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A Yogi’s approach to handling depression

4 steps – prayers, karma, knowledge and meditation

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

‘Prevention is better than cure.’

When it comes to common mental health problems like depression, anxiety disorders or stress then this old adage is perhaps the best piece of practical wisdom.

Depression otherwise has become a major concern for countless people across the world. In the present times almost everyone seems to experience certain depressive tendencies at some point in time. The reasons may be varied, yet the effect always is the same – a highly active person suddenly becomes extremely dull, lose sleep, lose appetite and end up brooding endlessly over negative thoughts for their great part of time.

For many people this is a temporary state, while for others it may be a prolonged situation. Such people then have to seek either medical attention or therapy support.

How do yogis handle depression?

I would have no qualms to confess that my yogic journey began only because I was surrounded by some extremely difficult situation in life, which somehow I could not resolve by myself and that disturbed my sense of emotional balance.

Now, in a society where talking of your mental health has always been a big stigma and hence there was no perception of seeking a medical or professional support in the matter. Besides doing that perhaps would have been a big blot on my own sense of masculinity.

Yet, because I didn’t want to be in that inebriated state for always, somehow, I got attracted, first, to the powerful voice of Swami Vivekananda and then towards the yogic sciences and this was where a new journey began.

The complete credit for this continuity goes to my revered teacher, who would very kindly say in a soft voice, ‘practice this every day and one day, everything shall transform by itself.’ Plus he kept repeating the same message whenever a doubt would strike my mind over the years ahead.

Now of course I work as a guide to others on the same subject. Thus, if you see then this turnaround has been almost unimaginable. So actually, what happened in the middle? How could a man, who himself had certain depressive tendencies once, has begun supporting others in coming out of the same? Let’s try to understand that process in simple terms.

In yogic sciences the students are taught to observe the nature of their thoughts.

Thus as a yogi, my definition of depression would mean a state of mind where all your thoughts start flowing towards a deeply dark state of mind or towards an undesired negative direction.

This state of things may have come into being due to a combination of biological, psychological and social reasons. Yet, the common symptoms would be that the person becomes dull, directionless, loses sleep, loses appetite and constantly broods on all kind of negative thoughts in the mind.

Otherwise, every person has the option to choose between 3 types of thoughts.

  1. Higher thoughts – which are mostly noble thoughts and thoughts full of courage, kindness and similar virtues.
  2. Worldly thoughts – these are the thoughts of mixed nature – some good, while others not so good, meaning either selfish or mischievous.
  3. Lower thoughts – these are the ugly thoughts that make people do horrible things in this world including self-harm or intentional damage or hurt to the others.

The majority of the people in the world live with mixed thoughts. Then among them, those who may face some failure, hardships or obstructions in fulfilling certain intentions or may face situations like injustice or what is commonly called bad-luck, they may then fall prey to things like depression.

Such people then begin having nasty feelings like – as if they weren’t good enough or the world hasn’t been fair to them, etc. This is where the brooding starts and all the thoughts begin to flow in the direction of lower mental spheres.

If we were to depict this situation pictorially, depression could be drawn on paper as shown in figure 1 below:

If you see in the picture above, all the thoughts are flowing into the lower plane of thinking – the ugly, regressive and the painful zone!

How does one come out of this depressive situation?

Prima-facie every treatment for depression involves two steps:

  1. Stopping the flow of thoughts from going into the negative zone.
  2. Making a U-turn to reverse the direction and moving towards the higher plane.

The medical treatment for depression may use anti-depressants, which chemically dilute the negative movements of the brain. The therapists thereafter offer effective advice, consultation, exercises for practice and perform regular monitoring so that the patient may recover permanently from that flow of negativity.

The yogic procedures also work in a similar manner, though they deploy purely self-effort based natural measures for the same purpose.

  • At first, they stop the flow of negativity by inculcating a sense of self-belief in the suffering person mostly through a dose of genuine compassion, as came to me from the kind and assuring words of my revered teacher.
  • Thereafter the teacher instills in the seeker a powerful inspiration from the higher plane of thinking, which then acts like a natural magnet in attracting and motivating the aspirants to change the direction of their thoughts as shown in figure 3 below.

This powerful inspiration or what we are calling as ‘magnet’ is usually activated through a combination of 4 elements, namely:

  1. Prayers – to preserve the sense of self-belief.
  2. Karma – to experience that sense of self-belief in practical life outside.
  3. Knowledge – to simultaneously gain strength of body, mind and intellect.
  4. Meditation – to make an irreversible progress in the direction of the magnet.

In technical terms, this would mean using a customized combination of 4 forms of yoga, namely: Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, Samkhya Yoga and Raja Yoga. Otherwise, in simple language this would mean using a combination of:

  • Psychological support
  • Physical actions
  • Intellectual enhancement &
  • Mind control

Once practiced over a period of time, this combination of procedures, transform the complete nature of thoughts while simultaneously also strengthening the mind. Then the same person who once used to be submerged in the depressive behavior turns into someone who may be seen moving around with high levels of energy as well as a strong sense of purpose.

Further, if ever a negative thought from the past strikes, which happens sometimes, these people are then easily able stop them and take the mind back toward its higher self.

The science of yoga states that the challenges in life shall never cease to be, yet once you gain competence to face them and ride over them like a skilled surfer or a sailor, things change for good and forever.

Further, everyone can make progress in this science with a little training followed by simple regular practice. Like this with these methods, defeating even the grave mental health issues like depression isn’t difficult either.

This is why yogic procedures like meditation etc. are an excellent option for preventive care in mental health. Even when recovering from acute ailments like depression, they offer incredible support.

A practical exercise…

What we have discussed so far would be for the conceptual understanding. Now let’s complement this with an easy practical exercise to experience how this science will work through you via your own self-efforts in real-time.

In my last 4 write-ups, which were all on meditation… namely

… … I have been speaking about a meditative exercise in which I have been asking you to go and sit somewhere like in a garden, close your eyes and simply listen to the chirping of the birds.

Photo by Ryk Naves on Unsplash

Today, we are going to understand how that simple procedure may help you dilute your depressive tendencies in a gradual manner.

Meaning: how you may be able to STOP and DIVERT the flow of negative thoughts by using something as simple as the chirping of the birds as a magnet.

Thus we are now going to see the practical application of the same ideas that we discussed in the passage above. So, let’s track the steps of the journey which will unfold, if you simply sit with your eyes closed at a suitable place for some time and start listening to the chirping of the birds:

  • Step 1: Initially, your mind may be full of thoughts or various types, mostly mixed.
  • Step 2: Amidst them, you sit in silence to listen to the chirping of the birds in some garden or somewhere.
  • Step 3: As you focus on the sounds made by the birds, other thoughts STOP.
  • Step 4: Since you continue to focus on the chirping sounds made by the birds, your thoughts slowly start changing their direction.
  • Step 5: Further, because the chirping sounds of the birds are naturally peaceful, that then starts transforming the complexion of your mind.
  • Step 6: As a result you start feeling peaceful in yourself. (Satsang)
  • Step 7: Then once you touch your own natural peacefulness, a flurry of fresh energy zooms into you as well.
  • Step 8: This makes you feel empowered and hence better prepared to face your day.
  • Step 9: The result, both your outlook as well as your output towards your purpose and your life begin to transform.
  • Step 10: When you practice this procedure daily or as often, retaining this meditative aura starts becoming your second nature.

Like this, with a simple meditative exercise, practiced regularly, you can easily defeat the regressive tendencies of your mind.

People often think that yogic sciences like meditation are about doing complex things. That is definitely not the case. Yogic sciences in fact are extremely practical sciences which can help you weave a beautiful life.

And most interestingly, the Mother Nature offers countless easy opportunities (magnets) to help you learn the basic concepts of this science and also be able to practice those procedures in a simple manner to recover from your various regressive situations for good and forever.

In the above exercise, we used chirping of the birds as a magnet. Likewise others tools of Mother Nature like wind, water, air, your own smile, hymns, songs, music and other such things can be used for the same purpose. Thus there would be countless simple options available for everyone, provided they are truly serious about their mental health and really want to learn.

Further, when it comes to ailments like depression, even your physicians and therapists would want you to come to a level where you can take care of yourself by yourself. To attain that capability and to preserve that status thereafter, such easy meditative methods prove extremely useful.

Meditation means mind control. It can be started from a very basic level and then taken up to the highest. That road is equally open to all. The only requirement is – some self-belief, a little training and then regular practice.

In truth, the world is going to need in future a much bigger and far more robust preventive care set-up for mental health. In this sequence besides medicines and therapy treatments, the hospitals may have to set up ‘meditation clinics’, where recovering patients may be able to find an opportunity to learn and practice effective meditative and mind control methods for taking self-care of themselves without relapsing into the old regretful sequence.

Similarly, universities and colleges may have to offer a similar support in form of ‘meditation labs’ , since the need for calming the mind is now being felt increasingly equally by all, namely – the teachers, parents and as well as the students. Likewise, everywhere (including homes) such facilities may have to be created since mental health problems are becoming common things in every country and in every section of the society across the globe.

Lastly everywhere doctors, hospitals and therapists won’t be able to go. Thus at some point each individual would have to take the responsibility of their own mental health and keep with them certain practical methods to stay healthy, progressive and peaceful forever.

In the meantime, while such an infrastructure for self-care in Mental Health may come-up in your neighborhood, you are most welcome to connect with this author, who works with his friends as their meditation companion. (LinkedIn)

… … …

Next week: Preventive care for general anxiety disorders using easy meditative methods.

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