Darkness to Light | Yoga & Depression

Article by Evelyn Einhäuser. Based on an online Yoga therapy seminar by Dr. Kausthub Desikachar

'The moment people are consciously working with breath, they are also working with spirit.'  - Dr Kausthub Desikachar

Depression, like all other sicknesses, works on various layers of our existence.  We might experience symptoms on a physiological level, such as digestive problems, constant exhaustion, fatigue or headaches. We might also cope with psychological effects and suffer from feelings like worthlessness, diverse anxieties or total numbness. On a spiritual level we experience a disconnection from others, the divine and our Self.

In Yoga, health is referred to as 'svastha', 'sva' meaning 'self' and 'stha' meaning 'to stay'. Therefore in Yoga those people are considered healthy that still have that connection to their Self/ the divine.

Yoga is a holistic practice that addresses and works on all layers of our human existence. The beauty of this ancient practice is that whatever tools you are using, be it Asana, Mudra, Pranayama, Mantra, or Dhyanam, and on whatever level you start working (be it the body or the breath or the mind) - all dimensions of our being will be influenced simultaneously.

Yoga can therefore be an effective assisting tool in the therapy of depression. Even though each case has to be considered and dealt with individually and most forms of depression definitely also require medical care, there are four major areas, in which yoga practices can be enormously beneficial for the healing process of depressed people.

The first area that yoga can improve is the concept of 'lightness'. Aggravated Kapha or a lack of Prana-vayu and the disconnection from our inner light cause the typical heaviness of emotions, the slow digestion, lethargy or numbness associated with depression. Therefore the tools must target the Prana-vayu and should also help people reconnect so that they can come out of dullness and dark moods. Asanas and pranayama of the Brhmana kind that uses special ratios, Krama-s and Mantras or the visualization of 'light' sources (like the sun or fire) can be especially efficient. Chanting is also a potent tool in the therapy of depression as it also has the potency to work on the unconscious and therefore has the ability to alleviate even deep psychological patterns. Mantra-s that focus on the sun like the Gayatri or ones that focus on the heart like Aditya Hrdayam are especially recommendable to reconnect people and to reestablish a feeling of lightness.

The next area that Yoga can influence positively is the circulation of blood and Prana. When the blood becomes heavy which is usually the case with depressed patients because the circulation is slower, its own capacity to remove toxins out of the system becomes limited. Again Vinyasa-krama with Brhmana type Asana-s, Pranayama with Karanyasa or specific Bhavana-s help improve circulation.

Thirdly, Yoga practices can stimulate and improve metabolism and therefore help to remove toxins. Usually patients with depression also suffer from metabolic problems. Asana practices that include specific twists and the practice of certain bandhas and mudras would be most suitable to facilitate digestion.

Last but not least comes the strongest potential of Yoga which lies in its essential nature: its potency to link someone back to the divine and their inner Self which on a spiritual level is the main cause for depression. For that the work with mantras and meditation is seen as the most potent. It is no wonder that the study of chants is referred to as Adhyayanam, 'Adhi' meaning 'the source or what is within' and 'ayanam' translating to 'a journey, or a movement'. Adhyayanam therefore is that which leads you back inside, that which reconnects you. It is that connection which ultimately brings you back to health.