Do Medications Interfere with Meditation?

Question

Is it safe to take depression and anxiety medication whilst still practicing kriya yoga daily? Or should one stop doing kriya and maybe just do the basic techniques until one is well again? Or should one stop meditating completely? Should one take medication at all? And try and cure ones self through right diet and meditation? Did God inspire man to create anxiety and depression medication to help his children? Or should it be left alone completely?

—Patrick, Australia

Answer

Dear Patrick,

What I have learned about medications such as these is that they remain very experimental and their results vary widely, and not necessarily consistently, over periods of years. This is not a criticism, because I know of numerous friends and devotees who have been greatly helped, because stabilized. What this means is that you need open and periodic communication with your healthcare professional to get the medications adjusted to your needs. They can be very helpful for a devotee and one practicing kriya yoga.

This potential doesn’t mean that medications of these types don’t impact one’s meditation. Again, it is very individual. But while it is possible (from reports I’ve been given by individuals) a medication might interfere with one’s concentration (especially at the spiritual eye), the trade-off is the evening out of one’s moods and feelings in return for what might seem to be a lessening of the depth of meditation. But this too is very individual. (In some cases I have suggested the person focus on the heart instead of the spiritual eye if doing the latter causes headaches, dizziness, or a general inability to focus calmly as a result of their medication(s).)

Consider this: the essence of the state of yoga, Patanjali tells us (the second of the Yoga Sutras), is a deep calm and non-reactive mind to stimuli (internal or external) — both in meditation and in daily life. If a medication can even out the ups and downs of moods, depression, bipolar tendencies and other mental extremes, then it can surely be an aid to one who is seeking the state of yoga. Now if a medication were to induce a zombie-like state of indifference, this would not be yoga! So, once again, such medications need to be sensitively used. Thus the importance of communication with the prescribing doctor.

All medications are individual to some extent: meaning their impact is generally not the same for everybody. But in the case of these kinds of “mood-altering” medications, the impact upon one’s consciousness and ability to feel (devotion) and concentrate the mind are uppermost.

The one thing I want to say is to avoid the one temptation meditators yield to and with sometimes disastrous results: getting off one’s medications and then ending up with a psychotic episode or a deep depression. I’ve seen this too many times, and any meditation teacher who advertises meditation as a cure for or alternative to such medications is being irresponsible. At the same time, there are some individuals who, by meditation, devotion, and service, have grown out of the need for the support of such medications.

Take your time and experiment, but don’t make your first option that of tossing out the support of your medications. If in combining medication therapy with meditation therapy you find over time that you can ease out of the medications, well, that’s wonderful. But it should be done carefully and with competent guidance. Okay?

Blessings to you!
Nayaswami Hriman
Seattle WA