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The Yogic Approach to Managing Depression

Depression is a psychosomatic disorder which afflicts the whole physical and mental structure. The nervous system, the network of endocrine glands, the muscular system of the body, sleep patterns and appetite are all disrupted. These days depression is one of the most common illnesses and the impact of this disease is not on the sufferer alone, but it has far reaching effects on family members, friends and colleagues as well. Depression is equally common in both women and men. The most likely sufferers belong to two groups: Men in retirement and women undergoing the menopause or 'change of life'. However, depression can surface at any age, often in young people, for example, college students and young housewives.


Some of the common symptoms of depressive illness are listed below, but not all these features will be present in every depressed patient.

Loneliness: The person feels that no one else can know exactly how wretched he is feeling. This persistent lowering of mood is one of the most characteristic features.

Insomnia: There is always a disturbance in sleep pattern. Sometimes there is difficulty getting off to sleep; but more often the complaint is of waking in the night or early morning and being unable to go off to sleep again. Sometimes a depressed person will sleep for 12 or more hours and still wake un-refreshed.

Lack of energy or overwhelming physical tiredness: Depressed persons are easily fatigued, even if just sitting in a chair all day

Loss of appetite and weight: A decreased appetite is almost always seen among depressed persons with resulting weight loss.

Increased irritability: The depressed person is usually irritable. Small things annoy him. He is aware that the irritability is unjustified, but can do nothing about it.

Loss of memory and concentration power: Depressive disorders can affect memory and concentration.

Loss of interest in life: Things are put off until tomorrow, and even simple tasks become insurmountable difficulties.

Excessive worrying: There is difficulty in making decisions, even very simple ones such as what clothes to wear.

Anxious and agitated behaviour often masks underlying depression: When anxiety is eliminated either by tranquillizing drugs or by Yogic practices, the depression manifests itself fully.

A variety of physical ailments: such as aches and pains; constipation or indigestion.

Slowness to act and slowness of body movements, speech, etc: This is termed psycho-motor retardation.

Feelings of self-pity and hopelessness: The person feels that he is not appreciated and that no one really cares. This is when thoughts of suicide begin to arise.


Three distinct types of depression reactions are recognized, but they frequently complicate one another. They are biologically based depression, reactive depression, drug-induced depression.

1. Biologically based depression:
This includes endogenous depression and manic depression. The onset of this type of depression is unrelated to external or environmental stress factors. However, it can frequently be traced to hormonal disturbances, especially imbalance of the pituitary, thyroid and reproductive hormones in the blood. Both underactive thyroid and menopause are prominent causes of depression.
This state of depression commonly follows diseases such as influenza and hepatitis, and sometimes childbirth in women. Biologically depression is also a symptom of some physical disorders such as anaemia and electrolyte imbalance.

2. Reactive depression:

This is a state of depression which descends following some form of environmental stress in the life of the sufferer. Disappointment in life is a common precipitating factor. The particular circumstances which lead on to depression, for one person depend on his individual personality, strengths and weaknesses. Common precipitating causes may include unfulfillment in marriage, failure of business enterprise, academic under-achievement or failure, response to the pain and disability of a physical illness, etc. This form of depression is especially common following sudden and unexpected failure in life.

3. Drug-induced depression:

This is a form of depression which has become far more common in recent years as many more powerful drugs and medicines are being prescribed. A wide variety of drugs such as anti-hypertensive agents (prescribed for blood pressure), sedatives and anti-anxiety drugs, anti-psychotic drugs, stimulants and appetite suppressant drugs. There are some others also: Indomethacin prescribed for arthritis, sulphonamides for dysentery and other infections, levodopa for parkinson's disease, oral contraceptives for prevention of pregnancy may produce depression.

Normal and abnormal depression:

A depressive reaction is considered to be a normal event following a loss in life. It may last for 8 to 10 weeks and does not require medical treatment. When it persists beyond this, it may become a depressive illness. In the recently bereaved, who have been deprived of a close relative or family member, insomnia, sadness, despair, anger, guilt, restlessness and increased physical complaints are part of the normal grieving reaction. These persist for a few months. If symptoms continue and an aura of hopelessness and sadness continues to surround the sufferer, then abnormal depressive illness is present. Such a depressive illness usually runs a course of between 6 and 12 months. It may become chronic and last for years.

Medical management of depression:

Medical management of depression is largely symptomatic at the present time. Doctors rely on anti-depressant drugs including the tricyclic anti-depressants and the monoamine oxidase inhibitor group, to temporarily elevate the patient's mood. However, soon after these drugs are discontinued, the depression usually descends as before. Also, the drugs have troublesome side-effects which increase with time of usage.

Severe depression may be prescribed electroconvulsive shock therapy (E.C.T.) in which a short, high-voltage electrical shock is applied to the brain. This is a major procedure which profoundly alters the state of the patient's memory, recall and other capacities, at least for some days or weeks. It offers temporary relief of overwhelming depression, and is often the only remedy for severely depressed patients in whom suicide seems a real and likely possibility. It has the advantage that the depressive mood is elevated immediately, whereas anti-depressant drugs must be taken for 3 weeks before reliable blood levels are attained and elevation of depression occurs. Psychotherapy has also been utilized for some depressed patients, but with limited success. At present, medical cure of depressive illness remains elusive.

The Yogic Approach to Managing Depression:

Yogic practices effectively alleviate depression. Even the deepest depressive states and illnesses respond to Yogic therapy, but this therapy should be undertaken by a qualified Yoga teacher. According to Yogic science, depression occurs when there is no objective in life and no engagement for the mind. It occurs especially after retirement, when many people do not know how to fill in the extra time because they have no social, cultural, artistic or spiritual interests. So, they just end up sitting idly, wasting time. But how long can one just keep sitting? It may go on for one or two years, but during this time, the mental faculties are undergoing a process of degeneration through disuse and the nerves themselves begin to atrophy. This is nervous depression.

Yogic program for depressive illnesses:

Asana: preparatory practices (part 1, 11 & energy block postures). For these Asanas please read my article on ‘Yogic Home Work’.

Then start with Surya-namaskara, Trikonasana, Vajrasana, Ushtrasana, Shashankasana, Bhujangasana,Shashank-Bhujangasana, Paschimottanasana, Sarvangasana, Halasana, Utthanasana, Yoga-mudra, Matsyasana, Shavasana.

Pranayama: Deep breathing, Shitali, Shitkari, Ujjayi, Nadi Shodhana, Bhastrika, Maha Bandha and Brahmari.

Yogic Kriyas: Neti Kriya, Kunjal Kriya, laghoo Shankhaprakshalana, Agnisar Kriya, Kapalbhati Kriya, Nauli Kriya.

Mudras and Bandhas: Uddiyana Bandha, Moola Bandha (contraction and release of perineal body) 25 times. Maha Mudra.

Yoga Nidra: The use of a carefully chosen Sankalpa (personal resolution) during the practice of Yoga nidra will help the practitioner to grow in strength and self-esteem. Also, the decision to dedicate 30 minutes daily to this form of self-care is an important step in healing. It results in increased energy and reduced tiredness, and will probably be deemed enjoyable!

Meditation: One should do Meditation daily. Sit for Meditation early morning, at noontime, in the evening and at night for 15 to 20 minutes.

Trataka Dhyana: Another meditative practice that is often beneficial in managing depression is Trataka on a candle flame. The light of the flame stimulates the pineal gland. Under stimulation of the pineal by light is now recognized in scientific circles as a significant contributor to seasonal affective disorder – SAD, or winter depression. Also, Trataka develops willpower in the practitioner and this quality assists the depressed person in establishing regular practice, so necessary for recovery.

Diet: To bring the depression down to nil level it is advisable to consume fresh vegetables, fresh juices of fresh fruits, sprouted grains, skimmed milk without cream.

Avoid: Non-veg food, oily & spicy food, refined foods, fast food and preserved food.

Karma Yoga, a study of good books, company of people of matured thought and positive thinking, company of people who can infuse faith, inspire and leave deep impression would be of much help. The patient should go on repeating to his mind “I am quite well, I am quite healthy, I am quite composed.” He should continue thinking that all around is beautiful, all around is auspicious, and then everything will turn out beautiful, healthy, sound and happy.

To summarize, the Yogic approach to managing depression is to take the energetic view. We can reduce depressive states and gather the strength and willpower to embark on the next phase – that of examining and resolving the underlying causes of the depression. The practice of Yoga will clear all depression and will surely enlighten the life by rejuvenation and lightening the lamp of hopeful life.

Courtesy: Dr. Rita Khanna

Aum Shanti