get around to doing some dishes, it only does a few. The dry rack isn’t even full and Depression stops working.

Depression never wants to talk about anything exciting that may have happened to you. Oddly enough, Depression is very good at being polite, and will say all the words a person is supposed to say when someone relates good news. But there’s no substance when Depression congratulates you. It’s like telling a good story to one of your customers, only to realize she just wants her coffee.

Unlike the man I live with, Depression can’t really get mad at me. It’s a trade off Depression has to make in order to never be happy about anything I’ve said – it can’t be unhappy either. It can be polite, responsive. But that’s it. It sounds like living with a robot but it’s not. A robot would be programmed to try its best, even though it will fail. Depression never tries.

The man I love creates things, some big and some small. But Depression hates to create. Depression only wants to consume. Depression likes reading forums online, even the ones where everyone is just being nasty to each other. Depression can read a single forum for hours on end, while most of the other users have come and gone. Depression never writes comments. It only reads. It only consumes.

Depression doesn’t encourage you when you’re struggling. Depression doesn’t do things when you ask. Depression doesn’t kiss you on the forehead to be sweet. Depression doesn’t kiss you at all.

When Depression breaks through the window I know what to do. I know how to fight back. I know how to defend my home. It’s like seeing a baby that’s fallen into the river. I don’t blame the baby and I don’t wait for it to figure something out. I just jump in head first and know that whatever happens it was worth trying. But when Depression crawls in during the daylight, I don’t recognize it. I see the baby in the river and I just think, “You’re going to get your clothes all wet, don’t you know any better?”

There is no way to compare my experience with the suffering of the man himself. I am lucky in that regard. I don’t know what it’s like to be Living With depression, I only know what it’s like when you are living with Depression. Once I know it’s there I can help chase it away, but by the time I realize it, so much damage has already been done. And I can fight and claw and lock the doors all I want, it doesn’t matter. Depression never really dies. It is not cured, it is not defeated. It knows where we live. It will always find its way back in our house.


NOTE: The above piece was posted with both permission and encouragement from man in question. I hope this post helps to open up the conversation so often left in silence.