What is Depression?: Yoga & Depression: Introduction

Sadness & Grief vs. Depression

  • To be sad usually means to be sad about something. Depression, on the other hand, is often experienced without an identifiable trigger.
  • Sadness and grief are natural human emotions that usually result from a challenging experience or situation, and which lessen as the situation resolves or the emotional hurt fades.
  • Clinical depression is a life-threatening medical condition in which sadness and other symptoms interfere with the sufferer’s ability to carry out everyday tasks. Symptoms persist for at least two weeks and can be so overwhelming that the person is incapacitated or even suicidal. (Timothy McCall, M.D.)


  • Depression may not be experienced as sadness, but as a lack of feeling or aliveness.
  • In Yoga for Wellness, Gary Kraftsow notes that depression and related emotions are “characterized by a loss of energy, appetite, interest, and enthusiasm and are marked by a slowing down of the body’s metabolic rate.”
  • Kraftsow distinguishes depression from anger and anxiety in this critical way:

Depression differs from anger and anxiety in a fundamental way: while in both anger and anxiety, the body is flooded with the chemicals characteristic of the fight-or-flight response, in depression there is a low level of certain neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine and serotonin.  – Gary Kraftsow

Related Emotions

Gary Kraftsow notes other attitudes and emotions that can be considered in the same general category as depression: complacency, dejection, despair, disappointment, emptiness, gloom, grief, hopelessness, loneliness, melancholy, sadness, sorry, self-pity, and shame.

Depression Colors All Aspects of Life

Depression colors all aspects of our lives, making everything less enjoyable, less interesting, less important, less lovable, and less worthwhile. Depression saps our energy, motivation, and ability to experience joy, pleasure, excitement, anticipation, satisfaction, connection, and meaning. All your thresholds tend to be lower. You’re more impatient, quicker to anger and get frustrated, quicker to break down, and it takes you longer to bounce back from everything. – Guy Winch PhD

Yoga Perspective

  • From a yogic perspective, depression may be classified as either tamasic or rajasic.
  • Tamasic depression manifests in more lethargic and passive ways while rajasic depression is expressed with agitation.

Rajasic vs. Tamasic

Whether you feel anxious and active in your depression (rajasic) or fogged in and passive (tamasic), understanding the subtleties of your state of mind is important. – Amy Weintraub

Tamasic  =Clinical Depression, Rajasic = Agitated Depression

Someone with tamasic, or clinical, depression may describe feeling lethargic, dull, or hopeless. You may be able to observe slumped shoulders, a collapsed chest, or sunken eyes in their appearance. On the other hand, someone with rajasic, or agitated, depression may feel nervous, jittery, anxious, and incapable of being still.  You might notice in Savasana or restorative poses that their eyes stay open and dart about or that their fingers keep twitching. Discussing symptoms with your student and making visual observations will help you to plan a sequence that will fit their needs. – Nina Zolotow