I decided to delve further into the subject of depression after reading that it is the leading cause of disability among Americans aged 15-44.3 and affects 15 million Americans (6.7% of the population) 18 and older in a given year (1). It’s no surprise that I come across it regularly in my practice.
Let me preface by saying that I have never experienced symptoms that last “most of the day, nearly every day, for at least 2 weeks”(2) nor am I formally trained on the subject. For those who have suffered or are suffering from depression, I invite you to follow the links provided for those ideas that resonate with you and share your experiences below. I realize there are many perspectives on depression; these I share because they buck the prevailing zeitgeist and in them, I hear great hope. Great hope not only in the ancient teachings of Tibetan Buddhism but also, in those of modern science and integrative western medicine.
Dharma Ocean transmits the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism in the lineage of Trungpa Rinpoche. It’s a Colorado-based global community of meditators who prioritize the practice of Somatic Meditation. Reggie Ray, the Spiritual Director of Dharma Ocean, calls depression a gateway through which we can explore (3).
- If in meditation we can work with a state of mind like depression we can begin to “see in the dark”
- If we can let go of the fact that we are depressed (and all the thinking that goes with it – thinking is how we try to maintain our sense of self and get away from the intensity of the depressed state) and simply step into it, it can be very powerful. But to do so you have to let go of everything – hopes, fears, things you think are working, things that aren’t working, your whole world.
- Depression is the closest state of mind to enlightenment because it requires us to let go of the ego
- In somatic meditation, you take away the mental aspect (the thinking) and find that depression is just energy, and in fact an “extraordinarily intelligent” energy
Depression as a gateway is an idea I also found in modern science via the work and research of Dr. Kelly Brogan, author of A Mind of Your Own: The Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies and to Reclaim Their Lives. Brogan is board certified in psychiatry, psychosomatic medicine, and integrative holistic medicine. She calls depression “the beginning of your next chapter.” Some key points (4):
- The body is a sophisticated organism. It doesn’t make mistakes; everything from the common cold to a headache to a mania is an expression of the body. It’s attempting to get your attention and remind you of what you have forgotten.
- Bring some wonder to your symptoms – the question that must be asked is why you have them
- Depression is one of the most grossly misdiagnosed and mistreated conditions today, especially among women and not one single study has proven a chemical imbalance in the brain
- Prevention is possible
- Medication treatments come at a “steep cost” and use of them is a way of “opting out” of your journey. Instead, you are stuffing your depression, headache, etc. in a box
- Optimal health isn’t possible through medication
And two points that resonate with the aims of Yoga Therapy:
- Your health is under your control
- Working with lifestyle medicine is a safe and effective way to send the body a signal of safety
In her practice, Brogan addresses the triggers of depression: food intolerances, blood sugar imbalances, chemicals, thyroid dysfunction (standard tests don’t show the full picture), and nutrient deficiency. When depression starts in the gut, food closer to its “ancestral state” offers tremendous potential for healing. Her book presents a 30-day nutritional plan and includes tools to manage the response to stress, another common thread with the Yoga Therapy work I do.
It is my hope that this more holistic, integrative approach to wellness is explored further by those seeking health and well-being and that the US health care system further embraces the tremendous value of lifestyle medicine. Thank you for reading. Thank you for sharing.