You may be reading this book because you or someone you love is suffering the torment of depression. If you are considering the beginning of a Yoga practice as a means to lessen your anguish and change yourself in some way, you would be on the right track. A daily Yoga practice will bring your physical body and your emotional body into balance, restoring a sense of well being and energy. You will feel more energy, love yourself more and have a happier life. But consider a somewhat different approach taken by the ancient yogis. Yoga teaches us to ask, why do we suffer when our natural state is sat chit ananda, the intelligent awareness of bliss? This is not some “blissed out” high, but a fully mindful state of stable equanimity, informed by “intelligent awareness.” Because beneath even the chaos of mania, the agony of depression, Yoga says, you are whole, or as yogi, psychotherapist and author Stephen Cope puts it, “We are vaguely aware that, at least in some parallel universe, we are unutterably fine just the way we are.”
When you step onto your Yoga mat, you are reminded of that wholeness, and the practice clears a pathway through your symptoms to the ground of your being, that which is your natural state. “Depression,” says international Yoga teacher and psychologist Richard Miller, “Is the feeling of separation from self.” The underlying yogic approach to treating depression is “informed by the knowledge that there is no separation.” The therapist “stands firm in the truth of oneness.” In other words, Yoga begins, not with the question—what is wrong with me? But what is right with me?
Here in the West, we are accustomed to thinking of mental health from the perspective of illness—how best to understand and treat our symptoms. But we practice Yoga as preventative and positive medicine. Just as the immune system is strengthened against the common cold and other viruses with daily practice, the emotional body is strengthened as well. The highs, the lows, the extremes of all the emotions are brought into balance by the practice. In every stage of Yoga, you will find relief from obsessive negative thinking. When you are first learning a pose and moving into it, you cannot possibly obsess about what you should have said in the meeting this morning. To learn the pose, your mind must focus on the details of alignment. Later, when you’re in the pose and you allow your mind to become absorbed in the sensations in your body, you are very far from your everyday troubles.