Depression is caused by losing the connection between you and your Self. For some, this loss is devastating and shows up as feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, guilt, extreme weight gain or loss, difficulty concentrating, and more. Life trauma (substance abuse, traumatic situations, stress, genetic predisposition, etc.) and an unhealthy mental digestion process is the overall reason for depression.
After trauma, the mind then is in a position of trying to protect itself and control external occurrences, since the internal connection to the Self is gone. We may not even realize we have lost this connection since this realization is deeply painful and hard to face. Our minds try to protect us from this fact by diverting our attention to materialistic achievement or dwelling in powerfully negative emotions. The mental exhaustion due to the need to protect and control causes anxiety. In a healthy mental digestion process, the body and mind would use that anxious energy to stabilize moods, have regular sleep patterns, and be calm. Depression affects us emotionally, but also spiritually. In Ayurveda, there are five layers of the human being called “koshas”, which will help us examine the emotional and spiritual blockages caused by depression.
The 5 Koshas
The Self in Ayurveda is described to be the “five sheaths” of creation. The first is the physical body (annamayakosha), which is made up of Earth. A person with an imbalanced physical sheath will have a general lack of physical awareness and is not seriously committed to their wellbeing. The energy body (pranamayakosha) is the sheath governing the breath, flow of prana (life force), chakra (energy center), and nadis (energy channels). This water sheath imbalance shows up as blocked chakras, which can be remedied through pranayama (breathing techniques), meditation, and connection to nature. The next sheath is the emotional body (manomayakosha), which has the element of fire and controls thoughts, emotions, and the gunas (qualities of life). A balanced emotional kosha shows itself through the ability to self reflect and have healthy emotional expression by responding and not reacting to situations. The last two koshas transcend the emotional and physical realms and are the least dense elements of air and ether.
The wisdom body (vinyanamayakosha) has the element of air, which holds the connection of intuition and the ability to witness emotions. A person who has a balanced wisdom body is usually dedicated to spiritual practice and has the foundational understanding that no matter what – they are whole and complete. The final kosha is the bliss body (anandamayakosha), holding the element of ether. This is the kosha which fosters the connection to ourselves and manifests healthily when the person can integrate their full selves into the entirety of their life – not just in spiritual practice. All of the energy sheaths overlay each other, creating a unique human experience. Balanced koshas will bring genuine and deep happiness from within, and the body and mind will have appropriately flowing prana (life force) through the nadis (energy channels).
If the mind (not the Self) is guiding you, prana (life force) doesn’t flow properly through the body. 72,000 nadis (energy channels) become dormant. With energy disruption, the chakras (energy centers) do not spin, and spiritual progress is stalled. This blockage of energy affects the annamaya kosha (body sheath) because free-flowing prana is needed to balance the doshas, continue the movement of blood and lymph channels (srotas), and to build and maintain the seven dhatus (bodily tissues). This is when depression expresses physically through disease and illness.
In Ayurveda, depression looks different across the three doshas, meaning that there is no universal treatment. If you don’t know your dosha, click the link to our website to take our dosha quiz. Below we will briefly outline what depression looks like for each dosha and some remedies.
Pitta Anger and fear of losing control or fear of failing are symptoms of Pitta depression. Pitta people are also susceptible to seasonal affective disorder and should have extra measures in the wintertime to maintain mental health. Pitta people can be easily reliant on the high of external success and can become mildly depressed when they fail. To soothe Pitta depression, rub some coconut oil or sunflower oil on your scalp and soles of your feet before sleep. A few minutes of meditation every morning will make each day a little easier for a Pitta person. Drink gotu kola/brahmi tea/ginko tea 2-3 times per day, using 1/2 a teaspoon of herbs in a cup of hot water.
Kapha Kapha depression commonly is associated with feelings of heaviness, which can look like over satiation of sleep, weight gain, and overall lethargy. Fasting for 3-4 days (aside from apple juice, optional) lightens the heaviness of Kapha depression. Increasing the amount of exercise to a vigorous level will shake the lethargy as well. You should also do the ujjayi pranayama (breathing technique) to heal Kapha depression.
Vata Depression for Vata dominant individuals is a manifestation of anxiety, fear, sleeping problems, and nervousness. Vata people should spend time around people, as chronic loneliness sustains Vata depression. You can also rub the top of your head and soles of your feet with sesame oil for soothing. Also make tea with Ashwagandha and Brahmi (1/3 to 1/2 teaspoon each), steeped in hot water for 10 minutes, and drink 2 to 3 times per day.
Ayurveda treats the whole person and offers a path to restoring the connection to your inner Self. When we grow up, we realize that we do not need the same protection from our minds as we did as children. Coming into the five koshas as we grow into ourselves is a unique experience. Everyone is yearning to feel deeply happy – even though we may not know it consciously. To be a part of the universe brings joy, and we might just need a little help once in a while to free our prana (life force) to live a genuinely happy life. If you are reading this article and feel a twinge of resonation, come see us. We are here for you.
The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies by Dr. Vasant Lad (1998)
The Yoga of Herbs by Dr. David Frawley and Dr Vasant Lad (2001)
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