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Mind-Body Exercises to Help You Transcend Chronic Depression

What follows are a series of questions and exercises that are intended to strengthen your capacity to deal with life circumstances that can cause chronic depression. I encourage you to work on no more than one exercise per day to give yourself ample time to consider the thoughts and feelings that each exercise brings up for you.

Some of these exercises are important components of my "Overcoming Autoimmune Illness" program. In working with participants of this program, I have found that people who spend significant time with these exercises, and share their progress with someone they trust are the ones who tend to benefit the most from them. If possible, I encourage you to find a friend who has interest in going through these exercises at the same pace that you do, and for the two of you to be there for one another for support and accountability.

Exercise #1

As soon as you wake up each morning, spend a few minutes thinking about your ideal life.

Think specifically about the following:

  • How you will feel when you are perfectly well
  • Activities that you will do
  • People you will spend time with
  • What you will look like, the clothes that you will wear

Allow yourself to imagine exactly how you would like to live your life. If necessary, place a small note by your bed that reminds you to do this exercise.

Repeat this exercise right before you go to bed.

Exercise #2

In order to consistently make choices that support your health, it is essential that you are clear on your deepest core values. Are you absolutely clear on which facets of your life you value most? If so, are you devoting an appropriate amount of energy to your most important values?

I encourage you to take some time to think about and write out your answers to the following questions, all intended to help you clarify your core values:

  1. What were the best times of my life?
  2. What did I love doing when I was a kid?
  3. If I had lots of money, more than I need during my lifetime, what would I do?
  4. If I could learn about any topics or develop any skills, what would they be? Why?
  5. If I knew that I could not fail, what would I do with my life?

After thinking about and/or writing out your answers, come up with a short list of your most important values.

Write your top five core values on a piece of paper and keep it in a location that will guarantee that you see it at least once a day. It’s fine to make this location a place where others can see your values, as this can help to create a sense of accountability to live according to your values.

I actually spent an entire week doing this exercise for the first time back in 1997, and I consider that week to be a significant turning point in my life. Since I came up with my original list, I have modified it a few times according to changes that have occurred in my life.

Today, my top five core values are:

1. Family
2. Health
3. Compassion
4. Knowledge
5. Financial Freedom

It makes sense to me that I should value my health above my family, since losing my health would prevent me from taking care of and loving my family the way that I want to. I suspect that someday, health will overtake family as my top core value for this reason; without good health, the rest of my and anyone’s core values begin to lose their relevance quickly!

Compassion is high on my list because I believe it is the one thing that I know for sure I want to leave in the world once I pass on. I believe that acts and thoughts of compassion, big and small, can continuously change people’s lives for the better, even long after we pass on from the world.

Knowledge is a top five core value because I want my daily choices to be rooted in as much truth as I can discover. Included in this core value is the desire to share knowledge that I acquire with others who also earnestly seek knowledge.

Financial freedom represents a state in which I know that I can provide food, shelter, clothing, and the very basic necessities of living to myself and my family. I desire a state of financial freedom so that I can put as much of my life energy as possible into my other core values.

When I look at my list, I can say that if I could only live for one, it would be the top value: Family.

If I could only live for two values, they would be the top two values: Family and Health.

And so on and so forth. This is how you should prioritize your list of values. After you complete your list, if you find that health is not present, I encourage you to think about how a lack of health can affect your capacity to live according to your core values.

Remember: once you have your list of top five core values, make it easy to review it every day. This is one habit that I believe you must adopt if you want to access your full health and spiritual potential.

Exercise #3

As Einstein once said, if you want to experience something different than what you are today, then you must change the beliefs that got you to where you are today.

Ultimately, your beliefs are little snippets of dialogue that occur inside of your head. Put another way, beliefs are actions that you take in almost every moment of every day. The goal here is to consciously identify any limiting beliefs that you may have that are causing you to suffer from chronic depression, and then to work at transforming those limiting beliefs into beliefs that can help you become more effective at dealing with life's obstacles.

How to identify limiting beliefs that you have about your life:

1. Write down precisely what you want for your life. Be as specific as possible.

2. For each item on your list, ask yourself: "Why can’t I experience this?"

Each answer you come up with for question #2 can be considered one of your limiting beliefs.

Once you have a list of your limiting beliefs, you can use the following strategies to transform your limiting beliefs into beliefs that will help you live according to your most important life values:

1. Write out beliefs that can replace your limiting beliefs. For example, if one of your limiting beliefs is that you are just too messed up in the head to realistically expect a live a meaningful life, a better belief would be: "No one, myself included, knows my full potential as a human being; every second from this point on is another chance to turn things around."

Write out your new, mindfully chosen beliefs in list-form and put it in an easily visible spot in your living or work area for regular review.

2. When you talk to yourself – in your head or out loud – affirm your new beliefs. Say them over and over, without any worry about being mindlessly repetitious. It’s best if you can emotionally feel the power of your new beliefs as you repeat them to yourself, but even if you don’t feel strong emotions with each repetition, keep at it. Beliefs are not physical entities like bricks and stones; believing is an activity that you are constantly engaging in, whether you are aware of it or not. Since you are consciously or subconsciously believing in something all the time, why not strive to choose beliefs that are in alignment with your loftiest goals?

Exercise #4

Make a list of people who have shown you extraordinary kindness over the years. Keep this list handy for times when you feel down, and allow yourself to remember the thoughts and feelings that each person and his or her act(s) of kindness created in you.

You don't have to be in touch with the people on your list. One person on my list is an old classmate from chiropractic school who surprised me with a package of hand warmers when I moved up to arctic of Alaska. "Little" memories like this one are powerful reminders to me that the world is full of love and kindness, and I find them to be uplifting during difficult and merry times.

Exercise #5

Make a list of nice things that you would like to do for others. As your life circumstances permit, particularly when you are feeling down, focus on making one of the items on your list a reality. Few experiences can help you transcend chronic depression more effectively than the experience of knowing that you have given warmth to another person's life, even if it is for just a brief moment.

Part 1: Understanding and Overcoming Chronic Depression
Part 2: How Do You Know That You Are Depressed?
Part 3: Nutritional Considerations for Chronic Depression
Part 4: Mind-Body Exercises to Help You Transcend Chronic Depression
Part 5: How to Use Physical Exercise and Acupressure to Address Chronic Depression


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I wrote this while studying Somatic Psychotherapy at Naropa University in the 90's.. Perhaps some here will find it of value...

Freedom Is The Ground:
An Inquiry Into The Opportunity For Deep Surrender Revealed In The Experience Of Depression

Dr. Ben, I am repeatedly amazed at your wisdom. Thank you for taking "the road less traveled," i.e., the road to conscious awareness and devotion to spiritual principles. Also, thank you for sharing the wisdom you have gathered along the way. Blessings to you and to your family, Grace Terry

Well said Grace. I'll second your fine opinion of Dr.Kim's work!