Let’s get the muddy part out of the way. Or even better, let’s embrace it. Anxiety disorders and depression run hand in hand. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Winter blues, or depression in the winter months, is even more rampant in the northern hemisphere.
In Chicago, even as we are welcoming spring, during this past winter we experienced the coldest day in half a century. SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder does occur when sunlight plays truant in the winter weather. However, even though it is easy to blame the weather, here’s a tip. Examine your energy levels. In reality, low prana (energy) levels actually may be to blame when depression sets in.
Now here’s the good news: “No mud. No Lotus.” Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh culled this metaphor from yogic texts. The lotus flower grows only in muddy, murky water. When it transcends these bleak and ugly conditions, it blossoms into one of the most beautiful flowers in the world.
The opportunity is to embrace our moments of darkness as a gift and transform ourselves with the right tools. Our darkest moments also help us find deeper sensitivity and compassion. Life throws in wrinkles, but what challenges us more is our own mind. The “winter of despair,” as coined by Shakespeare, surely brings the hopeful blooms of spring.
Depression and young adults: According to world-renowned spiritual leader, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, “Lack of idealism is the main cause of depression among young people today. Life appears to be so meaningless to these children, who are either too scared of the competitive world or bogged down by too much stimulation. They need inspiration, and spirituality is that inspiration.”
Depression sets in if zeal to fight is lacking. Since aggression is the antidote to depression, and depression is lack of energy, “anger and aggression are bolts of energy,” said Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. It follows then, that the increased violence in our society reflects the increased rates of depression.
Depression among the elderly: Poor health and lack of vitality are the main reasons for depression among seniors. Sickness or a traumatic life event may also contribute, but a lack of community and close connections is the more widespread cause.
Depression in the workplace: A stressful work environment, constant deadlines, and high pressure functioning can also cause anxiety and depression.
How to increase our life force: Once we understand the muddy landscape, we are then able to take care of our inner blossoming. But first, it is important to recognize the four sources of energy: food, sleep, breath, and meditation.
The first two of these are better understood. A poor cycle of eating can dramatically lower our energy levels. Besides, a hungry stomach cannot really “stomach” much or be resilient to life’s challenges. Sleep, just as importantly, is an essential requirement to keep us functioning at optimum levels. Sleep deprivation not only lowers our energy levels, but it also has been linked to depression among teenagers and adults.
The next two sources of energy need to be better understood. Pranayama, or conscious breathing, is a part of yoga that is now being embraced by science in the treatment of anxiety-related disorders such as panic attacks and eating disorders, among others. The centuries-old yogic breathing technique for enhancing energy and getting rid of toxins—nadi shodhana—is now even being promoted as a scientific breathing exercise, termed by Westerners as alternate nostril breathing. Sudarshan Kriya is another dynamic breathing technique that consists of a perfect rhythm that incorporates four breathing techniques in a dynamic pattern.
The fourth source of energy is meditation. This is where the lotus blooms. Meditators find that the murky mind, muddied by vacillations between the past and the future, blossoms with clarity and awareness in the stillness of meditation. The darkness of depression naturally lifts, and the delicate flower in your heart blooms and releases its fragrance. We find ourselves smiling more and dwelling in the fullness of the present moment!
Finally, take a moment to dance. Albert Einstein said, “We dance for laughter, we dance for tears, we dance for madness, we dance for fears, we dance for hopes, we dance for screams, we are the dancers, we create the dreams.” Dance and depression cannot coexist.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says, “You are starving for a smile from yourself. You find that perhaps the only candle you need to light is for yourself.”
In the end, meditation is nothing more than accepting and honoring your own friend request!
Shalini Parekh has taught yoga and wellness in the Chicago area for almost two decades. She believes yoga is more a function of what happens off the mat. Her understanding of the Yoga Sutras illuminates her teaching, writing, and understanding of what she calls our universal need to extend a hand to the universe. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.