The Gift of Depression

I wrote this post in early June, but decided to wait until now to share it publicly.  I hope you benefit from these sutra teachings and my personal learnings.

I’ve been fighting a case of the blues for the last several weeks—the kind that makes me want to sleep twelve hours  a day and cry about  every sad story I hear on the news.  Friends cite lots of reasons why I might be depressed:  a pet that recently died, another that is sick without a defined cause, the difficulties of running a business in our current economy, Seattle’s gray June weather, even that dreaded life transition that happens to women of a certain age.

But internally, I know none of those reasons fully explain my lethargic mood.  This sadness has roots deep in my heart. I would feel it even if I were independently wealthy, still in my 20’s, and basking on a sunny beach. The Yoga Sutras call my mental state Daurmanasya, or depression and negative thinking.  They go on to say that Daurmanasya is simply a symptom of something deeper: an obstacle on my path to personal growth.  Sutra 1.31 lists four symptoms that indicate the presence of an inner obstacle.

  • Duhkha: Psycho-emotional suffering
  • Daurmanasya: Depression or negative thinking
  • Angamejayatva:  Instability of any kind, including body, work, and relationships
  • Svasaprasvasa: Disturbance in the breath, including  uncontrolled crying, laughing, or bursting out.

According to the yoga teachings, those symptoms are simply a subconscious warning sign.  When you feel them, you’re up against an inner obstacle, whether you’re not aware of it or not.

Sutra 1.30 lists nine specific obstacles:

  • Vyadhi: Sickness or disease
  • Styana: Fixation or being “stuck in a rut”
  • Samsaya: Doubt
  • Pramada: Carelessness and  impulsive knee-jerk reactions
  • Alasya:  Lethargy, burnout, and lack of passion
  • Avirati:   Inability to withstand the temptation of the  senses
  • Bhrantidarsana: Distorted self esteem ranging from low self esteem to arrogance
  • Alabdhabhumikatva: Not achieving the level you expected of yourself and losing heart
  • Anavasthitatvani: Achieving a level but not being able to sustain it.

Even as I type this list, I have to smile and shake my head.  Doubt and burnout practically leap off the page. I’ve been down this road before.  In fact, these two old friends seem to be recurrent themes in my life.  I don’t yet know what their return means, but that’s the beauty of yoga: I don’t have to.  Sutras 1.32 – 1.39 outline a list of practices I can do to help, regardless of the cause. Historically, I’ve found meditation and reflection to be the most useful.  So it’s back to the mat for me.

And here’s the gift.  As the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” The teachings say that each time I overcome an obstacle, I grow.  I become more resilient and more able to withstand similar issues in the future.  When I come out of this darker period, I know I will be changed. I don’t know exactly how, yet, but I’m sure I will be stronger.  I will have greater clarity about who I am and the role I am meant to play in this world.  And that is truly a gift.

So the next time you find yourself sad or suffering for no clear reason, know that yoga offers tools to help. Try not to run away or bury those feelings.  Instead, give yourself the gift of time, reflection, guidance, and practice.  Like a caterpillar painfully struggling in its dark cocoon, you may emerge brighter, more alive and more vibrant that you ever imagined!



Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!

One thought on “The Gift of Depression

  1. Yoga Teacher Zurich

    Hi Tracy,

    Tracy you are right, Yoga is really helpful to reduce depression. Through yoga we learn to live our life without stress and tension free. Yoga is the beauty of life. Yoga is very important part of my life.


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