Managing Depression

From Conversations on the Science of Yoga - Hatha Yoga Book 7, Hatha Yoga and Health

How can yoga help manage depression?

Swami Satyananda: There are 72,000 main channels which conduct the pranic energy and the mental energy throughout the body and feed their system. If there is any imbalance in the nervous systems and in these nadi channels, it is experienced by the person in the form of nervous breakdown, nervous depression.

Nervous depression is a vague expression. These nervous systems are directed by the ida and pingala nadis. Ida is the source of mental energy and pingala is the source of pranic energy. Nervous depression could be on the plane of pranic energy. Before yogic treatment is undertaken one has to analyse which type of depression it is. If the nervous depression is in the realm of the nadis that conduct mental energy, raja yoga must be practised. If the depression is due to imbalance in the pranic channels, one has to practise pranayama.

Some general suggestions for practices can be made, but a program should be given according to each individual. The firstpractice that is important for people suffering from nervous system imbalance is siddhasana, the accomplished pose. Siddhasana is an important posture for people suffering from nervous depression, particularly for yogis.

The next practice is moola bandha. Moola bandha is contraction of the perineum. The centre located between the urinary and excretory outlets is known as mooladhara chakra, at the coccygeal plexus, or perineum. At the same time as moola bandha is practised, jalandhara bandha, the chin lock, is performed. When jalandhara bandha is practised the breath must be held according to the ratio used in one's pranayama practice.

Moola bandha can be learned gradually by practising ashwini mudra, contraction and expansion of the rectum and coccyx. When this has been achieved, moola bandha can be tried. Once moola bandha is mastered, go onto the next practice, which is most important. It is known as tadan kriya. Tadan means beating. Tadan kriya is one of the practices of tantra; it is one of the practices of kriya yoga. First one sits in padmasana, the lotus posture. In that position, the body is raised on the two palms and the buttocks are slowly beaten on the floor. These are two important practices for nervous depression.

How can yoga help in the management of depression and nervous breakdown?

Swami Satyananda: First, there is nervous depression, and when it is not taken care of, there is nervous breakdown. Nervous breakdown means that the nervous system refuses to function.

In yoga there are two nervous systems; one is called ida, the other is called pingala. In modern science they are called the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. These nervous systems act as shock absorbers. Each and every sense experience passes through these nervous systems. If the sense experience is normal, these nervous systems act normally. If, however, the sense experiences are explosive, the nervous system receives shocks. Therefore in yoga, nervous depression and nervous breakdown are considered to be two different illnesses.

The symptoms of nervous depression are: the body is weak, it sweats a lot, horripilation takes place from time to time, the skin burns, one cannot stand for very long, and the mind keeps thinking all the time. One sees only negativity everywhere, only inauspiciousness. These symptoms indicate nervous depression.

At this time one should practise the hatha yoga shatkarmas. A few of these are purificatory, and a few are relaxing. A combination of these practices will avert nervous depression.

When nervous breakdown takes place, things are entirely different. There is difficultywith the coronary system, there is no appetite, the fear of death is always in the mind, and no light can be seen anywhere in life. Nothing works, even psychiatric treatment does not work. If it works at all, it works through drugs.

At this time, it is best to retire to a place which is spiritually charged. Seclusion must be avoided, loneliness must be avoided, but crowds should also be avoided. Always be in the company of people who are spiritual. In India the tradition is very simple. When someone is undergoing a nervous breakdown they are sent to the ashram to live for some time. The diet is corrected, the methods of daily living are corrected, and at the same time practices of yoga are given, like yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, dharana and dhyana.

What is the effect of maha mudra on depression?

Swami Satyananda: Many people who were heading to wards suicide, suffering from manias, or on the verge of a nervous breakdown have been helped by the kriya known as maha mudra, the great posture. This one kriya, maha mudra, brought about a tremendous change in their psycho logical make up. Why is this? Maha mudra is very simple and it only takes seven to nine minutes to perform, although it has to be done perfectly, systematically, according to the instructions of the teacher. This kriya is a way, a panacea, a remedy for everyone. Suicidal tendencies, manias, psycho logical and psychosomatic ailments are international in nature, so an international system is needed to eliminate them. That international system is yoga, and it is in this light that yoga is brought to you.

In many cases of chronic depression, of constitutional and habitual depression, there is no better way than maha mudra. One person who had decided to commit suicide, happened to inform me of what he was intending to do, and wanted me to tell him what he should do because he wanted to die. I said, 'One way is to shoot yourself, the second way is to take some drastic drug, and the third way I will teach you, so come tomorrow morning. And of course, he lives even today; he told me that he had been thinking of committing suicide for over fiveyears but was not sure which way to do it.

After the practice of maha mudra, he overcame this state of utter depression on a permanent basis. This does not mean that maha mudra is only meant as an anti-depression method, because maha mudra is intended to awaken the higher mind. I am referring to depression because depression is a disease which everyone suffers from at some period of life. Some suffer during youth, others suffer in middle age, and before death most people suffer from depression. Therefore, it is necessary for all of us to know how depression is an important part of our personality and how it should be dealt with in order to have a better standard of experience.