Yoga is an integral part of self-care strategies that bring Maggie Mae Anderson peace and healing.
By Denise Mann
Looking back, Maggie Mae Anderson wishes she could wrap her arms around her 20-year-old self and simply say, “You’ve got this.”
“I would give her a huge hug and tell her to slow down, and that the feelings she is constantly running from are actually not her enemies, they are actually signs and guideposts for her to live her own life guided by her own inner compass,” says the 42-year-old yoga instructor and massage therapist.
“I would tell her that self-care is not selfish, and that she can prioritize her mental health over all other things and that it won’t make her a bad person, it will make her a better human.”
Anderson, an avid hiker who grew up in Vermont, has lived with depression since she was 15. Her path to wellness was much like the rocky scramble that characterizes some of her favorite hiking trails.
Finding her own level ground has paired along the way with helping others achieve better mental and physical wellness. Anderson describes herself as a healer, and her approach to encouraging people along their own healthy paths has evolved over the years.
She started in massage using fairly traditional techniques, added training in yoga therapy—a holistic practice using postures, breathing exercises, meditation, and guided imagery to address a variety of issues—and is working toward more formal credentials in mental health counseling.
Into the woods
Anderson first started experiencing symptoms of depression during a fairly tumultuous time in her life. Her parents were divorcing, one of her brothers had been diagnosed with leukemia, and another was grappling with his own mental health issues.
She struggled along as a teen, starting college at 18 but dropping out after her sophomore year to move to New York State’s Adirondack Mountains, 6.1 million acres of forested peaks and dazzling lakes.
“I love the woods. They have always been tremendously therapeutic,” Anderson says.
During the hiking season, Anderson took on work that put her out in the woods full-time—doing environmental education about the alpine tundra while living on a mountain summit, maintaining trails and shelters along a 25-mile stretch as a ridge runner.
During the winter, she would take low-stress jobs and bide her time until she could get back on the trails. “If I needed to spend the weekend in bed, I could,” she says of her off-season life.
It was as though she made a deal with her depression: It had control during her down time, but Anderson was in charge during her busy season. This pattern lasted for five years before she started to want more out of life.
At 24, Anderson began to study massage and holistic health at the Heartwood Institute in northern California—a place mentioned to her by four unrelated hikers she met while working as a summit caretaker on Mount Mansfield in Vermont.
“I took it as a message from the universe,” she reflects.
Although her family was fractured, Anderson’s father has always been a beacon of support both emotionally and financially. He even came out of retirement to help finance Anderson’s studies at Heartwood.
She learned about yoga, tai chi, nutrition—and her innermost self.
“For the first time, I was encouraged to dig into my depression and not dance around it,” she says.
In one exercise, Anderson sat in a chair and imagined her depression occupied the chair directly across from her. She was asked to talk to her depression and get to know it as a separate entity.
Anderson took her new massage skills to a spa in Stowe, Vermont. Despite the beautiful surroundings and deluxe clientele, however, depression once again laid claim to her mind and body.
“I would have a hard time breathing because it felt like there was something heavy on my chest and I was tired and sluggish,” she recalls of her physical symptoms.
The job provided some cover for her low moods, she recalls. If she wept quietly during a massage session, at least her clients were face-down or masked with an eye pillow.
Onto the mat
Knowing she had to make some changes in her life, Anderson trained to become a yoga instructor. That proved to be the lifestyle piece that, buttressed by ongoing psychotherapy, gave her the peace and acceptance she feels today.
“I fired a long line of therapists until I found a good one,” she says. Now she sees her therapist a minimum of twice a month.
“I can still feel worthless and like the world is crashing down around me, but I finally learned to recognize my depression for what it is,” she says. “if depression shows up, I will invite it in rather than when I was younger and I would be mad or sad that I was depressed or try to cover it up.
“I have become such good friends with my depression that now I see it as a signpost and will think, ‘Am I not getting enough sleep? Or have I stopped my yoga practice?’”
Most every morning, Anderson meditates for at least 20 minutes and does a half-hour of yoga to focus her mind and body on the coming day.
“Standing balance poses like Tree, Warrior III and Dancing Shiva help me when I’m depressed,” she says. “They take a lot of concentration and help to bring the energy up and out rather than it kind of festering deep inside of me.”
She adds, “When I’m really starting to slide down a slippery slope, I purposely hang out in full wheel, aka backbend,” she says. “Some days I’ll do it over an exercise ball so I can just hang there for an extended period of time.”
Her favorite yoga technique, Breath of Joy, involves deep breaths coupled with synchronized arm movements.
“The name really does describe it well,” she says. “That breath with its coordinated movement can really help to shift my mindset when I’m feeling something awful.”
In her mid-30s, Anderson’s path merged back toward the mainstream. She returned to school, completing her undergraduate degree in 2017. She plans to begin a graduate program next spring to earn a master’s in clinical mental health counseling. The curriculum at Goddard College incorporates yoga and other integrative therapies.
“I have come a long way,” Anderson reflects. “No healer is totally healed. We are all just constantly working on it.”
Maggie Mae’s Tips
Revere your rest: When Anderson is not sleeping well, she says, it’s a red flag that depression may be getting ready to rear its head.
Bond with besties: “I have an amazing group of super-supportive friends,” she says. “I can call my best friend and say her name, and she will know from the tone of my voice that I am not OK.”
Frolic with family: Anderson loves being an aunt to her sister’s children. “It is one of the most rewarding experiences in my life,” she says.
Maintain in the morning: “I get up, scrape my tongue, brush my teeth, use my neti pot [a nasal cleansing device], feed my cat, and do my yoga and meditation,” she says of her daily routine. “Self-care is health care.”
Hug your heart: Appreciate and care for yourself first and foremost, Anderson says. Love from others will come pouring in later.
Printed as “Everyday Heroes: Maggie Mae Anderson”, Summer 2018
via Esperanza – Hope To Cope
(This and our other articles are provided by some of our curated resources. We encourage readers to support them and continue to look to these sources in times of need and opportunity.)