Treating Depression with Ayurveda
Strengthen your Sadhaka Agni and alleviate depression with these simple practices.
Have you ever felt depressed? I’m guessing the answer is ‘yes’ because honestly, who hasn’t experienced depression at one point or another? An estimated 350 million people suffer with some form of depression globally and the annual cost of depression in the U.S. due to lost productivity and health care is a staggering $80 billion.
Depression can express itself in many forms from moodiness, reclusiveness and lethargy to debilitating sadness and anxiety, creating confinement to a bed or couch with no signs of getting up (physically or metaphorically).
Depression can result from a combination of various internal imbalances and external circumstances. More than likely it’s a combination of both, seeing as though our internal and external worlds never cease to mirror one another.
The internal turmoil typically results from unresolved emotional wounds from the past. Keep in mind that the past can be 2 hours ago or 2 decades ago. The emotional body has no concept of time and can feel the same sorrow it did decades in the past.
If there is no emotional resolve, no matter how minor or traumatic the experience, the feeling sticks and binds with more toxic emotions. When neglected, the emotions build up, until the toxic weight is simply too heavy to bare, our energy is drained and our mental faculties become depleted.
Of course environmental circumstances play an important role too. From stress at work, loss of meaning in life, an abusive or dysfunctional home-life, financial problems, insufficient time in nature, and the list goes on. Obviously we should work toward changing or eliminating these stressors completely.
But it’s important to note that it’s not so much about what is happening to you, but how you perceive it via the heart that matters.
Two people can be going through similar experiences, but depending on their perception, one will be moving on with their life while the other gets stuck in a rut.
In Ayurveda, a weak Sadhaka Agni, that inner fire which is responsible for ‘digesting’ or processing emotions, is to blame. A strong Sadhaka Agni can be likened to a high ‘Emotional Intelligence’ in the sense that you are conscious of your feelings, but do not let them rule you. It’s a functioning connection between your heart and head with both centers sending the right signals to one another in a timely manner.
It’s certainly not a suppressing of emotions either. Rather, it’s an awareness and acceptance of any feelings that arise and a ‘cooking down’ or processing them in a graceful and efficient way.
Interestingly enough, Sadhaka Agni also influences neurohormones (hormones released by neuroendocrine cells). These cells are in the brain, spinal cord and – you guessed it – the heart. The neurohormones in the heart sends a signal to the brain to register the experience emotionally either as depressive or joyful, (or any emotion for that matter), depending on the strength of their Sadhaka Agni.
Here are some ways to strengthen your Sadhaka Agni and alleviate depression:
Practice detachment. According to the Tibetan Buddhist Canon, the Buddha said, “Attachment is the root of suffering.” Since everything on this earthly plane is continually changing – to be attached to any one thing is constant torture. Realize that nothing stays the same – and see the beauty in that.
Rise with the sun and sleep with the moon. We all know the harmful effects of not getting proper sleep. However, it’s not just about getting copious amounts of sleep – that can weaken Sadhaka Agni too.
Align your body to the circadian rhythms in nature. It’s really simple, let the sunlight be your alarm clock and let the moon be your night light...and head to bed.
Eat sattvic and some rajastic foods. In Ayurveda, depression correlates with a Kapha imbalance. The Kapha dosha, or ‘mind-body constitution’, is associated with water and earth and its qualities are slow, stable, damp, soft and heavy.
Eating a plant-based diet filled with organic produce that has lots of prana (life-force energy) can help. These fresh whole foods are unpackaged, uncanned, unprocessed, organic, non-gmo and created in nature (not a laboratory). Soaked nuts and seeds, avocados and coconuts are of particular importance.
Make an ‘uplifting’ spice blend:
- Black pepper
- Dried ginger
Ayurvedic herbs for depression:
Daily yoga practice.
- Head-to-Knee Forward Bend (Janu Sirsasana). This pose stimulates the liver and kidneys, is calming for the mind and relieves depression.
- Camel (Ustrasana).This hip and heart opening posture brings emotions up and out of the body for a great emotional detox.
- Forward fold (Uttanasana). B.K.S. Iyengar said, “Any depression felt in the mind is removed if one holds the pose (Uttanasana) for two minutes or more.”
- Supported Headstand (Salamba Sirsasana). Referred to as the “king of all asanas.” Inversions like headstands turn your body and mood upside down and provides your brain with fresh oxygenated blood.
Absorb prana from nature. We are all a part of nature and cutting ourselves off from it can have devastating effects. Draw in life-force energy from the sun, absorb nutrients through your feet from the soil, bathe in the healing waters and from the trees – breathe in fresh air.
‘Smile Inside’ meditation. This form of meditation can establish positive waves of energy throughout your body by smiling (internally). Similar to yoga nidra, you place attention, awareness and breath in every part of your body – pinky toe to scalp (and everything in between). Smiling meditation brings deep peace to your whole being. It should take 15-35 minutes (or more).
- Start with an awareness in your feet and with your mind’s ‘eye’ travel into each of your toes, slowly, one-by-one.
- In each area of your body, breathe deeply, hold your breath and smile into it. Exhale, repeat once or twice, and move on. You can physically smile with your mouth, if it feels right, but this is more an energetic ‘smile’, sending loving attention to each area of your body (heightening the vibration of the cells in that area).
- Give special attention to your heart center and belly, focusing on the second chakra where the emotional body resides.
- Smile ‘til your body is smiling back at you.
- End with smiling into your mind, imagining your crown chakra opening into infinity. Smile into space. Become aware of your non-physical or energetic body and how there is no separation between you and the universe.
Breathe and smile into that.