How can Yoga help depression?
Tineke Duyvestyn, New Zeeland
Depression is one of the leading illnesses that our society faces today. Why this has come to be I am not sure, but one of the possibilities is that we are constantly and continually disconnecting ourselves from the environment, nature, and human contact. The use of social media has disconnected us to other human beings as we now talk via type instead of voice to voice; office work, concrete cities, shopping malls, and other industrial developments has us disconnected from nature and being in touch with Mother Earth. Focusing on Raja yoga, the scientific approach that connects mind and body, we can use techniques to dispel the feeling of disconnect and become in-tune with ones self and the world around us through self realization. Depression is a mental illness, so learning how to control the mind is a vital step to help eliminate symptoms.
One of the eight limbs of Raja yoga is Asana, the physical yoga postures that we preform. We practice asanas to create a healthy body, and a focused mind. One of the main focuses when performing asanas is on the breath, connecting our mind to the oxygen we are inhaling and the toxins we are exhaling. This helps to concentrate the mind, bringing our awareness to the present moment, and releasing other thoughts. A perfect sequence to connect body with mind and dispel negative thoughts is the Surya Namaskara sequence. It consists of 12 asanas, joint together through breath and movement. By focusing the mind to the correct movement with the correct breath one must be in the present state, helping to overcome depressive thoughts as the mind is pre-occupied. A full body work out and warm up gets the blood moving, and the concentrated breath ensures our prana circulates giving us renewed energy, evoking the feeling of accomplishment especially after repeating the sequence the recommended 6-12 times. I believe this sequence also helps to connect us back to Mother Earth as we are focusing on the sun, our planets leading life force, and focusing on our breath inhaling the air around us, our leading life force. Both these influences help to control depressed thoughts and bring perspective to ones mind.
Exercise has been proven to help people suffering from depression. Walking, running or heading to the gym are often solo practices, which does not help us to rebuild human connections. Yoga is generally preformed in classes or with a teacher, with human contact and through chanting OM at the start and end of the class we can feel the connection of the group which helps to create bonds through the vibrations. I believe that practicing outdoors is an efficient way to reconnect with nature. Often in a studio, if the depressed person is in their own head surrounded by dark thoughts, it can be very hard to overcome them individually, and if the class is not fast paced one has a lot of time to brood over these dark messages, which can make the depression worse. If one is practicing outdoors, the fresh air, and the focus on the earth around you automatically helps to fill the mind with positive energy. The distraction of nature adds an extra component to the yoga practice, especially when holding asanas, to keep dark thoughts from clouding the mind. Again, nature is bringing perspective to ones mind and through this connection one can begin to have self realization, end expels depression.