Yoga is the most popular, yet the most misunderstood and misrepresented Hindu science. Yoga is commonly practiced as a physical training or “spiritual” exercise to rejuvenate yourself. This is not only incomplete, it is a watered down version of one of the most profound sciences given by Vedic scriptures. It is like saying that a paper-fold airplane is the same as the one in which you fly from New York to New Delhi.
Yoga is union with the Divine.
When you experience the Divine beyond all human logic, and the experience is so deep and fulfilling that you are blissful beyond reason, without any object, that is Yoga.
What is Depression?
Depression is when a person gets so disconnected from his/her real Self, his/her higher Self, that they not only experience it anymore, but fail to look in the direction of experiencing it as well.
In other words, depression is getting so distanced from your own self that you are sad or unhappy beyond any reason.
In other words, depression is the direct opposite of yoga. Hence, yoga is the best solution for depression.
What is Not Yoga…
Before we dive into how yoga can cure depression, it is imperative to be clear about what is not yoga.
Every part of yoga is different limbs of yoga, with a common theme: union with Divine. Anything that is practiced without this context is not yoga.
Yoga is a vast science, detailed in numerous scriptures. Original Vedic texts on Hatha Yoga are the ones to be trusted most for learning anything on yoga. Later additions & explanations, unless they reference to original scriptures, cannot be strictly called as “yoga,” as they are mixed with individual biases and experiences, which are not necessarily in tune with the unadulterated cosmic truths. Hence, they may not work for everyone, or worse, may do more harm than good. The practitioner is advised to learn from such yoga teachers & yoga books at his/her own risk. They should be aware that such practices usually have no science, and hence, no spiritual basis to them.
Hatha Yoga From Gheranda Samhita
Hatha Yoga is the most ancient form of yoga. One of the sacred Hindu texts which talks about Hatha Yoga is Gheranda Samhita. It is a record of the conversation between Chanda Kaapaali and his Guru Rishi Gheranda. He entreats his Guru to tell him how to realize the Tattva Jnana or the knowledge of the principles that run the entire Cosmos.
The remaining text is an exposition on all aspects of yoga, which lead to Tattva Jnana, or being in tune with the principles of the Cosmos, by Rishi Gheranda. In the following verse, he lists the seven means of yoga:
शोधनं दृढता चैव स्थैर्य्यं धैर्य्यञ्च लाघवम् |
प्रत्यक्षञ्च निर्लिप्तञ्च घटस्य सप्त्साधनम् || ९ ||
“Purification and cleansing, strength, stability, fortitude, lightness, clear perception and freedom from illusions are the seven means (of yoga.)”Gheranda Samhita, Chapter 1, Verse 9
These seven means are not seven steps, but the seven integral parts of yoga as per Gheranda Samhita. Rishi Gheranda further expands on how each can be achieved.
षट्कर्मणां शोधनञ्च आसनेन भवेद्दृढम् |
मुद्रया स्थिरता चैव प्रत्याहारेण धीरता || १० ||
प्राणायामाळाघवञ्च ध्यानात्प्रत्यक्षमात्मनि |
समाधिना निर्लिप्तञ्च मुक्तिरेव न संशयः || ११ ||
“Purification is achieved by the Shatkarma (Six kriyas), Asana gives strength. Mudras give stability and Pratyahara gives fortitude. Pranayama gives lightness and dhyana gives clarity of perception. Samadhi is liberation from illusions. This is verily Mukti (liberation), have no doubts.”Gheranda Samhita, Chapter 1, Verse 10–11
Purification: an Integral Part of Yoga
Purification and cleansing is mentioned as the first item in the seven means of yoga — this is not a coincidence. Without purification and cleansing, the practice of yoga remains incomplete, and cannot lead to higher experiences or realizations.
In the article on the the root cause of every disease as per Shiva Agamas, the importance of removal of all excrements of the body has been explained. The human body does not release only 2–3 substances, but rather, 12 substances through many sense organs. Inability to remove these excrements results in a poor digestion, as well as accumulation of toxins in the body, which is the top cause of accumulation of fat, causing other major health conditions.
Hence, purification of the body by proper yogic methods can remove the possibility of many health conditions, including depression, from even starting in you.
Depression is the inability of the mind-body to remember its original, true state. This is caused by the clouding of the sense perceptions, malfunctioning of organs, and the inability of the human nervous system to retain the experience and knowledge of the Cosmic truths in day to day life. All of these causes are directly related to accumulation of toxins in the body.
As per Patanjali, yoga is defined thus:
योगः चित्त वृत्ति निरोधः
Yoga is an inner space not obstructed by the ups and downs of the mind.Patanjali Yoga Sutras, Chapter 1, Verse 2
Depression is when the exact opposite happens — when the inner space is continually obstructed by the ups and downs of the mind.
Methods of Yogic Purification
Rishi Gheranda gives more than twenty methods of purification, called Shatkarma, of which, some of the easy and do-able ones are described here. The practitioner can choose the technique as per their ability to practice.
धौति र्वस्तिस्तथा नेतिर्लौलिकी त्राटकं तथा |
कपालभातिश्चैतानि षट्कर्म्माणि समाचरेत् || १२ ||
The six methods of cleansing are: Dhauti, Basti, Neti, Lauliki, Trataka and Kapala Bhati.Gheranda Samhita, Chapter 1, Verse 12
The methods of purification or Shatkarma are classified in the categories of Dhauti, Basti, Neti, Lauliki, Trataka and Kapala Bhati. Each of these categories has one or more techniques.
“Agnisaara Dhauti” or Fire Purification To Cure Digestive Problems
A weak digestion is the source of all health conditions in Ayurveda. The Agnisaara Dhauti or fire purification technique helps in curing all diseases of the stomach, and improving digestive power by increasing the digestive fire or Jataaragni.
नाभिग्रन्थिं मेरुपृष्ठे शतवारंच कारयेत्
अग्निसारमेषा धौतिर्योगिनां योगसिद्धिदा || २० ||
Pull the navel knot back, towards the spine a hundred times. This is Agnisaara Dhauti of yogis, which gives yoga siddhis.Gheranda Samhita, Chapter 1, Verse 20
The technique is simple. It requires you to consciously pull the navel knot back towards the spine a hundred times. Repeated practice of this technique is a powerful way to build a strong digestive system and stop the possibility of digestion problems. This technique is the giver of yogic siddhis (spiritual powers), so its power cannot be underestimated. For any siddhi to manifest through the human body, a strong digestion is a must.
“Danta Mula Dhauti” — Purification of the Teeth
The ancient Yogic masters were not only visionaries, they were detail-oriented as well. In this technique, Rishi Gheranda gives the most ancient and simple method for cleaning teeth. This method not only ensures dental health, it also balances the vata-pitta-kapha doshas every day, which cause health issues to people.
खादिरेण रसेनाथ मृत्तिकया च शुद्ध्या
Rub the teeth and gums with catechu powder until all particles are removed and it is clean.
This process can also be done with Haritaki powder. Massaging the teeth and gums with Catechu or Haritaki powder helps check all dental problems, and cleanses the saliva in the mouth, which is one of the places where excrements are released in the body.
This method is to be practiced every day, in the morning after waking up.
“Jihva Shodhanam” — Cleansing the Tongue for Problems of Phlegm
This method of cleansing needs to be performed on an empty stomach. It is especially powerful if the person is suffering from a condition caused by phlegm or imbalance in kapha dosha. It causes the excess phlegm to be removed from the body.
तर्जनीमध्यमानामा अन्गुलित्रययोगतः |
वेशयेद्गलमध्ये तु मार्जयेल्ल्म्बिकामूलम् |
शनैः शनैर्मार्जयित्वा कफ़्दोशम् निवारयेत् || ३० ||
Join the index finger, middle finger and thumb and massage the root of the tongue with them. Slowly, washing it thus, spit out the phlegm.Gheranda Samhita, Chapter 1, Verse 30
This technique should also be practiced in the morning every day. Due to relief of phlegm, it also brings calmness to the mind, and frees the practitioner from unnecessary distractions and too many thoughts.
“Vaman Dhauti” — Balance of Doshas After a Meal
This technique is a routine practice in many Indian households even today. This is one of the most common methods of cleaning the mouth, and balancing the doshas right after eating a meal. This verse describes the precise technique to help the practitioner practice it every day.
Balancing of the doshas keeps the body healthy, removing the possibility of a health problem.
भोजनान्ते पिबेद्वारि चाकण्ठपूरितं सुधीः |
ऊर्ध्वां दृष्टिं क्षणं कृत्वा तज्जलं वमयेत्पुनः |
नित्यमभ्यासयोगेन कफपित्तं निवारयेत् || ३९ ||
After a meal, drink water till your throat. Look up for a moment, and throw out the water. By practicing this every day, kapha and pitta are removed.Gheranda Samhita, Chapter 1, Verse 39
This technique can be easily practiced by beginners and long time practitioners alike and is an easy way to take care of your health.
“Kapaala Randhra Dhauti “— To Cure Conditions Due to Phlegm
This is a very simple method meant to cure disorders due to phlegm. It is also a powerful way to keep the being centered, and have heightened awareness. Keeping the awareness on the Third eye region or Ajna chakra, as described in this technique, elevates the awareness level of the practitioner easily.
वर्द्धाङ्गुुष्ठेन दक्षेण मर्ज्येद्भालरन्ध्र्कम् |
एवमभ्यास्योगेन कफदोषं निवारयेत् || ३४ ||
Massage the center of the forehead, (between the two eyes, above the bridge of the nose) with your right hand thumb. By this practice, kapha dosha is relieved.Gheranda Samhita, Chapter 1, Verse 34
The “kapaala randhra” or the knot of the skull is the third eye region. By practicing this technique, heightened awareness on the third eye happens, and the practitioner can get relief from many mental disturbances quickly.
“Traataka” — Steady Gaze to Bring Clarity of Perceptions
This simple technique is a powerful method to cleanse the eyes, and to bring clarity of perceptions. It also cures conditions of the eyes. It brings stability to the mind as well, as stillness of gaze is directly related to stillness of the mind.
निमेषोन्मेषकं त्यक्त्वा सूक्ष्मलक्ष्यं निरीक्षयेत् |
यावदश्रुनु पतति त्राटकं प्रोच्यते बुधैैः || ५३ ||
Gaze without blinking, steadily, with awareness, at a small object, until the tears start to flow. This is called as Traataka by the realized ones.Gheranda Samhita, Chapter 1, Verse 53
By this practice, shiddhis of Shambhavi are realized, and diseases of the eyes are cured. This is the giver of Divya Drishti or divine powers of vision, like clairvoyance.
Every technique in the ancient Hatha Yoga texts also lists what it is useful for, how it helps you immediately, and what divine powers you can achieve from practicing it.
Daily Practice of Simple Yogic Methods is Vital for Mental & Physical Health
In each of the described techniques, one method of detoxification is given, with details of how it helps you maintain your health in day to day existence. It is important to understand that mental health is not separate from physical health. Physical health is not the same as absence of diseases as per modern science. Even disturbance of doshas, or a wrong flow of prana in the body can cause many conditions which are not even recognized or understood by modern science, leave alone cured by it. These yogic methods give simple yet powerful ways to detoxify the body to keep it free of physical as well as mental health conditions.
Mental health plays an important role in your participation in life itself, just like physical health. Hence, taking a few steps every day to keep yourself centered goes a long way in a blissful living.
Sanskrit translations by author. Originally published on Medium.