Depression is certainly a very complicated disease that may occur due to various psychological, emotional, sociological, and biological factors. According to Dr Ramesh Gautam, naturopathic practitioner at Arogya Ashram in Ratopul, Kathmandu, yoga and meditation can be as effective as the most expensive allopathic medicines to fight depression. So The Week caught up with him to understand how this age old practice can fight depression and other mental health problems.
The philosophy behind yoga
Most yoga practitioners believe that the root cause of diseases such as depression and anxiety is in the mind of an individual and not the body. “The primary philosophy behind yoga is to keep your mind away from your problems,” says Dr Gautam. According to him, mindfulness and meditation can reduce negative thinking, lack of focus, and restlessness.
“It is a known fact that meditation can sometimes bring negative thoughts. Just sitting in an empty room meditating can make you ponder about your past or some mistakes you made at work. The key to overcoming such negative thoughts is by training your mind to think positively,” he says. While meditating, you must take your thoughts and problems as distinct objects and not a part of your body.
According to Dr Gautam, most yoga poses and meditation should be done in the morning, half an hour before or after sunrise. At that time, the air around us is generally pure and oxygen level is high. This helps your body get the maximum benefit from yoga. Meditating with your eyes half open helps you improve your concentration and does not divert your mind unnecessarily. You must keep your back straight and meditate crossed legged.
Dr Gautam also advises taking a bath in the morning before doing yoga. “Many take a bath after exercising. To fight diseases such as depression and anxiety, it is better to have a bath and wear fresh clothes before starting yoga in the morning. This helps your mind remain fresh and decreases negative thoughts,” he states.
Asanas to fight depression
Pranak asana or eye exercise
Pranak asana helps in relaxing your eyes and improving your eyesight. “As the nerves of your eyes are directly connected to your brains, relaxed eyes can certainly help in calming your mind and fighting depression,” says Dr Gautam. There are five eye exercises or Pranak asanas that help you overcome depression. The first exercise is eye gazing. In this exercise you need to stare constantly at an object for about three to five minutes. This exercise helps in relieving your mind from unnecessary thoughts and pressure. The second exercise is rotational viewing. Here, you should try to move your eyes in a circular motion, trying to look at all four corners. Make sure you rotate your eyes clockwise and anticlockwise, five times each. The third exercise is down viewing where you try to look at the tip of your nose without blinking, till the time tears start running down your eyes. The forth exercise is upward viewing which means you focus your eyes on the inner corner of your eyebrows without blinking. And lastly, sideways viewing is an exercise where you focus on the tip of your index finger by moving it from left to right.
Gaumukhasana or cow face pose
To do this asana you first need to sit erect on the ground with your legs in front of you. Then, gently bend your left leg and place it under your right buttocks. The next step is to fold your right leg and place is under your right thigh. Let both your knees be together, stacked on top of the other. Now fold your left arm and place it on your back and try to take your right arms over your right shoulder and try to reach your left palm. Hold this pose as long as you can and concentrate on your breathing.
This practice if done regularly helps in making your body more elastic and fighting depression and anxiety.
Simhasana or lion pose
To begin with, you must first kneel down and cross your ankles. Then press your palms against your knees. As you take a deep breath, open your mouth, stretch your tongue out completely, open your eyes wide and exhale as you produce a ‘Haa’ sound. According to Dr Gautam, this exercise is great for relieving stress and getting rid of anxieties. This pose especially relaxes your eyes and neck which positively affects your nervous system.
Ustrasana or camel pose
Begin this exercise by kneeling down on your mat and then place your palms on your hips. You must make sure that your knees and shoulder are aligned and the soles of your feet are facing the ceiling. Then, gently slide your arms up to your feet by stretching your arms. Hold this position for about a minute and make sure you are not staining your neck too much.
“This amazing stretch helps your circulatory, respiratory, lymphatic, skeletal, endocrine, and digestive systems. It also helps in keeping your spinal cord healthy which directly helps in reducing stress, pressure, and depression,” says Dr Gautam.
Shavasana or corpse pose
This pose resembles the position of a dead body and can be very beneficial for those who are struggling to fight depression. For this asana, you must lie down on the floor and ensure that there is no one around to disturb you. Lie down on a hard surface and make sure you do not have cushions or pillows. Spread your legs and relax completely. Your toes must face the ceiling. Breathe slowly and deeply. As you breathe, concentrate on your body to make it feel relaxed and energized. You must stay in this position for about 10-12 minutes.
“This exercise reduces blood pressure and anxiety and helps in improving memory power as well besides making you aware of your mind and body,” concludes Dr Gautam.