In a relatively recent post, I wrote about the signs and symptoms of two common depression diagnoses. So now I’d like to approach the treatment of depression from a yoga and mental health perspective. In Ayurveda (the sister science of yoga), we would most likely describe depression symptoms as excess kapha, the energy of earth and water that gets stuck and stagnant when out of balance. Depending on the situation, I could also foresee a depressed individual being someone with an imbalance in another dosha (DOE-shuh) or sub-dosha, but whose primary guna (GOO-nuh) is tamasic (tah-MAH-sick): slow, lethargic, inactive, stagnant, heavy, and dark. I know, I know, I’m throwing a lot of Sanskrit words at you today, but stay with me Think about that last one for a bit… Slow, lethargic, inactive, stagnant, heavy, and dark. If you or anyone you love has ever been depressed, I’m sure those words ring true for you.
Ayurveda is a complex and detailed approach to health and wellness. As such, it is far too intricate for me to go into detail here (naturally, if you’d like to learn more about your dosha, or constitution, contact me to schedule your Professional Yoga TherapyTM evaluation today). I will say that the Ayurvedic yoga approach to depression, or any mental health imbalance, is one that is very individualized. It is worlds apart from the “take two pills and call me in the morning” approach to health that Western medicine often takes. That said, a variety of Western research studies have shown that yoga-based interventions are effective in reducing depressive symptoms (Wolf, 2000; Lavey, et al., 2005; Zerka Yoo, 2008). I enjoy reading yoga therapy research, as I’m hopeful that this adds credibility to yoga therapy and reduces some of the “airy fairy” concerns that people have about using yoga in the health and mental health care fields. Credibility is also one reason I like referring to the Sanskrit terms behind these concepts. This isn’t a bunch of gibberish I just made up (I swear!), but a systematic and individualized approach to wellness that’s been around far longer than our current medical systems. Consequently, taking an Ayurvedic yoga approach to address depressive symptoms could look something like this:
- Energetic and cleansing breathwork – In yoga, we call breathwork “pranayama” (prahn-uh-YAHM). For a depressed individual, I would recommend breathing strategies that energize, cleanse, or even bring balance to a person’s energy (again, depending on a variety of specific factors). These could include Victorious Breath (aka “Ujjayi”, oo-JAI-ee), Sun Breath, and Alternate Nostril Breathing. There is also the use of Bee Breath (a sighing exhalation) for the clearing out of physical and emotional pain brought on by depression.
- Mudra (MOO-drah) – These are hand positions intended to focus or channel the flow of energy within the body. Abhaya (ahb-HA-ya) Mudra builds inner strength and create a protective barrier against negative energy. Jnana (ny-AH-nah) Mudra reminds us of our unity with all things (depression can make you feel alone and isolated, after all) and helps to focus the mind. This is great for addressing the lack of concentration that is often present with depression. Two more favorite mudras for depression include Pushpaputa Mudra, used to recognize the abundance that awaits us, and Rudra (ROO-druh) Mudra, which decreases heaviness and lethargy, increasing energy flow to the entire body.
- Asana (AH-suhn) – This is the Sanskrit term for yoga’s physical postures. To address depressive symptoms, I would focus my client on utilizing the energizing and balancing poses. Again, specific recommendations must always take into consideration the severity and type of symptoms present, as well as the client’s physical abilities. There are a wide range of energizing and balancing poses that can be used here. These include everything from gentle, supported backbends on the floor to powerful standing poses and challenging one-legged balance poses. Even if yoga isn’t quite your style, Zerka Yoo (2008) found that both hapkido and yoga were effective in reducing depressive symptoms. So increasing your physical activity in general could be helpful.
Walk around the house/yard and slowly graduate to walking to the corner and back, if you’re thinking a whole exercise plan is too much.
As I said in my last post on this topic: Please consult with a qualified mental health professional, if you think you or a loved one are experiencing depressive symptoms. You can also take this online Depression Screening Test to help you determine whether your feelings & behaviors match up with depressive symptoms. Psych Central hosts this screening test and has an amazing collection of resources on the depression and its treatment. If you do seek out yoga and Ayurveda to help treat what you think are depressive symptoms, please choose your practitioner wisely. Professional Yoga Therapists are the most highly qualified yoga practitioners trained in the use of medical, research-based yoga therapy to treat health and mental health diagnoses within their specialties. To find an Ayurvedic medical practitioner near you, visit the National Ayurvedic Medical Association or the California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine.
As always, thanks for reading and take good care of your Self!
Lavey, R.; Sherman, T., Mueser, K.T.; Osborne, D.D.; Currier, M., and Wolfe, R. (2005). The effects of yoga on mood in psychiatric inpatients. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 28, 399–402.
Wolf, D.B. (2000). Effects of the hare krsna maha mantra on stress, depression, and the three gunas. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 60(7-B), 3584.
Zerka Yoo, Christine (2008). Hapkido vs. yoga: Analysis of choice, persistence and psychological benefits. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 68(12-B), 8441.