Mental Health & Stress

Yoga and Depression

Each year more than 25 million Americans are treated with antidepressants. Effective? In some cases yes, but with added stress and side effects such as, weight gain, lethargy, and sexual dysfunction, have brought into question whether medication is the only solution. It may not be. Recent studies have shown evidence that the practice of yoga—postures, breathing techniques, meditation—has beneficial effects on the emotional well-being and mental acuity of depression sufferers. And, best of all, without any of the side effects. 

A recent study in Scandinavian, conducted by Eric Hoffman, Ph.D., measured brain waves before and after a two-hour Kriya Yoga class. It found that alpha waves (relaxation) and theta waves (unconscious memory, dreams, emotions) increased by 40 percent. This means the brain is more deeply relaxed after yoga and the subjects are in better contact with their sub-consciousness and emotions. The Scandinavian study is significant for depression sufferers because after the yoga session, alpha waves increased in the right temporal lobe. 

Previous research has shown that depressed, introverted people typically have more alpha activity in the left frontal-temporal region, while optimistic, extroverted people have more alpha activity on the right. That theta waves also increased supports the notion that yoga works to alleviate depression not only by increasing brain chemicals that contribute to a feel-good response—such as endorphins, enkephalins, and serotonin—but also by providing greater access to feelings. 

Another study, conducted jointly by the Philadelphia-based Jefferson Medical College and Yoga Research Society, found that practitioners experienced a significant drop in cortisol levels after a single yoga class. High cortisol levels are characteristics of stress and serious depression. A marked decrease in cortisol and increase in the hormone prolactin—which is believed by many professionals to be the key in producing the anti-depressant effect of electroshock therapy—was also demonstrated in tests conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in India, using the breathing technique Sudharshan Kriya (SKY). In several major controlled studies involving adults with major depressive disorder, SKY produced dramatic relief from depression accompanied by beneficial changes in brain and hormone function. 

What about long-term effects? So far, most of the longer studies have been done in the area of mindfulness-based training; the most recent one was published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology (vol. 68, 2000). Here, mindfulness-based stress reduction was combined with group cognitive therapy as an eight-week treatment in the prevention of recurrence of major depression. In follow-up testing a year later, the treatment group had a significantly lower relapse rate than did the control group. 

The combination of Ayurveda, Yoga and Meditation to holistically solve depression related problems has been successful and has helped several people from eliminating years of dependency on medication. Allowing one to live a happier, fuller life.

Stress and Rasayana

Today, stress has become an inevitable and the most unwanted companion of civilization. In biological terms, stress is defined as anything constituting a threat, real or apparent, which would adversely affect the organism. It can be induced by several factors like environmental changes, extremes of temperature, high altitude, restraints, fear, rage, anxiety, shock, grief, pain and so on. As far as body is able to cope with it, a stress act as a normal stimulus required for our physical and social well being and is better known as “eustress”. On the other hand, stress becomes “distress” when the individual is unable to cope with it. Thus, eustress helps in improving the performance, whereas, distress is known to induce a number of clinical maladies, like hypertension, coronary artery disease, peptic ulcer, asthma, migraine, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes mellitus, thyrotoxicosis, behavioral disorders like anxiety and depression and the list is very long.

The fact that stress plays an important role in the aetiology of several diseases is well recognized in Ayurveda, where, stress is known assahasa. Caraka advises to avoid sahasa as it adversely affects the body. Different types of stressors physical, psychological and environmental as they vitiate dosas are implicated in the aetiology of several diseases. Sahasa as it causes ojahksaya- loss of immunity increase the susceptibility of the body to various infectious diseases. Therefore, sahasa should be avoided as far as possible and body should be well protected by talking adequate care of the three sub pillars of life-diet, sleep, and celibacy – traya upastambhaiti – aharah, swapnoh, brahmacaryamiti, sleep here indicates adequate rest required by the body.

Rationally the best approach is to hit at the root cause, and this is particularly ideal strategy in the stress-management. Stress avoidance has been best appreciated by Caraka who states that in order to protect one’s life one should always avoid over-exerting himself. However, in today’s world of bottle neck competition, stress is an inevitable companion of success. This stress is justified also because of the results it bring along, however, the stress induced diseases can not be acceptable. Therefore, although stress avoidance is the ideal approach, it is not the most appropriate strategy and stress needs to be managed by strengthening the body’s adapting capacity to the stress. 

The coping capacity of the body can be increased by life style modifications, dietary interventions and / or drug treatment, all these being well organized under the umbrella of rasayana therapy, one of the eight branches of classical Ayurveda. Susruta defines rasayana tantra as the branch that improves longevity along with physical and mental strength and immunity. Ayurvedic approach to complete health is not fundamentally drug oriented, drugs being just one aspect of this multidimensional approach. All the same rasayana therapy in its purview includes drugs, dietary regimens and codes of conduct. 

Acara rasayana, constitutes the balanced use of sense organs, non-violence and self control is advised. This also suggests a regular routine free from stress. Ajasrika rasayana is about observing a nutritious and balanced dietary routine. A balanced diet consisting of all the six rasas and modified as per desa, kala (climate, environment and season), age and prakrti (dosic constitution) of the individual. In disease states, the dietary substances opposite to vitiated dosas are advised. In health, the balanced diet is considered the best rasayana.

Ausadha rasayana, i.e., the drug treatment becomes effective only when the first two are appropriately followed. Thus, to obtain the maximum benefits of rasayana therapy, one should regularly observe acara rasayana be careful of his diet and intermittently take rasayana drugs after proper purification.

Why Meditation?

 "In meditation, when the mind is calm, alert and totally contented, then it is like a laser beam - it is very powerful and healing can happen."  Sri Ravi Shankar

So what is it to be healthy? To attain a perfect state of health, one also has to remain mentally calm, steady and emotionally stable. In Ayurveda Swathya means health. Its definition includes being in one's self. Swathya or health is not just confined to the body or the mind; it also connects with the spirit or consciousness. The clearer the consciousness is the more well-being is gained. It has been said that the root of an illness can lay in mind/consciousness. So by attending to the mind, clearing if of disturbances the recovery to health speeds up.  

The practice and philosophy of Ayurveda are not only to restore balance and ease the aches and pains of the body but also those of the spirit. Since ancient times, the message of Ayurveda has been to keep in a state of balance and to avoid extremes so that the existence of the Divine can be felt on the central nervous system. Meditation has great benefits for the human system as a whole. Many people vouch for the fact that meditation has caused marked improvements in their health situations both physical and mental. This has also been proved correct scientifically. Mediation is a process by which there are marked changes in the patterns of the brain waves, having long-term healing effects. Scientists have started realizing the importance of mediation in various healing procedures. Many doctors are now starting to recommend the process of meditation in the cases of people suffering from chronic disorders and also in the cases of terminally ill patients. 

Meditation gives complete rest to the entire system, especially to the brain that keeps functioning during the time we sleep. It invigorates and relaxes the mind so that it can start again afresh. Through meditation the body's metabolism is given attention helping lower the heart rate and blood pressure, which is directly related to the reduction of cholesterol levels in the body, thus reducing the chances of cardiovascular diseases. Stress-related disorders are greatly impacted with the practice of meditation. Stress releases lactate and cortisol in the bloodstream, having a damaging effect on various organs. Meditation helps reduce the production of these chemicals. Keep the body vital and strong. 

Prana (or breath) is the vital life energy and is the very basis of health and well-being. Practicing breathing through meditation will provide you with energy, alertness, good humor riding your body of lethargy, dullness or weak enthusiasm. It has been profoundly useful for patients suffering from respiratory disorders because the process of breathing gets stabilized and relaxed, promoting clear and even flow of breath to the entire system. People suffering with asthma, allergies, and sleeping disorders are greatly impacted by the daily practice of breathing meditations. 

So many people misunderstand meditation and when the hear the word "meditation" they want to run the other way. Most people think "oh there is no way I can sit for that long, or I am too busy, sick or have a too an active mind." They key is to start slowly. In Dr. Frawley mentioned in his book "Ayurveda and the mind" Mantras serves like a boat to take us across the ocean of the unconscious. Mantra prepared meditation is easier, safer and stronger than trying to meditate directly. For beginners, guided meditation is very beneficial. Below is a couple simple meditations and mantra. Give it a try and see how meditation can significantly impact your life!

Simple Daily Meditation
Allow the mind to relax; please follow theses easy instructions. Sit on the forward third of a chair or a cushion on the floor. Arrange your legs in a position you can maintain comfortably. In the half-lotus position, place your right leg on your left thigh. In the full lotus position, put your feet on opposite legs. You may also sit quietly with your legs tucked in close to your body, but be sure that your weight is distributed on three points: both of your knees on the ground and your buttocks on the ground cushion. On a chair, keep your knees apart about the width of your shoulders, feet firmly planted on the floor.

Take a deep breath, exhale fully, and take another deep breath, exhaling fully. With proper physical posture, you're breathing will flow naturally into your lower abdomen. Breathe naturally, without judgment or trying to breathe a certain way. Keep your attention on your breath. When your attention wanders, bring it back to the breath again and again -- as many times as necessary! Remain as still as possible, following your breath and returning to it whenever thoughts arise.  Be full, vitally present with yourself. Simply do your very best. At the end of you're sitting period, gently swing your body from right to left in increasing arcs. Stretch out your legs, and be sure they have felt before standing. Practice this peaceful meditation every day for at least ten to fifteen minutes (or longer), and you will discover for yourself the treasure house of meditation.