A 2011 study based on the World Health Organization's World Mental Health Survey Initiative reported that India has the highest rate of major depression in the world. What is of greater concern is that its incidence seems to be on the rise affecting people of all ages from teens to aged individuals; its affects people from all economic backgrounds from individuals striving for a decent meal to those leading a very lavish and glamorous lifestyle. What is of still greater concern is that depressed individuals sometimes take an extreme step of even ending their lives in this emotionally fragile state. The rise in suicides amongst teens and young adults in India has highlighted that this disorder needs to be taken seriously.
The trigger for an individual being depressed can range from something as trivial as not standing first in class or not getting the desired marks in an examination to an individual trying to cope with a paraplegic life. Depression also occurs in individuals suffering from any major disease such as cancer or a progressive neurological disorder and this is termed as secondary depression. Depression in such individuals would diminish as they learn to cope with the disease or get treated.
Irrespective of the incidence that triggers depression; the basic expression of depression is fairly common. A depressed person typically exhibits drooping shoulders and a sunken chest, an emotionally fragile state and unresponsive attitude with disinterest in life. In many cases, the depressive episode may subside on its own while sometimes linger on for longer durations of time.
Types of depression:
There are many kinds of depression.
Pathological or physiological depression: this is a secondary to another disease [often chronic or terminal] or in response to some medications.
Expectation or failure based depression. This occurs when one's expectations are not met. For example, a student or sportsperson does not perform as anticipated in the exams or the game. This is transient but they need to get out of this state so that their performance on the next day is not affected.
Emotional depression: This results mainly due to breaking up of emotional attachments. For example, between two individuals who have been extremely close to each other death or bereavement of a loved one, can also lead to depression.
Ego-centric depression: This kind of depression occurs in individuals of authority and status when they find that they no longer hold the position that they once had. It is common amongst people when they are approaching retirement.
Yogic approach to tackle depression
Yoga is after all a science of the mind as well as emotions and therefore would be a great boon to help overcome the symptoms of depression. In cases of depression, the immediate requirement is that the individual has to be given symptomatic relief.
As the state of mind and emotions of an individual reflects in the posture, a modification of the posture can alter the emotional state of an individual. It is here that yogic postures [asanas] can help the depressed individual. Their effect may be transient but when practiced regularly over a period of time, they can bring about the transformation of the individual and freedom from depression.
Of the various asanas, the most effective are the backward extending asanas like Urdhva Dhanurasana, Viparita Dandasana when the shoulders roll back and the chest 'opens' countering the classical depressive posture. However, one cannot just do these asanas and the spine has to be prepared to 'curve back.'
That is the reason standing asanas like Trikonasanas, Parsva Konasana, Ardha Chandrasana are helpful as they strengthen the spine and then one can proceed for the backward extensions. As mentioned earlier, one has to stay in the asana for them to be effective but when depressed, determination and will power eludes us and motivation to do anything is at its lowest. It is here that renowned Yogacharya BKS Iyengar advised a pragmatic approach. He innovatively used the household 'folding chair' where a person could do Viparita Dandasana with relative ease to bring some change in the mood and state of mind.
The inverted asanas also help in overcoming depressive symptoms. These inverted asanas include Adho Mukha Vrikshasana, Pincha Mayurasana Sirsasana, Sarvangasana and Setu Bandha Sarvangasana. In all these asanas the head is lower than the heart. These asana-s break the intrinsic fear that has engulfed the depressed individual – the fear of loss, the fear of failure, the fear of loss of power.
A recent study from the Boston University Medical Centre has 'provided the evidence that twice weekly yoga classes with the use of props plus home practice effective in reducing symptoms of depression.
Each asana has its own breathing pattern which one has to learn to observe and develop awareness of this breath. When the asanas are done with breath awareness, then the practitioner gets integrated with the asana. The Asanas in which the exhalations are prolonged, are more likely to release tension and similarly those with deeper inhalations, are likely to develop courage in the practitioner.
Author is a senior Iyengar Yoga teacher at Iyengar Yogashraya, Mumbai.
The views expressed are personal. Readers are advised to practice Asanas suggested in the above article under supervision of a Yogacharya.