Rajas, Tamas, & Qualities of Depression

Let’s start by looking at the qualities of depression: heavy, sluggish, and slow.  In depression, these qualities begin to manifest in the mind as well as the body.  I’m not talking about clinical ‘Depression’ here (although these are helpful tips as part of your treatment plan).  I’m more talking about the ebb and flow of the depressing qualities.

It’s normal for us to feel heavy, sluggish, and slow sometimes.  It is only when these qualities start to overaccumilate, with no balancing relief of the opposite qualities of uplifted and movement, that there is a problem.  Sometimes, the qualities hang out longer than we’d like, but they still shift back to a more balanced state.

We can relate these qualities to Kapha, although Kapha technically relates to the physical body and not so much the mind.  When we talk about the mind, the heavy, sluggish, slow qualities are ruled by Tamas, while the uplifting, movement, get things done, qualities are ruled by Rajas.  There is a third, Sattva, but that it the perfect, balanced state (harmony, balance, and joy) and so does not need to be balanced.

We always strive toward Sattva by right food, right actions, and right company.  Our balancing doshas are Tamas and Rajas.

Tamas is inertia.  It is the dosha of, literally, sleep.  Without Tamas’s heavy, sluggish qualities we can not slow down for rest in the evening (think inability to sleep and anxiety where the mind can not calm down).

rock formed person under heavy clouds during daytime
Tamas: inertia

Rajas is action and movement.  Without Rajas, we do not enter the active phase and do not wake up for the day.  It is Rajas that is responsible for the overactive mind.

light trails on highway at night
Rajas: movement

You can see that we need both these balancing forces to function properly.

Usually, we correct imbalances by applying opposites.  If we are heavy and slow, we add light and active.  When we are in a depressive state we want to move the body and move the mind.  Laughter is one of the best remedies for depression: it’s light, uplifting, and airy (movement).  Walking and yoga are great remedies.  They are moving and uplifting.

Here’s where some: “it depends” comes into play.

Sometimes, the heavy, slow qualities of Tamas come into play as a natural balancing force.  Sometimes, we’ve been too movement oriented, too grasping oriented, too active, too anxious, too stressed (our society LOVES these qualities).  Tamas comes in as a light weight, then heavier, then heavier.   If we ignore this gentle nudge toward inaction and stillness, we might end up with what feels like a boulder holding us down.

balance balancing boulder close up

This is why there is usually an element of movement and stillness and focus to treating depressive qualities.  Yes, we want to move, but maybe not too much.  A nice walk and some yoga.  We also want success (small wins); don’t make extreme goals that are doomed to fail.  I don’t know about you, but when I’m depressed, another failure is not going to help me feel better.  Short walks.  Short bursts of yoga: seven sun salutations spaced through the day.

Good healthy food.  Make one meal a day, at least, simple, clean food.  Think soups with lots of vegetables and grains.  Meat is heavy and Tamasic.  Stale foods (this includes processed food) is heavy and Tamasic.  Both will have heavy, sluggish, slow impacts  on the mind.

Again, it depends, if you are depressed from periods of overactive, you may need a bit more heavy nourishing food.

You also might need a touch of stillness.  Breathwork and meditation are lovely practices for calming, quieting, and YES balancing the mind.  Take a few moments out of each day for healthy stillness.  Clear the mind of excess fog, gunk, and the should and todos.  Just be.

Daily Tips for depression:
1. Take a fifteen minute walk (outside, in the fresh air)
2. Do seven sun salutations (all at once or split them morning, noon, night)
3. Go to bed before ten and wake not long after the sun rises.
4. Do three to five minutes of yogic breath-work.
5. Do not eat processed foods.  Focus on light, fresh, easy to digest, ‘Sattvic’ foods.  Sattvic foods encourage a light, clear, balanced quality in the mind.

As you explore these practices, start to discover what works for you.  Start noticing if you have a tendency toward more Rajasic (movement/grasping) or Tamasic (heavy and slow) qualities in the mind.  When you know what your basic tendency is, it is helpful to learn which tools will be most helpful in crisis moments when the mind doesn’t think clearly.  

If you are more Tamasic in general, you may need more uplifting practices: brisker walks, sun salutations, uplifting breath work, lighter foods, with a little bit of stillness practices to focus and rebalance the mind.

If you are more Rajasic in general, you may need more grounding practices: slower walks, grounding yoga poses, more nourishing foods, stabilizing breath work, and more stillness/meditation to rebalance the mind.

As always these are tips and tools for you to explore.  These are not substitutes for appropriate medical care or counseling.  If you need more support, please don’t hesitate to contact me.  I can guide you in the right direction and support you on your journey.

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