Yoga for Depression: A Compassionate Guide to Relieve Suffering Through Yoga by Amy Weintraub


By Phil Catalfo  |  

Broadway Books.

This is no quick-fix book, nor does it contain any promises of a panacea. Instead, YJ contributor, Kripalu Yoga teacher, and registered yoga therapist Amy Weintraub has written something infinitely more valuable: a sensitive, intelligent, painstaking exploration of the deeper psychospiritual issues that make up the complex experience of depression. That in itself would be a significant contribution, but Yoga for Depression also offers a brilliant illumination of how the ancient wisdom of the yoga tradition can penetrate the often intractable challenges of depression. While Weintraub does provide descriptions of yogic exercises throughout (and includes with them earnest entreaties to practice every day), the genius of her book is that it emphasizes the efficacy of yoga on “the problem of Being itself,” as Stephen Cope puts it in the foreword.

Weintraub, who suffered from severe depression during the 1980s and began her recovery through daily yoga practice, combines firsthand knowledge of the insidious, self-reinforcing difficulties of the depressive state with the faith that those difficulties can be overcome. She also melds her teacher’s insight on the therapeutic value of yoga with her impressive personal understanding about the particulars of depression as a pervasive modern malady.

What is most impressive about this text, though, is not how much she knows but the way she conveys what she knows, the innate qualities she brings to her writing: her steadfastness in encouraging the reader, her agility at drawing on ageless yoga texts and contemporary yoga experts, her insights into the problems of the self and the conditions in modern society that exacerbate them. “We’re treating the symptoms when we take our Paxil or our Celexa, but we’re not addressing the root of our suffering,” Weintraub writes. “We do not meet our suffering at its source.” (“You won’t find Eli-Lilly funding a study on yoga,” she later notes wryly.)

Besides the therapeutic benefits of particular techniques such as asana, Pranayama, and meditation, yoga’s greatest gift to those in psychological torment, Weintraub says, is its very vision of the liberated soul. “There is only one consciousness,” she writes. “The yogis call this atman. This is our true nature. When we remember this, our suffering disappears.” Someone afflicted with depression might not read those words and instantly believe her or his suffering can literally disappear, but Yoga for Depression will help such a person take crucial first steps toward freedom from that burden.