Anis Sajan in a yoga pose
Anis Sajan in a yoga pose Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: In an extraordinary year when our ordinary lives have been turned upside down by the Coronavirus and loneliness, two UAE business leaders speak of depression and how yoga helped them come out of one of the darkest phases of their lives.

Depression is defined by the WHO as a common mental disorder that affects 264 million people worldwide. It is characterised by persistent sadness, a lack of interest in activities, a disturbed sleep and lack of appetite.

“It was yoga that saved me from depression,” says Anis Sajan, Managing Director of Danube. “I remember transforming into a completely different person way back in August 2002. It was almost overnight that I suddenly went into a shell. I changed from the fun-loving guy I used to be to someone who was afraid to even step out of the house.”

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Anis Sajan Image Credit: Supplied

Raising the red flag

Sajan admits that back then he had no idea it was depression. “My wife raised the red flag and it was my brother, Rizwan, who took me to a psychiatrist. For my family, the guy who loved cricket and the man who was a public persona, had completely changed. It was my doctor who told me that these were actually the early signs of depression.”

Sajan’s case was finally linked to a history of migraine. “I was suffering from it for almost 10-15 years and depression was linked to the side effects of one of the drugs that helped me control the migraine,” he explains.

“It’s really strange how depression completely changes you. It wasn’t really a feeling of sadness, but rather of wanting to be by myself all the times. I didn’t want to be close to my wife, I didn’t want to play with my kids, I didn’t want to go for a movie. Simple activities were totally shunned.”

Eat, breathe and sleep Yoga

It was a trip to a wellness retreat in Bangalore where Sajan went on a detox plan for 10 days. Here he was introduced to yoga and was put on a vegetarian diet. “I began to feel the first changes around that time.”

What started with some simple asanas or yoga postures has now become his life. “I eat, breathe and sleep yoga. It has saved me from a phase of complete darkness. I practice two hours of yoga a day that consists of asanas, breathing exercises or the pranayama, meditation and mind control. Yoga has also sharpened my mind and I have realized over time what sparks the migraine – it could be the heat or the air conditioner, the salt in my food or too many chocolates. Yoga has also helped me control my urges.”

Sajan’s daily yoga practice includes an hour and 15 minutes of stretching and asanas (specific yoga postures), then another 15 minutes of meditation, where he practices inner consciousness, and then another 20 to 30 minutes of pranayama or breathing exercises that helps will the lungs with fresh air. “Today as we continue to battle the Coronavirus, the pranayama is extremely beneficial as it helps to make our lungs stronger.”

Yoga, Sajan says has not just helped him fight depression, it has “helped me become 10 years younger, by keeping me fit and my body in good shape. I believe strongly that if you look good, you feel good, and if you feel good, you feel confident and confidence gets the best out of you”

Two severe bouts of depression

Like Sajan, Dhananjay Datar, Chairman and Managing Director of Al Adil Trading fought depression with yoga and meditation, and some counseling by his doctor.

Depression, doesn’t really spare anyone,” says Dubai’s Masala King. “Movie stars, sports personalities, businessmen, corporate leaders, the list is endless,” he says, referring to the recent death of noted Bollywood star Sushant Singh Rajput.

Dhananjay Datar with his wife Vandana Image Credit: Supplied

“I have been fighting depression for many years and it took a very conscious effort from my side to overcome this. Trust me, once you overcome depression, nothing is impossible for you,” he says.

Datar says the first step is to accept depression. “I believe it is very important for people to come to terms with depression, accept it and then take the necessary steps to overcome it. I have no hesitation in accepting the fact that I suffered from depression but I want everyone to know that I fought against it and won,” he admits.

He says he started experiencing negative thoughts as a teenager after the death of his dog and then much later when he and his family met with a near-fatal road accident. “There was a constant fear in my mind. I started having panic attacks and I began to lose weight. I wanted to end my life. And though I was making enough money, I was in a miserable mental state. A friend suggested that I meet up with a psychiatrist. This was the first step to address the problem,” he says.

Datar has helped himself medically with anti-depressants, as well as with yoga and meditation. “My second bout of depression started off with a stomach problem, almost nine years after my first phase. My psychiatrist recommended a change in diet and yoga to overcome my situation. I have since then depended on yoga and meditation to remain anxiety free. My priorities changed from making money to taking care of my health. If one’s health is good, the wealth will come,” he says.

Backbone of good health

Datar believes that it is yoga and meditation that has been the backbone of his good health. “Two hours of practice daily,” he recommends that can bring you back on track.

Sanjeev Krishna, Founder of Sanjeev Krishna Yoga in Dubai, says people often do not realise that yoga is just not a sport or a form of exercise, “it’s the answer for success, peace and happiness.”

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Sanjeev Krishna Image Credit: Supplied

Yoga teaches life management principles with a scientific approach that brings back harmony in life. “When a person suffers from fear, isolation, depression and stress, the mind needs to be addressed, not the body. Often we are not able to rise to the current situation and overcome our weaknesses. This leads to feelings of depression, stress, and fear.”

Yoga, Krishna says, gives an insight into the understanding and acceptance of the situation. “It is essential to understand that we cannot change the circumstances but can change our outlook towards life. This is the answer to overcome the external challenges.”

Easy steps to follow

Krishna recommends the following yogic practices that help tackle depression:

Surya Namaskar or the Sun Salutations (24 steps) practiced in five sets: This helps to activate all the physical systems of the body, which in turn enables our psychic mind to be become strong and deal with life-changing situations with the relaxed mind frame.

Add to this Kapalabathi Pranayama breathing exercise that overall activates the internal organs functioning in many ways. This is called the mother of all purifying techniques that rejuvenates the entire body by correct and dedicated practices.

Bastrika pranayama is another deep relaxation technique that refreshes the lungs and brings freshness in body and spirit.

Mind control

Psychologist Sukaiyna Gokal of the Garden of Ayden, a Dubai-based online wellness platform, says our mind is a theatre of imagination. So sometimes, it is important to say stop, take a deep breath and release. Meditation, deep breathing and yoga keep the energy flowing in our body and it helps us to silence the inner mind, which is the inner critic and awakens us to the gut feeling, the intuition that guides us peacefully to positive outcomes.

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Sukaiyna Gokal Image Credit: Supplied

The discipline of daily practice is important says Sukaiyna. “If we resist, telling ourselves we have to go for yoga, it will actually work against us. What if you were to say to yourself, I am exercising daily even if I’m just walking into the car and I’m breathing consciously? It’s quite simple. You are just breathing in and out. When you inhale and exhale, you allow yourself to just walk with awareness, breathe with awareness. Start taking baby steps towards fulfilling everything you want to, not aggressing yourself. Being kind to yourself, saying, I can do this, I want to do this and I’m happy to do this. That’s the only way to enjoy the process.”