Ward off your depression with Yoga

“Yogas citta vrtti nirodha”

“Yoga is the calming of the fluctuations of the mind”

Depression is classified as a mood disorder.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, Fifth Edition, has defined depression as 5 or more of the following symptoms that are present for 2 or more weeks and cause significant emotional distress and/or impairment in functioning.

Symptoms are

  1. depressed or sad mood,
  2. short-tempered or easily annoyed,
  3. loss of interest or enjoyment in hobbies or activities that was previously enjoyed,
  4. feeling of worthlessness or guilt,
  5. thoughts of death or suicide,
  6. difficulty with concentrating or making decisions,
  7. feeling tired or fatigue,
  8. feeling restless or slow,
  9. changes in appetite such as overeating or loss of appetite,
  10. changes in weight such as weight loss or weight gain, and
  11. changes in sleep pattern.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression occurs due to a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors.

But the good news is that it can be treated if tackled early.

Some of the activities advised by Health hub Singapore to manage depression can be categorized in these few categories:

  • Socialize: spending time with friends and having fun, pursuing activities that you enjoy and are interested in, practicing acts of kindness which also helps to boost positive emotions.
  • Exercise: Taking care of your physical health, such as engaging in a physical activity you enjoy, eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep.
  • Contemplate: making time to relax and enjoy yourself, organizing your time so you feel in control, Finding things to laugh about, learning ways to manage stress effectively, focusing on the things to be grateful for in life.
  • Communicate: Sharing your feelings with others, or writing them down in a journal to help clear your thoughts

I am sure you can already see how Yoga can bring about positive change in all these aspects of your life.

  • Yoga will not only help you get a good physical workout while doing various poses, increase flexibility, strength, and vitality. It will also get those endorphins flowing through your body.
  • It will also encourage you to respect your body by eating healthy and teaching you techniques to relax (restorative yoga, yoga nidra) and get a good sleep. There are specific breathing techniques as well as yoga asanas that can help one sleep better (child’s pose, forward bend, savasana, paschimottanasna, prasarita padottanasana, bridge pose and Viparita karni etc.).
  • If you got to a studio and practice with a bunch of people. It might give you the opportunity to make like minded friends who knows you might find people who you can share your troubles with.
  • Yoga preaches kindness as the single most important thing. Ahimsa is, being mindful to not think, speak or act in a harmful way to yourself or others. Hence, be kind.
  • Contemplation or deep reflective thought is almost a synonym to the yogic practice of meditation. Meditation involves concentration on a single thought, object or point. It opens the mind and develops the conditions that are ideal for contemplation and to the eventual goal of pure knowing.
  • Maybe communication is not a part of yoga in the literal sense but if you go deeper, yoga does teach you to talk and listen to your own body and mind better. It helps to be one with yourself. It teaches you to focus on your thoughts and calming them down through pratyahara, dharana and dhyana. It also teaches you to be present in the moment. If that’s not the most important skill in communication, then what is?

 

If you are still not fully convinced. I would urge you to take a look at dozens of scientific studies that have conclusively proven the beneficial effects of Yoga for depression.

Although most of the yoga asanas will help you with depression but some that the Yoga experts swear by are:

  • Tadasana/ Mountain pose
  • Adho mukha vrikshasana/ Hand stand
  • Adho mukha svanasana/ Downward facing dog
  • Viparita dandasana/ Backbends
  • Sarvangasana/ Shoulder stand
  • Setubandhasana/ Bridge pose
  • Shavasana

Just remember to do these with the full knowledge of the contraindications or in the presence of an expert yoga teacher.

So, what are you waiting for!? Grab that mat and stand tall in a mountain pose.

Exploring the origin and history of Yoga

A people without the knowledge of their history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots- Marcus Garvey.
So, as a part of the community of Yoga, let us explore the history and origin of Yoga. Although Yoga did not develop into parts or different eras, it is loosely divided into following timelines:

1. Pre-Vedic (5000-3000 BC)
The origin of Yoga is not clear even after a century of research work but it believed to be more than 5000 years old. The earliest proof of Yoga is found in the archaeological diggings of Mohenjo-Daro or what is popularly know as the Indus Valley civilization. Indus valley civilization or Indus- Sarasvati civilization as it is now called is the bronze age civilization that flourished in the regions of what is now the North India and Pakistan on the banks of two rivers, Indus and Saraswati. It was a highly developed and advanced civilization with multi storey buildings, sewage systems, art, culture, trade, baked bricks, and roads. They are believed to be destroyed because of the tectonic events or climate changes that caused the drying up of the Sarasvati river. It was here during the study of this civilization that we found the earliest seal depicting a “Yogi” siting in Padmasana (Image 1). This civilization flourished from 3500 – 1500 BC.

Image 1: A stone seal from the Indus Valley civilization depicting a yogi in padmasana.

2. Vedic (3000-800 BC)
Vedas are the oldest surviving books in the history of mankind. These were initially transmitted orally from a teacher to his disciple and the first written account was only during 3200 BC by a sage named Vyasa. It is here, in this ancient textbook that the word yoga is first mentioned. Even some of the famous chants in yoga today, like the gayatri mantra or the maha mrityunjya mantra are direct verses from the Vedas.
We meditate on the glory of the Creator; who has created the universe; who is worthy of worship; who is embodiment of knowledge and light; who is the remover of all sin and ignorance; May he enlighten our intellect- Rig Veda”

3. Pre-classical (800-250 BC)
Yoga was then slowly refined and developed by Brahmins and seers who documented their practices in Upanishads, a huge work containing over 200 scriptures. One of the most renowned scriptures is the Bhagvad Gita (meaning the song of the absolute) composed around 500 BC. The Bhagavad Gita mentions may forms of yoga: Jnana yoga (path of knowledge), Bhakti yoga (path of devotion), Karma yoga (path of action). During this period yoga was more of a lifestyle than about the postures and breathing that it is today. The original purpose of this Yoga was to connect one’s consciousness to the Supreme consciousness by controlling one’s body, mind and senses

Yoga is a journey of the self, through the self, to the self- Bhagvad Gita”

4. Classical (200 BC- 200 AD)
This label applies to the ashtanga or eight limbed yoga also known as the Raja Yoga and is defined by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. It is the first systematic presentation of Yoga where Patanjali organized the practice of yoga into eight limbed paths to reach the goal of samadhi or enlightenment. Hence, Patanjali is considered as the father of Yoga and his yoga sutras influence most modern styles of Yoga.
It is only when the correct practice is followed for a long time, without interruptions and with a quality of positive attitude and eagerness, that it can succeed – Patanjali, Yoga-Sutras”

5. Post Classical (200 AD – 1700 AD)
This is again a very comprehensive category, which refers to all those many types and schools of Yoga that have sprung up in the period after Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutra and that are independent of this seminal work. Because of the Yoga Sutras’ focus on the mind, yogis in the past had not paid as much attention to the physical practice and they were more focused on meditation and contemplation. A few centuries after Patanjali, Yoga took a turn. The new generation of yoga masters began to probe the hidden powers of the human body and developed a system where different exercises, in conjunction with deep breathing and meditation, would help to rejuvenate the physical body, prolong life and achieve transcendence. The human body was regarded as the temple of the immortal soul. The Post-Classical Yoga period brought with it big changes to the Yoga scene. It was during this period that Tantra Yoga and Hatha Yoga were developed. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is a Sanskrit manual considered to be the most influential surviving text on Hatha Yoga. It was written in the 15th century.

6. Modern (1800 AD -)
The modern phase of Yoga is described as the phase during the 1800s and 1900s when Yoga was introduced to the west and it started to become popular. The first “Yoga influencer” in the west was Swami Vivekananda who earned adoration from Americans because of his electrical speech in Chicago in the Parliament of religions on Hinduism and its tolerance and Universal acceptance in 1983. He later introduced Yoga in a way that separated it from religion to make it attractive to the Christianity practicing Americans.
In his own words “Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this Divinity within by controlling nature, external and internal. Do this either by work, or worship, or mental discipline, or philosophy—by one, or more, or all of these—and be free.
Many Indian Yogis travelled to America in 1920s and wrote various books like “An Autobiography of a Yogi” (By Yogananda). During the same period in India the likes of T. Krishnamacharya and Swami Sivananda strongly promoted Hatha Yoga. T. Krishnamacharya opened the first Hatha Yoga school in Mysore in 1924. The practice of Hatha was later popularised by his students B.K.S. Iyengar, T.K.V. Desikachar and Pattabhi Jois and Indira Devi. Indira Devi opened a Yoga school in Hollywood in 1947, which made it more popular.

It is upto us now, the new Yogis and Yoginis to explore and learn from the old texts and scriptures and find our own truth of Yoga through the guidance of old sages and gurus.