Yoga and Ayurveda’s View of Depression and How to Overcome It

Depression is becoming epidemic, particularly in the affluent Western world. It is afflicting young and old, rich and poor, educated and uneducated alike. To counter it special anti-depressant drugs are being prescribed in ever increasing record amounts, with new varieties regularly introduced into the market. Yet the problem continues to increase and these new drugs have many side effects.


This problem naturally leads us to the fundamental question: What is the cause of depression and how can we effectively treat it? There are many explanations, some very informative or insightful. However, I would like to look beyond any complicated theories or chemical analysis. To put it very simply, the cause of depression is stimulation. The more we depend upon external stimulation, the more depressed we will likely become over time. There are several reasons for this.


First, whenever any stimulation we become used to is ever reduced or withdrawn we are likely to become depressed, or feel some sort of withdrawal syndrome, as we become dependent on the stimulation to energize our nervous system. In other words stimulation always causes some degree of addiction.


Second, over time we are likely to become bored or depressed with any type of stimulation as repetition causes it to lose its novelty. The threshold for any stimulation to affect us goes higher as we regularly experience it. That is why we need ever new forms of stimulation.


The fact is that reliance on external factors to entertain, engage or motivate us causes us to lose our own power of creativity and motivation resulting in eventual depression.


The Modern Era of Media Stimulation and Drug-based Medicine


In the modern high tech world we are subject to much more stimulation and entertainment than in any previous era. Many people are wired up the entire day with music, videos, social media, or the Internet – almost shutting themselves off from the rest of life or even from other people. It seems that we don’t know how to be alone, be silent, be in nature, or even have a direct relationship with anyone.


On top of our extensive sensory stimulations many of us are taking recreational or medicinal drugs that have addictive and depleting side effects. There are epidemics in the amount of opiates that people in America today are taking for pain relief, or simply opiate drug addictions, for which there are several powerful new artificial forms that are even more addictive. Depression can be connected to addictions of various types, from sensory addictions to every sort of substance addictions. Yet depression can also generally relate to our lives type of looking outwardly, even if we have specific addictions to go with it. Some of us may feel depressed at the unhappy state of the world today. That is another complication of too much attention to the external world covering over our internal spiritual practice.


The Myth of Depression as merely a Problem in Brain Chemistry


The most recent medical science tells us that depression is a product of wrong chemistry in our brains, and such faulty brain chemistry can be best treated with drugs as it as a chemical problem. The result is that, instead of looking to our behavior or life-circumstances to address depression, we have a massive new array of anti-depression medications that did not exist even a few decades ago. Yet with all the anti-depressive drugs we are taking, we seem to be getting more depressed. Some anti-depression drugs have as side effects making us more depressed. This is to be expected. As depression results from dependence upon external stimulation, a category into which anti-depression drugs also fit, they are likely to create more depression in the long run, or at least reduce our level of creativity, contentment and motivation.


Drug-based medicine tells us that we are not responsible for such brain chemistry imbalances. We are victims of our brain chemistry that depends upon various factors beyond our control, starting with genetics. Believing this assumption to be true might make us feel personally relieved of blame, but in absolving us of all responsibility for our condition, it takes away our ability to control or improve our own health and well-being. If we are the victims of brain chemistry, what is a human being or a human soul and what responsibility in life do we really have?


Depression and Behavioral Issues


The fact is that most depression is behavioral based. Our wrong life-styles of excessive activity, over stimulation and disruption from the world of nature eventually leave us depleted and depressed, particularly at a psychological and emotional level. Yoga teaches us that the quality of rajas or excessive aggression and stimulation leads to the quality of tamas or dullness, inertia and depression as we wear ourselves out, burn ourselves up, or just become overly hyper, sensitive, restless and stressed.


In our individualistic oriented society we often end up alone, as family and community are subordinated to individual achievements. This makes us more dependent upon media stimulation to fill the emptiness of our lives. Loneliness and depression often go together.


To look at it from another angle, depression is nothing but low energy in the mind or at a psychological level. To some extent just as we all have periods of low physical energy, particularly as a consequence of excessive activity, we also have periods of low mental energy as a consequences of too much mental or emotional work or stimulation. Just as physical low energy rests upon lack of exercise and poor nutrition, so psychological low energy rests upon lack of mental exercise and poor nutrition for the mind.


How many of us exercise our minds in creative and intelligent ways, rather than just follow mindless mass entertainments? Have you examined your mental nutrition that you take in through your senses? We will let people into our own minds through the media that we would never let into our homes. We watch programs full of violence, destruction and negative emotions as entertaining.


Depression indicates weak psychological and physical immunity. Many who claim to be suffering from depression have actually not suffered much outwardly in life in terms of disease or deprivation, but are reacting to emotional issues, often rooted in childhood. Depression involves too much fixation on our personal self and ego, a kind of inverted narcissism as it were. The more we think about our depression, which is to give it more attention, the worse it gets.


What Depression Can Teach Us


First in treating depression, we should not target depression as the enemy, like a pathogen to be destroyed, something coming from the outside. We must try to understand its cause within us, and what its message is about how we live and think. We should try to understand what our depression is telling us and what it might be teaching us about our situation in life.


Depression like pain may be the symptom of a deeper problem. Depression may be telling us that there is something unfulfilling or even wrong about our lives – that we may need to fundamentally change who we are or how we function in the world. It may be telling us that we are not using our time wisely and need to change our daily routine. Depression may be spiritually based as without any meditation practice or deeper values, the externally world will eventually leave us feeling empty, depleted and without any value of our own.


Treatment For Depression


What is the treatment for depression? First it should be mainly behavioral, though many other factors can help. It should be based upon natural healing, not artificial substances. Anything lacking in prana or the life force cannot in the long run truly raise our spirits that reflect our prana. We must learn to withdraw from external stimulation and develop our own internal creativity, motivation and discipline to overcome depression. Depression may be a sign that you need to detach and move on in your life to a new level of awareness. Depression may also hide deeper fears. Without challenging our fears, depression may shadow us along with them.


To get beyond depression we must cease to play the role of victims in life and take karmic responsibility for who we are. We must begin to pursue a life of higher awareness rather than mere personal enjoyment and outer success. We must give up the chemical model of behavior and accept that our state of mind is our rooted in our own values, actions and motivations – in our life-style itself. We must stop blaming our bodies, our parents or even our society for who we are. We must empower our inner being and this can only be done by developing will power. Naturally such personality and behavioral changes cannot happen overnight but we can introduce them gradually every day.


There are simple things we can do for depression in Yoga and Ayurveda.


We can use stimulating aromas or incense like champak, frangipani, camphor, eucalyptus, mint, sage or tulsi, or take herbs like tulsi, brahmi or calamust to clear the mind. We can use nasya oils to clear our sinuses or a neti pot to cleanse them in order to bring more prana into the head. We can practice pranayama to bring deeper energy to the brain. As long as our sinuses and lungs are open and our breath is deep and full it is hard to fall into depression or stay in it.

We can chant mantras like Hreem or Om Namah Shivaya, or whatever mantras we best relate to, or repeat them silently to get our energy moving. We can use Ayurvedic herbal teas like tulsi, calamus or brahmi to improve circulation to the brain, or natural calmative herbs like sandalwood oil to the head.

We can go outdoors into nature, take a hike in the hills, go swimming, take a yoga asana class. We must move our bodies. We can do inverted poses to draw the energy into the brain.

We should learn to relate to life and the universe through the sky, the waters, the Earth and mountains, trees, flowers and herb s, and all creatures great and small. We must open up our mental horizons to the boundless space of consciousness. Only if we give the mind space within itself can it heal itself. For this we must be willing to experience the emptiness within, which will eventually fill itself with awarenes if we are receptive to it.


We must take responsibility for our own depression and not just look for some quick outer fix to make it go away for a while. Depression is often a self-indulgent emotion arising from worry about ourselves and over fixation on our personal happiness. A good cure for depression is to perform service work for others in more difficult life situations than yourself. Try also removing the clutter from your room or your house to help remove the clutter from your mind that depression often involves.


  • In more specific Ayurvedic terms, airy Vata dosha types often end up in a deep depression born of debility and nervous exhaustion, though they may also be manic-depressives with many ups and downs over time. They need good nutrition, relaxation, oil massage, tonic herbs like ashwagandha, and human company.
  • Watery Kapha dosha types can have chronic heavy depression born of lack of movement, lethargy and overweight. They need to be prodded and motivated, made to move and act both physically and mentally. They need stronger exercise, pranayama and svedana or steam therapies.
  • Fiery Pitta dosha types usually get depressed when they fail to achieve their personal goals or when their efforts are blocked. Depression often goes along with anger. They can be bipolar and strike out against others. They need to cool off and calm down, cultivating forgiveness and compassion, with cooling herb like brahmi or manduka parni.


In terms of Vedic Astrology, depression is more common when Saturn aspects the Moon in the chart, during Saturn to Moon transits (sade sathi), when Saturn is transiting the eighth house from the Moon, or during Moon-Saturn or Saturn-Moon periods in the individual birth chart. Additional Mars aspects to the Moon can worsen the situation, or Rahu influence on the Moon.  Certain sensitive Ascendants like Gemini, Virgo or Pisces are more prone to depression by nature. This is also true of charts with a Scorpio Moon or debilitated Saturn. Such astrological influences require that we manage our karmas in life properly and develop detachment. Mantras and gems for the planets can help, like pearl for the moon, or chants to Saturn (Shani Dev).


Good Ayurveda or Vedic astrology practitioners or Vedic counselors will have many insights about how to deal with depression without resorting to drugs of any type.


In conclusion, to move out of depression we need to affirm our own higher Self and not make too much of the world that is but an appearance of the senses.

It should be beneath your dignity as a Divine soul and immortal consciousness to wallow in depression. You true nature is Being-Consciousness-Bliss absolute beyond the body and mind, Satchidananda.


December 11, 2018

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