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Dukh, Depression and Journeys of Life- Part VI-Duhkha, Depression and The Axe effect

duHkha depression and axe effect

In the on-going series of Dukh, Depression and Journeys of Life in Part VI we present a dialogue in question and answer format between Gayatri Iyer and Raghu.

Gayatri: While I am tempted to dive straight away into what is the ‘Axe Effect’ that you have mentioned as the title of this conversation. I will follow the sequence of the words and get to that later or at the end.

The current circumstances is ridden with fear, doubt, anxiety, and worry thanks to the pandemic COVID-19. While some of us feel safe inside our homes, even so, I wonder how the world outside is being changed and that creates a lot of anxiety.  When I look at the news at the suffering and plight of people less privileged than some us like the migrant labour I cannot help but feel the duHkh of the world around me. How do I make sense of it and what should I do? Some of us decided to have a chat with Raghu Ananthanarayanan on understanding duHkha, anxiety, and other emotions that are part of the angst in this present context, from the lens of yoga.

What does the word duHkha mean?


Gayatri: What does the word duHkha mean?

Raghu: Sankhya starts with the mention of duHkha traya abhigata (the 3 forms of duHkha that afflict a person) and how one can end duHkha. This question is taken up in great detail in the Yoga Sutra. What is duHkham? ‘kham’ is space and ‘du’ is a constriction, so a space that is constricted or distressed is duHkham. There are other definitions of duHkha– it means giving up of svantantrata i,e, lack of control in one’s life, and choice making. Kham also means hub of a wheel, so the hub which is not in the right place is duHkham. The chariot or cart on which you will ride does not have its hub in the proper place, you will have a horrible ride. The ride of life will be bumpy!

The text talks about three causes of duHkha-:

1.       Adidaivikam– those forms of duHkha which are created by subtle forces beyond a human explanation or understanding, is referred to as some daivik or divine force.

2.       Adibhoutikam– those which are created by forces of nature, just like the coronavirus.

3.       AdhyAtmikam– those which are created by my own actions

Out of these three, the most important factor for us to look at is AdhyAtmikam because that is what arises out of one’s own actions, the other two are outside of one’s control.

Gayatri: Is the virus AdhyAtmikam then?

Raghu: It starts as adibhoutikam, but then after that, I have a choice to act in ways that increases the duHkha or not. This then becomes adhyAtmikam. My negative response to Covid-19, the lockdown, and the other restrictions causes stress in myself and the system around me.

The symptoms of being in distress is mentioned in Yoga Sutra chapter 1- duHkha-daurmanasya-angamEjayatva-shvAsa-prashvAsA vikShEpa-saha-bhuvaH 

Let us understand each symptom-:

  1. daurmanasya- the closest English word is depression i.e. lack of energy, motivation, strength in confronting reality.

  2. angamEjayatva– the body is unstable. The classic example would be of Arjuna before the great battle when he says that he does not have enough strength to hold his bow ‘Gandiva’, his skin feels hot and he feels weak and feverish. All these reactions are part of the psychosomatic manifestations that are a result of depression.

  3. shvAsa-prashvAsA: breath that is short or disturbed.

Gayatri: Is depression the same as duHkha?

Raghu: I am always worried about these direct comparisons because the framework in which the words are used is very different. The Western framework in which the word depression is used is in a clinical context and all psychological terms in the Western context are derived from measurements from the outside. While Yoga and Sankhya, are an inside out description of the process. All we can say is that some of the psychological and physical symptoms spoken about in both systems are similar, so we can loosely say that they are referring to the same experience.

Gayatri: Since you mentioned Arjuna in the battle, was his experience one of duHkha?

Raghu: Of course, he was giving up his responsibility as a warrior in the middle of the battlefield, so this is a loss of self-confidence or svAbhimAn and loss of svadharma or one’s capabilities or true potential.

The previous sutra mentions the inner blocks when one experiences duHkha: vyAdhi-styAna-samshaya-pramAda-Alasya-avirati-bhrAntidarshana- alabdhabhUmikatva-anavasthitatvAni citta-vikShepAH te-antarAyAH

If your mind is not steady, then you will experience a disruption in the path you are walking on. Let us look at these symptoms closely-:

  1. vyAdhi- the first symptom the body displays are illness or disease. Ayurveda says that when your body and mind are healthy the antibody creation is also healthy enough to fight external factors.

  2. styAna– is a heaviness or inertia to do an activity, where you do not feel like dealing with the world and you have a tendency to give up. I know many people who are feeling like this during corona times.

  3. samshaya- One starts having doubts about the path. Any external disturbance causes you to question your goals and the reasons for doing something. This may actually be a good thing in the COVID crisis where you start questioning what you are really doing with your life? These are healthy doubts to have in these troubled times. Unlike styAnam where you are paralyzed, here you are asking yourself what is the right thing to do in this context? People call it a pause and start a review process without losing their svAbhimAn or svadharma. I know many people who have taken this time to study or spend time with the family, many who are happy in this lockdown, they are treating it like a retreat without the external pressure.

  4. pramAda- is the inability to pay attention or focus to one’s actions. If your mind is unsteady you find that you cannot concentrate on anything.

  5. Alasya- This is fatigue and sense of futility that creeps in. During the COVID lockdown, the first 2 weeks or so one may have been very enthusiastic about taking time for oneself, but after a month or more a lot of anxieties arise and you feel helpless, so you literally run out of steam.

  6. avirati- This is a form of restlessness, especially when you are not clear about the path you need to take or which part of yourself should you invest in? Presently when there is a lack of clarity in the context outside this reaction will get exaggerated. For e.g. one may try something for a week for quick results then jump on to something else, almost like window shopping

  7. bhrAntidarshana- I start on my path, get some positive signals and I inflate my small understandings or insights into big victories. Conversely, I overestimate external triggers or underestimate the reality of the danger. One might have a compulsive need to find an external hook to give a sense of affirmation or power. For e.g. someone asked me that “while doing shavAsana I had a sensation in my forehead, so is my third eye chakra opening?”!

In Bhagavad Gita Arjuna says to Shri Krishna: nimittAni cha pashyAmi vipareetAni kesav. I see all kinds of bad omens, Krishna! Krishna is sitting right next to Arjuna saying victory is yours but Ajuna is looking away reinforcing his anxiety and getting distracted by the bird calls! COVID is leading to all kinds of bhrAntidarshana, we have conspiracy theories on the one hand, and exaggerated claims about the return of nature on the other hand!

  1. alabdhabhUmikatva- I have a certain svantantrata in choice-making, a sense of my svadharma and svAbhimAn, yet I am unable to create a new ground or bhUmi for myself. Instead, I am dependent on external factors to affirm my actions. A few people have been able to find some resolution to very important life questions, they are yet to test this resolve and create something meaningful for themselves.

  2. anavasthitatvAni- One has created a bhUmi, also worked on creating an inner balance yet for some reason one is unstable or unable to remain rooted in the new ground. Many leaders who have established new businesses are finding it difficult to sustain their inner calm when faced with the current uncertainties.

So, you see this sutra gives a broad list of symptoms that people exhibit when there is an internal disturbance,

Gayatri: I also feel a sense of despair and futility especially nowadays. How do I use the ideas of this sutra to understand where I am?

Raghu: if I am not confident of my own svadharma and svAbhimAn, and if the external circumstances are unfavorable I will get depressed, slip back in my journey, get into a styAnam state i.e. unable to get out of bed. If you are a pilot losing your job in the current circumstances, and if you are confident of your technical skills then you may even choose to convert your energies into investing in new learning in areas that could become important in your profession tomorrow and enhance your gifts. So, you are then using the alabhdha bhumikatva experience to create a new bhumi.

Gayatri: How are svAbhimAn, svantantrata and svadharma linked or feed into each other?

Raghu: These are three facets of one’s inner experience of inner flow. The blocks experienced in anyone could lead to a negative spiral, or one could use the positive anchorage in the other areas to find a new flow. Our hypothetical pilot for example lost svatantrata, but, invested in his gifts.

Gayatri: I feel that I go through these symptoms every now and then, despite practicing yoga. Then why is there a stigma or alarm when we use the word depression?

Raghu: There is a wrong assumption that one can live in a way where there are no ups and downs. So instead of looking at the natural cycles of life and the inevitable issues, everyone must face like sickness, old age, death, accidents, loss, or parts of the cycle where the opposites of these emotions will emerge, one becomes concerned and this makes one depressed. If one faced the issues as they come up, there is a feeling of challenge, not of depression.

Explore Dukh, Depression, and Journeys of Life- Part I, II, III, IV, and V

Editor’s Note: In these difficult times and uncertainties we are attempting to provide to our reader’s information through experiences on overcoming anxiety. Articles published in this series are essentially broad strokes and in no way a medical subscription. For many of us, worldwide lock-down is going to create financial worries, anxiety about loved ones in distant countries and increase the burden of responsibilities in different ways. Such situations leave us with a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. Spiritual well being is one straw that many of us will want to reach out and wonder how others overcame their problems. Inner journeys will help us with our outer journeys. Sharing your journey will raise the collective positivity. If you would like to write a piece for this series please do write to us at

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author. Indic Today is neither responsible nor liable for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in the article.

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