5 Natural Remedies for Depression: Ancient Secrets for Fighting Your Darkness and Reclaiming Your Inner Light

By Sejal Shah | Posted: September 24, 2018

You may wonder at times: why am I so depressed?

You’re not alone. Just like you, I, too, have experienced depression. Most people have, whether it’s the so-called milder “everyday” depression, or severe clinical depression.

Even the greatest, most inspiring, and fully-realized human figures--people like Buddha, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, and Mahatma Gandhi--have experienced depression. But not only did they find their way out of it, that phase of their life proved to bring the biggest catalyst for transformation. There are many celebrities who have also battled their depression successfully.

On the other hand, we also hear sad stories of depression taking its toll on the lives of many, including famous people—Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain are the latest on the list. Their stories show us that material success has nothing to do with mental well being.

According to a WHO report, by 2020, depression will be the second most common killer in the world, next to cardiac disorders.

Today, depression is estimated to affect 350 million people in all communities across the world, becoming a significant contributor to the global burden of disease. Affecting 1 in 20 people, it is the leading cause of disability worldwide, in terms of total years lost due to disability reducing people’s functioning.

What are symptoms of depression?

Depression is a common mental disorder that includes

  • depressed mood
  • loss of interest or enjoyment in previously loved activities
  • decreased energy  
  • increased fatigue
  • feelings of guilt or low self-worth
  • disturbed sleep or appetite, and poor concentration
  • anxiety

These problems can become chronic or recurrent, and lead to substantial impairments in an individual’s ability to take care of his or her everyday responsibilities. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide. Almost 1 million lives are lost yearly due to suicide, which translates to 3,000 deaths by suicide every day.

Types of depression

Depending on the number and severity of symptoms, a depressive episode can be categorized as mild, moderate, or severe.

  • Mild depressive episodes manifest as difficulty in continuing with ordinary work and social activities.
  • Severe depressive episodes, on the other hand, manifests as an inability to continue with social engagements, work, or domestic activities.
  • Bipolar affective disorder typically consists of both manic and depressive episodes separated by periods of normal mood. Manic episodes involve elevated mood and increased energy, resulting in over-activity, pressure of speech, and decreased need for sleep.
  • Maternal depression, affecting women either during pregnancy or postpartum.

What to do when you’re depressed - 5 easy and simple ways to begin to heal

Depression can make everyday life very challenging. When we are depressed, we tend to make things more complicated, and often fail to take basic steps to help ourselves. Healthy lifestyle choices do wonders to help mild to moderate depression.  Whether you have everyday depression or clinical, adopting these habits can begin to make a difference. The severe form of clinical depressions may require medical intervention. Don’t hesitate to consult your physician if you believe medication is the right choice for you.

1. Maintain your prana (life force energy) levels.

According to yoga and ayurveda, depression is caused when there is a decrease in one’s level of prana, or life force energy. In order for the body and mind to function properly, prana must be flowing freely. When your prana or life force fluctuates, your mind is also more susceptible to a  roller coaster of emotions. When prana is high, we experience joy, enthusiasm, creativity, and energy and enthusiasm to live. When it is diminished, we experience many symptoms of depression, like the loss of desire to participate in activities we used to love, loss of interest and pleasure in life, fatigue, irritability, insomnia, loss of appetite, feelings of worthlessness, poor concentration, self doubt, and an increase in anxiety.

There are many sources to increase, maintain and sustain your prana level, and these could be broadly classified into four major categories:

Food: Eat pure, sattvic food.  Foods that are natural and unprocessed are digested quickly by the body and create bliss, contributing to a balanced and stable emotional life while promoting good health within the body. Pure sattvic foods are comprise a healthy, balanced diet every day. A healthy diet, which includes whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, protein, and low levels of fat will help keep your body healthy. Lessen the intake of foods that are processed, pre-prepared, preserved, fermented, canned, packaged, frozen, microwaved, fried, barbecued, high in sugar or spices, and those that contain artificial flavors.

Rest: Maintain healthy sleep habits. Set up a regular routine for bedtime and morning to be sure you are getting enough sleep, but not too much. Try going to bed before 10:00 p.m. This time generates a deep, restful sleep that truly refreshes mind and body. Falling asleep after 10:00 p.m. produces a more restless sleep, and you will be more likely to wake up in the night with restlessness and emotional distress. Wake up before sunrise. After a good night’s sleep, the mind is refreshed, calm, and serene. There is a preponderance of sattva, or purity in the mind at this time, as well as in the atmosphere. Sleeping later than 6:00 a.m. causes the channels of communication to be clogged with impurities, leading to a dull mind, depressed moods, and slow communication between heart, soul, and mind.

Breath: This is the most powerful, cost-effective, and abundantly available resource to improve our prana level. Our breath and emotions are very strongly connected to each other. The way we feel affects our breathing and the way we breathe influences the way we feel. Taking deeper, softer, gentle breathes has a calming and pacifying effect on our mind. Take time to learn some breathing practices. Researched-backed breathing techniques like Sudarshan Kriya stabilize our life force, and consequently the mind. The inner dimension unveiled by the practice of this powerful technique deeply enriches us, and its impact slowly spills over to all aspects of our life. As prana rises in the body, one starts to feel a transformation as direct experience and not as a forced mental exercise. So many practitioners around the world have experienced a happier, more creative life with greater command over their mind and emotions. This breathing practice also tones your vagus nerve that helps to reduce symptoms of depression to a great extent.

Learn more about Sudarshan Kriya and the Happiness Program.

Meditation: Since the 1970s, meditation and other stress-reduction techniques have been studied as possible treatments for depression and anxiety. Everyday depression is often rooted in fears about the future and regrets about the past. Meditation connects you to the present moment and that quiet space within us, and thus helps to alleviate many symptoms of situational depression. Learning an easy and effortless meditation technique like Sahaj Samadhi Meditation can be a great blessing, not just for those who suffer from mild depression, but also as a support technique for clinical depression, as indicated by research.

2. Get outside.

When you are depressed, you have a tendency to remain imprisoned in your own cocoon. Break open that cocoon, and get outside. Fresh air brings new hope, and is also the source fresh prana, the life force energy that kindles enthusiasm and interest. Make a habit to go for walks in your local community park or gardens and let the gentle forces of nature rejuvenate you.

3. Unplug.

Video games, social media, surfing the web—anything too focus-oriented, repetitive, and addictive encourages disinterest in real life. Many studies have proven how social media can lead or aggravate the symptoms of depression. Instead, give yourself a chance to openly communicate with family members and loved ones about what is going on in your life, in order to foster better relationships and elicit their support. Or, consider going out and meeting people face to face—talk to them, help them, hug them, share stories, give compliments, dance with them—make a real heart to heart connection.

4. Help others.

Another thing that can be really helpful in relieving symptoms of depression is developing an attitude of service. According to global spiritual master Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, constantly thinking ‘what about me’ is the surest mantra for depression. Thinking ‘what can I do for others’, and getting involved in a bigger cause shifts the whole focus of life, and can help one begin to come out of depression. Volunteer at a hospital or at a soup kitchen, spend a day talking to the homeless and listen to their stories, or volunteer in areas affected by natural calamities. Any time you start helping others and begin to realise that your help is making a huge difference in lives of other people, it brings enormous sense of contentment and joy, and your life is re-energized with new direction and purpose.

5. Stretch and exercise daily.

Consider some form of exercise daily. Exercise is good for both your physical and mental health. Establishing a regular exercise routine will help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce your stress levels, important for someone with depression. Stress, both at work and home, can increase feelings of depression, and stress is part and parcel of the modern lifestyle. It can not be avoided. Instead, it is important to learn to manage stress in your daily life. Yoga is a boon for both physical and mental health conditions. Check out some yoga classes at a studio near you, or go for a yoga retreat and learn to stretch and breathe deeply.

How to stop being depressed

Be patient and compassionate with yourself. For someone with depression, even the smallest tasks can seem impossible. On some days, if you can’t find the energy to go for a walk, then just stand outside for a little while and get some fresh air. If you can’t make a healthy meal for yourself, try to eat a piece of fruit. If you are finding yourself unable to sleep, consider learning meditation or other relaxation techniques. If you are sleeping all the time, consider and find out ways to spend less time in bed. These things may not make your depression go away, but they may make your day feel a lot more easier.

Whether you are able to do all the above or not, it is important for you to make sure to limit or curtail alcohol or substance use or abuse. Use of these substances may worsen your symptoms of depression or interfere with your prescribed medications.

Know for sure that you are not alone. Having faith that there is some higher power that is taking good care of you will help to ease your battle against depression. Remember that life is a combination of joy and heartbreaks. While the pain of disappointments is inevitable, suffering and feeling miserable are definitely optional. Having a broad perspective about life gives you the strength to move forward through painful times. Know that you are very much needed in this world. With all its infinite possibilities, this life is a gift that can become a fountain of joy and happiness, not just for yourself but for many others as well.

Take care!

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

By Sejal Shah, E-YRT 500 Sri Sri Yoga Teacher, YACEP, Art of Living Teacher, NYU Post Graduate Medical School approved Yoga-CME retreat facilitator, Mind-Body Wellness Writer, Homeopath

Art of Living Part 1 course: Discover Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s ancient secret to modern well-being.

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