The yogic approach to depression - Embodied Living


Depression, anxiety and stress are all interrelated. Perhaps it starts with stress. We get ‘stressed’. This may be chronic (long term consistent level), or acute (short term intense spike) or both (ie acute on top of chronic). This stress affects our breathing, compromises our immune system and puts our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) into overdrive. This results in many psychological, physiological and behavioural symptoms that reduce the quality of our life.

Stress can lead to anxiety, a state of over arousal where fears, worries and negative thoughts can take over. Ultimately, I believe this over arousal of the ‘cognitive’ (thinking) mind, the ‘left brain’, and SNS can lead to a kind of cognitive ‘burn out’ which is wear depression comes in. (Remember the normal brain uses up the calorific equivalent of two kit kats and a packet of crisps, just in the process of thinking. Can’t remember exactly how many calories – i think its about 400 /day!).

Depression is when our nervous system is completely out of whack.

“Depression is not so much a condition of having no energy, as a kind of psychic constipation blocking our energy flow.” ~ Swami Satyananda

Depression is classically shown as excessive tiredness, apathy, no energy, lifelessness, intense introversion and inferiority – these are all classic signs of depression.

In yogic terms we look at the energetic state of the person, not the causes of the depression. And those of us trained in yoga for mental health, can put together yoga practices to balance the nervous system. After all the ‘hatha’ of hatha yoga is about balancing left and right, yin and yang, ida and pingala nadis. This rebalancing of the nervous system is central to yogic treatment of depression.

We achieve this through:

  • asanas – postures such as strong backward bending movements (cobra, camel, bow) are ideal because of their effect on the adrenal glands and thyroid, sidebends are good, and dynamic work of yang yoga and sequences such as surya namaskara as these release endorphins and testosterone helping us to feel good and connect to a sense of inner power
  • shatkarmas – cleansing practices such as kunjal and neti can release emotional blockages and rebalance us
  • pranayama – classically nadi shodana (alternate nostril breathing) is ideal, and bastrika type breathing will vitalise energy. Ujjiyi is also good for calming agitated states.
  • psychophysiology/psychotherapy – we address the subtle bodies and also the psychic knots (granthis) and aim to address somatic change before we address the mind
  • relaxation
  • meditation – antar mouna is especially powerful

Lifestyle factors such as diet, are also very important.

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