Ayurvedic Yoga on Depression + Three "2-Minute" Meditations
Updated: Nov 20, 2020
Namaste, sweet soul, and thank you for taking your time to learn more about Ayurveda and depression from a holistic lens. Whether you've experienced depression in your own body or as a support system for someone prone, it's never easy to be within its heaviness without knowing how to help. As someone with mental illness laden throughout my networks and lineage, I spent far too much time icing over the symptoms with toxic positivity before feeling comfortable enough to sit with them and realize that there are so many proactive approaches that allow me to step into my power to do something when my body starts feeling sad, heavy and just not good enough, as well as to help the people I love and am connected with who are ready to be supported.
In this article, I offer you some of the insight that helped me understand depression in a way that felt less intrusive, blaming and woo-woo than a lot of the western research, self-help books, therapists, and coaches could. This way, I could tap into (and talk about) all of the services available with more confidence and understanding. Through the life science of Ayurveda, we take a look at how depression is just a symptom of greater imbalances that our bodies naturally struggle with because of our lineages, our societies and how modern life currently moves. By the end of this article, you'll have an entirely different perspective on depression that will help you see it from a more natural vantage point alongside time-tested advice and meditations to manage and heal the symptoms so you can start the journey toward a lighter, more wholesome life today.
If it feels like too much to take all of this in (it's about a 20-minute read), you may choose to take this on section-by-section so you are able to better digest it at your own pace. Or, if you know that you're more interested in the remedies and don't need the inner-workings that led to them right now, head over to take this quiz from Banyan Botanicals to find out your unique body composition in Ayurvedic terms so you can connect with the meditative remedies at the end that serve your body best. Once you finish, head to the last section entitled, "Balancing Depression Through Ayurvedic Meditation" to use the meditation or meditations that connect with the highest imbalances within your results.
How Dis-ease Develops: An Ayurvedic Perspective
In yoga, we call our heart's or soul's purpose our dharma, which is how our life naturally unfolds once we start rebuilding our connection to nature and a personal connection to our own body and health. Both yogic and Ayurvedic sciences hold the perspective that building a deeper connection to nature, natural law and the power of one's own unique body creates the foundation for inner peace and well-being. When we start to feel depressed, the ancient sciences know that there's nothing wrong with us, rather that we have simply been guided away from our unique dharma, which will always cause some form of suffering in our body, whether it be physical, mental or emotional depends on how we were guided away. All of it means we lost control of our own personal power somewhere along the way.
Adharma is an ancient principle stating that anytime we live outside of own heart, perspective and the unique truths we have learned from the natural unfolding of our own lives, we bind ourselves to the pain and disharmony of the collective society, family or social situation that we are allowing to call the shots for us instead of our own hearts and inner knowing. In modern times, this is too easy for us to do, so there's really no blame to place on yourself. An interdependent lifestyle that allows each of us to follow our own unique purpose is the foundation of all yogic, Ayurvedic and Vedic sciences; however, living in a codependent society, it's very natural for us to identify our lives with the people around us instead of with the quiet voice or sensations inside our own heart, which is why so many of us holistic teachers call it a journey.
Writing from the United States, our present healthcare system is built on a codependent medical and pharmaceutical model, where naturopathic doctors who teach us how to stay independent and healthy are largely considered second-class by popular opinion. While I grew up thinking pharmaceutical medicine was normal and healthy, the more I looked into the history of holistic health and healing, the more I realized our medical system is as money and economy-driven as a fast-food restaurant. Before you cringe, I am not here to put down medicine in any way, rather to remind us that it was created for emergency situations whereas holistic medicine was created for preventative situations and to help us become healthy so we don't need medicine.
Fortunate enough to study at an Ayurvedic Institute in India, I got to witness firsthand a man coming into the facility in a wheelchair - told by our U.S. doctors that he would never walk again - and leaving a month later with the support of just a cane. While not everyone has the willpower and dedication that man had, if we realize that's all we need, the sky truly is the limit, but I digress. What I hope to offer everyone is far more simple than a sky limit - I just want you to know that even if it feels hopeless now, it never is. There's also nothing wrong with you for feeling hopeless. Even if your body is experiencing imbalances right now, your heart and soul are working just fine. When our bodies are imbalanced, both are just trying to show us that we went the wrong way so we can turn around.
What is Depression and How Does Ayurveda See It?
In the West, we define depression as "the state of feeling very sad and without hope" (Oxford), which, while undeniably true, focuses on the symptoms experienced rather than the root cause behind these symptoms. Ayurveda doesn't deny that depression causes us to feel and experience intense grief, rather it looks at the body and wonders why this is happening. As I tapped into in my last post, Ayurveda sees a balanced body as encompassing healthy perspective regarding twenty of life's key qualities.
Step Back: What is Ayurveda? And What are these "Key Qualities" All About?
Though it may seem rather bland, boring and simple to boil life down to just twenty qualities, it's actually very intriguing and mimics the struggles of our external world pretty well if we think about it.
These twenty qualities represent paradigms of life - contrasts of life - and how mindlessly breaking the world down into black and white harms us inside in the same way we are witnessing on a larger level on the outside. Such simplicity causes us to think between black and white is grey, which only really shows us how much our eyes play tricks on us. The science behind the light spectrum knows that grey is a mixture of black and white while in between the two is a rainbow of color.
Such cognitive distortions cloud our mind, our judgments and our abilities to ration purely and correctly, making depression that much easier to enter into our bodies, our societies and our lives. We easily can see that grey is very different than a rainbow, which may help us understand how the more we try to mix black and white and pretend it makes sense, the more we are all prone to suffering.
Seeing the world in shades of grey makes our internal worlds feel grey and inevitably sends us off of the colorful world our dharma thrives within and into the colorless world of adharma, disease and depression. The greyscale turns us all into human-actors instead of human-beings. Moreover, in reality, all of us are naturally pink inside unless we get caught up in the treacherous webs of this false duality, which causes our body to mimic these thoughts, turning our insides either some form of white with inflammation or black with the devastation of death. Everything as simple as it is complicated.
When we stop the act and instead learn how to just be again, we remember how to live in the life and passion of our dharma and remove the grey karmas from our mind that cause our dis-ease. Ayurveda's a life science that's a master of the balance and temperance necessary to restore the pure pink to the body and the purest placement of colors to the mind. Its key qualities merely take the ten opposing principles of life and notice where we as individuals turned into human-actors - picking a side to fight for so we could play a part in the entertaining play we see moving around us - instead of human-beings living consciously in each moment with one another to learn, love and grow together.
The beauty of it all, too, is that the doctors never tell you any of this. Instead, they just show you how to appreciate the other side by prescribing balancing medicines depending on your unique imbalances - where you are currently seeing grey in place of color can be seen through your dosha, or primary Ayurvedic imbalance. A science of life handed down for thousands of years, its explanation may just seem mesmerizing until you're ready to use it to feel healthy again, and then you get to live in the mesmerizing world of colors again. Remember that old adage, the truth will set you free?
The key qualities that we must learn to appreciate and keep in balance to stay healthy - in mind, body and soul - are: dullness versus sharpness; hardness versus softness; heaviness versus lightness; coolness versus warmness; wetness versus dryness; denseness versus subtleness; roughness versus smoothness; slowness versus quickness; solidness versus liquidness; and oiliness versus brittleness. If you already feel your preferences surfacing - good - that means you have so much wonder and awe to fill up with to make your body feel better and better every damn day. Let's do it!
Anxiety versus Depression: Another Continuum, Kind Of
Much like the key qualities, anxiety and depression also exist as a balancing act when we fall away from our unique purpose in life. A lot of people actually walk around with a belief that anxiety and depression are one in the same, i.e. you can't have one without the other, which, I guess, is largely true; however, it's far too simple to put it so bluntly. If you have one and let it go untreated, yes, the other will pop up in order for homeostasis to occur; however, which one comes first plays a huge role in how the body can keep up when untreated.
While depression creeps into the body to balance untreated anxiety quite easily for most people, anxiety needs to fight pretty hard to restore any sort of balance once depression sinks its teeth into a body. Anxiety is a high-vibratory imbalance in the body, meaning that although it's very exhausting and wearing on bod, you have to have a lot of energy and nutrients in the body to support an anxious state.On the contrary, depression is a low-vibratory imbalance, meaning it can (and will) sneak into all bodies if left to their own devices.
When it comes to treatments, they are a lot different as well, think total opposite ends of a spectrum. Even though it's low in vibration, Ayurvedic doctors have found that depression is a lot more complicated to treat than anxiety. While anxiety can be seen and treated as an excess of vata, or ether/air preferences in the body (cold, dry, brittle, etc.), depression varies depending on the unique body, and all imbalances can create space for depression to thrive.
People with untreated anxiety tend to fall into bouts of depression; people with untreated depression may start off with enough energy to jump into anxious states; however, after time sets in and the root cause is never treated, the depression tends to take over and the body eventually no longer has energy to even get anxious. This is when things tend to get pretty bad, that word differing in meaning depending on the type of depression a person experiences.
A depressed person experiences anxiety and irritability for a while in the beginning alongside of emptiness, helplessness, guilt, pain and general feelings of restlessness (despite supreme exhaustion), until the anxiety and irritability just stop. If seen by a medical professional, this individual would likely be diagnosed with clinical depression, although physiologically it's a lot deeper than any label can justify. This is never to say medical treatment isn't helpful, as it certainly is and can be revolutionary to someone depending on the treatment, the person, and how emergent the situation.
Ayurveda never tries to negate a treatment to prescribe its own, rather seeks to get to the root cause alongside of the treatments that are most successful and trusted by the body, mind and soul that's being treated through the life science of Ayurveda. A practice of returning to nature, the starting point doesn't matter as much as us knowing where we are starting from. A person with a long track record of ignored depression in the body may certainly need the support of medical professionals unless perhaps he or she is ready to join a stay-in healthcare facility that offers holistic treatments in order for their body to remain safe and well until it is healed. A law of the universe: an object in motion stays in motion just as an object in stillness stays in stillness unless deeply affected by an outside force.
Another important note is that there should be no judgment in the healing process. Judgments create stress in the body, which makes it harder for the body to heal itself. On the contrary, mental healing still tends to be heavily stigmatized and stress-inducing as compared to physical healing, sending the body into worsened states many times merely thinking about getting help. Matter of fact, in most first world societies, mental and emotional well-being is taught to be neglected for physical prosperity within the structure that the society is built upon. Thereby, judging yourself or another for falling into mental pitfalls and an adharmic - or suffering - state is likened to judging yourself or another for not knowing how to speak a foreign language that you were never taught.
If you're reading this thinking, shit, I am definitely in the deep end of an adharmic lifestyle, whether depressed or just far from your heart, you're not alone. Nonetheless, I highly recommend reaching out for a lifestyle consultation with me or one of the many Ayurvedic guides and professionals out there to start moving closer to nature. While I am first world expensive, the Jiva network in India has been consulting virtually since 1992 where you can book a professional Ayurvedic consultation online with a doctor today and receive on-going naturopathic treatment at a fraction of the costs you'd spend in the States for medical treatments.
Moreover, while I love to work with all people to help balance the complicated dis-eases our body faces (slash promote the power of nature and self-discipline), I am in no way a doctor, and have no credentials nor the heart to treat someone with clinical depression nor other serious dis-eases; however, if you're already being seen by a doctor and are following his or her regimen, these and more Ayurvedic lifestyle tips and techniques help tremendously alongside of your current program.
If you are currently experiencing persistent and ongoing sadness that has caused a loss of interest in parts of your life that used to bring you lots of passion and joy, this signals a more emergent condition within the physiology of your body and professional treatment can help reconnect your body with the homeostasis it needs to feel well again. If you're interested in Ayurveda but not online, Ayurvedic doctors are available all over the U.S., just head over to Dr. Google and type in "Ayurvedic doctors near me" to start seeing the local options available to you.
Different People, Different Types of Depression
In India, where Ayurveda derived and thrives, researchers discovered depression comes in three forms depending on an individual's dosha, which is a term used to describe the imbalances our body is prone to based on our genealogy. If you're a yoga regular, you've likely heard this term being bounced around the studio and maybe even have taken a quiz online to determine yours already.
While there are many great ones out there, there are also a lot that just jump into the hype of it all. I haven't had a chance to develop an online framework yet with the printouts I use with my students, but can heavily recommend my colleagues at Banyan Botanicals if you are interested in learning more about your unique composition, the imbalances you're prone to, and which meditation will likely serve you best today. They ask for a bit of information, but I heavily recommend their site for accuracy.
If you have a strong connection with your intuition, you may be able to infer your type by reading the descriptions below or just trying each one of them out and seeing what feels most calming to your body-mind system in this moment. While most of us tend to have one dosha-dominant, i.e. a body that tends towards just one type of imbalance, some bodies are prone to two or even all three. If you're experiencing depression and connect with all imbalances, this is not really a bad thing, rather it's a sign that all the meditations will likely have a large impact on elevating your mood in different ways.
This first category is associated with individuals that have a vata body-type, a vata-predominance or a high vata momentary imbalance. People with vata in their natural bodies throughout life tend or tended to be lean, lanky and have had high connections with their cerebral capacity (i.e. mind) throughout their lives, whether that be highly-intelligent, highly-intuitive, and, many times, both. Connected with the elements ether and air, a vata-individual may seem to float above the world around him or her, making it difficult for people to notice, see or expect depression within them.
Connected with highly motive and cold elements, these individuals may be really good at masking or numbing over their emotions in order to just keep moving. This type of depression tends to have a lot of environmental factors that cause the feelings and symptoms of depression to arise in the body (such as sensations of lethargy and sadness). People who have experienced a history of emotional-abuse (which can be physical, verbal or through another intentionally holding back love to cause a particular response) and traumatizing events tend to experience vata-type depression. Because of their unique ability to mask or numb their symptoms, these individuals may experience bouts of depression for a long time in their lives before realizing or recognizing the damage its causing in their lives.