We live in a society where we are constantly barraged with advertising, whether on the television, the internet, billboards, the sides of buses, movie theaters, airplane dinner trays, you name it. These days it seems that if there is a blank space anywhere, corporations will find a way to place an ad on it! Not only has the number of advertising channels increased ten-fold in recent decades, so too have the types of things being advertised.
One such item is the advertising of pharmaceutical drugs. This still boggles my mind. I’m sure that many of you will remember a time when you would never have seen a pharmaceutical ad on the television, when instead it would have been up to a medical professional (rather than a team of advertising executives!) to recommend a particular drug to you. But now, on a daily basis, we are inundated with suggestions that with the help of a “magic” little pill we can cure all of our ailments, whatever they may be: diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, arthritis, and of course the most awkward, and somewhat comical to watch, erectile dysfunction. You name it, there is a cure for it… at least according to the billion dollar pharmaceutical industry. Now, I could write a separate thesis about the problems with that in itself, but I’m not going to go down that road today. Instead I’m going to focus on one particular drug category, one of the most profitable, and one that I can talk about with first-hand knowledge: depression.
Lately a couple of different friends have told me about hard times, periods of depression that they are living through. As I listen to these friends talk about the darkness around them, how nothing is going right, and how they feel so unhappy and that things will never improve, I am reminded of all of the television ads for pharmaceutical drugs that claim to treat depression. And I am reminded of how upset it makes me, upset because so many people are deceived into thinking that it is the only way, the best way… and in the process are overlooking other, more natural ways that can be just as, and often times more effective, for the treatment of depression. One such way is through the practice of yoga. When I hear a friend talking about their own depression, all I can think to myself is “how can I convince this person to do yoga?” Of course nobody likes to have something pressed on them, including me, but when you’ve discovered something yourself that you know works so well, you of course want to share that discovery with others.
You see, like my friends, I too have lived through dark periods of depression, when my life felt like the bottom had dropped out from under me, when it felt like things would never get better, when I would drown in my own sorrow. And like many people, I have tried various different ways to cope with such periods. The first true depression that I lived through was in my late 20s, when I experienced my first devastating broken heart. I had never loved anyone as passionately as I had loved this guy and we had fought hard to make our relationship work. So when he finally gave up and walked away, I was beside myself. I could not eat for months on end, and as much as it worked, I’m sure you’ll all agree that this is not a good manner of weight loss!
I went to a therapist wanting desperately to be given anything that would numb the pain. After evaluating me, he determined that there was nothing clinically or chemically wrong with me, but rather that I was living through a situational depression, the type of depression that most of us will experience at one time or another in our lives. He determined that such an experience did not call for anti-depressants and that I simply needed to work through it with time, and therapy. Well, I was stubborn and impatient, and the pain was unbearable (and therapy had never worked for me). I needed to stop the pain and I was desperate for a quick fix. I went to my regular primary care doctor and I convinced her to prescribe anti-depressants to me.
The anti-depressants worked… at least in the sense that they completely numbed the pain. I was suddenly able to cope again, I didn’t feel the unbearable anguish that I had felt before then. Instead, I didn’t really feel much of anything, I felt numbness. While I went about my day to day routine, and my life seemed fine on the surface, I was basically stumbling through my life, in an emotional vacuum.
Many months later, when my doctor and I felt that I was better equipped to handle the grief on my own, she began to wean me off of the anti-depressants. However, what happened next, I did not expect. Forget about the awful physical side effects that came from the withdrawal period; that in itself was bad enough. But what was even worse than that, was that the grief, the pain that I had felt prior to the medication, came instantly rushing back… like a tsunami. It was as if the painful event had just happened and I suddenly had to live through the pain and anguish all over again. And I realized that the little “miracle pills” had been no such thing. I realized that all they had done was numb the pain, but they never allowed me to DEAL with the pain. This was a monumental realization for me…
Several years later I found myself in an even more profound heartbreak than the previous one. While I thought I could never again experience anything as dark as that first heartbreak, I learned immediately that that heartbreak had been a walk in the park compared to this one. I was about to enter my first (and hopefully only!) “dark night of the soul.”
Having previously experienced for myself that the anti-depressants (and I had tried various different types, not just one.) were nothing but a crutch and did nothing to resolve the deeper, inner emotional turmoil, I knew that I could not again walk down that path. I knew this time that I had to walk THROUGH the pain, that I had to experience it, live it, breathe it, no matter how difficult… for I knew that that would be the only way to truly process it and overcome it. I knew that the only way out was through. So how would I cope with the day to day pain, the anguish that prevented me from getting out of bed in the morning, the tears that were never-ending, the feeling that my life was useless? One word: Yoga.
Now, there are dozens of scientific studies that I could quote from various medical journals and leading research hospitals, that show the scientific evidence that yoga can in fact successfully treat depression. And I encourage you to google and find them for yourself. But as I am not a scientist and have no interest in boring you, I’d rather share with you my own personal experience.
I had stumbled upon an Anusara yoga studio down the street from my apartment and I started going regularly. As I went through the motions of the poses on my mat, I had to fight back the tears. But thankfully the yoga forced me to focus on what I was doing right then and there. If I was standing upside down in a handstand, I had no choice but to focus on that moment, and nothing else. I could not be focusing on the million emotions and reasons that I had to be sad. So I continued to focus and I continued to breathe. And through the yogic breathwork and the physical asana, I began to notice that the energy inside me was shifting, that the deeper, darker emotions were slowly but surely beginning to work themselves through, up and out of me.
Now I am by no means saying that yoga is a quick-fix for depression. Nothing is (and anyone that tells you differently is lying to you!). It is a commitment and something that takes time. But what I do know for sure, is that if one commits themselves to a regular yoga practice, they too will begin to feel something shift inside them; they will begin to feel lighter, more at peace. The dark feelings that once dominated their days will begin to take up less and less space and time. And little by little they will find themselves feeling better and better, until one day they will find that those dark feelings are “magically” gone, that they have worked themselves up and out.
So I say that if you are human like me and experience a period of depression in your life, don’t be fooled by the television ads. Don’t let the pharmaceutical companies convince you that their chemical drugs are the only solution, or even the best solution. Instead, I encourage you to try a drug of a different kind: the yoga drug. You may just be surprised by what you find.