Depression and sadness are two conditions of the mind that can distract us from living a healthy and happy life. The practice of yoga empowers us to cure sadness and manage depression by reconnecting with the Absolute Truth.
What is Depression?
Depression is often confused with sadness because many of their symptoms are shared. A common way to differentiate depression from sadness is by first looking at our mindset and the environment in which the feelings show up. To do this, we might ask questions like:
- Has a particular event triggered these feelings?
- How long have I been feeling down like this?
- Am I healthy and safe, secure in my housing, et cetera?
Feelings of sadness are often brought on by a particular event, don’t persist for more than a couple weeks and may have environmental causes. In contrast, depression causes persistent sadness and loss of interest regardless of our setting. Depression is a disease; sadness isn’t.
Yoga and Depression
Depression has a neurochemical basis. A medical professional can help treat it like other diseases. Disease, or vyadhi, is seen in yoga philosophy as one of the four kinds of inevitable challenges of living in a body of flesh. Yoga can help with the stigma of disease management.
Society is full of people at different levels of spiritual evolution. Those who are controlled heavily by the modes of passion and ignorance often confuse sadness with depression. They may furthermore try to persuade those of us with depression that we need not seek treatment.
A person who practices yoga develops an immunity to social stigma, and does the needful. The yogi’s validation doesn’t come from public opinion. Krishna speaks in Bhagavad-gita (9.2) of the yogi’s inner satisfaction through knowledge of the soul in relation to the Absolute Truth:
raja-vidya raja-guhyam pavitram idam uttamam
pratyakshavagamam dharmyam su-sukham kartum avyayam
This knowledge is the king of education, the most secret of all secrets. It is the purest knowledge, and because it gives direct perception of the self by realization, it is the perfection of dharma. It is everlasting, and it is joyfully performed.
Yoga and Sadness
Sadness can be cured by yoga practice. We feel sad when reflecting on something that didn’t go as we wanted. Sometimes this sadness provides us a powerful learning opportunity. Other times, we fixate on a memory, and lose ourselves in its shadow. Yoga helps us in both cases.
With every failure, the practice of yoga keeps us focused on our ultimate goal of reconnecting with the Absolute Truth. Memories which were once unpleasant no longer drag us down when they remind us of our common cause. Yogis strive to live in the present, for the Absolute Truth.
The present moment is associated with the Absolute Truth, the soul and the mode of goodness. Passion looks toward the future for potential opportunities or dangers. But in the mode of ignorance, we try to escape what’s happening (or our responsibility for it) by living in the past.
Sadness due to the mode of ignorance is seen in yoga philosophy as a negative transformation of the mind. Yoga uplifts the mind to a tranquil state called chitta-vritti-nirodhah. This is accomplished in yoga by controlling the mind so that the mind cannot control us:
yato yato nischalati manas chanchalam asthiram
tatas tato niyamyaitad atmany eva vasam nayet
From wherever the mind wanders due to its flickering and unsteady nature, one must certainly withdraw it and bring it back under the control of the self. (Bhagavad-gita, 6.26)
Dependence Versus Empowerment
Medications intended for depression can lead to dangerous chemical dependencies if abused. The objection might then be raised that meditation, or yoga, also carries the risk of unhealthy dependency. But actually, yoga is not a crutch. Rather, it’s an integral function of the soul.
At the same time, superficially going through the motions of yoga, without fixing the mind on the Absolute Truth is not complete. The value of anything, spiritual or material, depends on one’s mental condition. To be empowered and released from our dependencies, we must dive deep.
Yoga means to relink. By practice of yoga, we are reconnecting with our common source, the Absolute Truth, or God. The soul depends on yoga the way the body depends on food and water. This so-called dependency is actually a source of spiritual empowerment.
The Kitten and the Laser
When a kitten claws up the furniture, a positive alternative is the only way to help it change its behavior and reach healthy maturity. The kitten can be distracted by a laser pen. Sure, before you know it, it will be back to its old mischief. What do you do then? More laser pen!
Grit is the austerity component of yoga. We will want to give up when the mind is sad, or when treating our depression becomes challenging. But when the mind claws on us in those ways, the laser of yoga can redirect it toward the Absolute Truth. If we love our kitten, we’ll never give up.