Ayurveda and Mental Health
According to the ancient Ayurvedic texts, a person is said to have good health or swasthya (in Sanskrit) when they enjoy a balance of physical and psychological elements (samadosha), of energies produced in the body (samagnischa), and of tissues in the organs (samadhatu) combined with proper elimination of wastes (malakriya), a happy soul (prasannatma), a happy, functioning mind (prasanna-manaha) and proper functioning of the five senses (sama-indriya). Ayurveda teaches us that our physical and mental health are intertwined, and we must look at ourselves in this holistic light. Read further if you want to learn about Ayurveda and mental health.
Ayurveda and the mind
The state of the mind is a very important aspect in a person. Ayurvedic theory of mental health is based on combination of The three gunas, tridosha, and panchabhuta. We all go through phases of feeling uplifted, restless, or lethargic. Whenever there is an imbalance, we try to identity the guna and dosha at play.
What are doshas?
Ayurvedic medicine is based on the idea that the world is made up of five elements — akaash (space/ether), vayu (air), teja(fire), jala (water), and prithvi (earth). These five elements are expressed as three Dosha types in the human body. The body, which is believed to be formed from nature is comprised of the three psycho-biological elements: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. These elements are also known as the tridoshas. Vata corresponds to ether and air, Pitta corresponds to fire and water, and Kapha corresponds to earth and water.
Why do we need the doshas in Ayurveda and mental health?
These three doshas are believed to be responsible for a person’s physiological, mental, and emotional health. Ayurveda reminds us that we are all individuals with our unique constitution (prakruti) and imbalances (vikruti) and unique ratio of each dosha. How we react or respond to any situation is dependent on our Ayurvedic doshas and imbalances. For instance, anxiety and nervousness are typically signs of vata imbalance. An angry, critical, obsessive short-tempered person might be exhibiting Pitta vitiation. When Kaphas get imbalanced, they tend to shut down, feel depressed, or get excessively attached.
What are gunas?
In Ayurveda and mental health, gunas are the attributes of the mind, or the mental temperaments of human beings known as gunas in Sanskrit. Gunas are of three types: Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas. Each has a distinct character of its own and are together known as the tri-gunas. They are the three modes of the universe inherent in every particle, without which we can’t exist. The three gunas are present in all persons and objects in various degrees; humans, food, animate and inanimate objects. However, one of the gunas or characteristics is always more present or dominant than the other two. Each guna is associated with a specific characteristic—sattva (purity), rajas (activity), and tamas (darkness and destruction). Can you see how Gunas tie into Ayurveda and mental health?
Why do we need the gunas in Ayurveda and mental health?
We need tamas to rest and go to sleep at night and rajas to act and follow our passion/ambition. But when they go out of balance, you might start to see psychological issues like depression, loss of focus, and extreme aggression. Sattva quality bequeaths us with good mental health, happiness, wisdom, and the ability to do our 100%. To enhance mental health, you can follow practices to improve Sattva.
Gunas versus doshas
Doshas are physiological constitutions and the gunas are psychological or mental energies. When the doshas are out of balance, they might attack the body and cause illness to either one part in the body or the whole. This also affects the mind, causing mental disturbances and even disease. It’s important to know that much like our doshic imbalances, the three gunas aren’t permanent. We can evolve the mode of the mind through constant practice and intention. Meaning, we can evolve from rajas or tamas to sattva, the balance and harmony, through acute self-awareness, humility, and diligence.
7 Ayurvedic tips to enhance mental health
And while all three gunas have their place and value in the world, what we are aiming for is a sattvicstate of being. This can be achieved through yoga, meditation, and pranayama as well as eating wholesome, fresh cooked meals. Getting appropriate amount of exercise and following a routine can also help.
According to Ayurveda, there are three pillars of health: Diet (Aahar), Sleep (Nidra), and balanced Lifestyle (Vihar). Honoring the three pillars along with following dinacharya (daily regimen) and ritucharya and (seasonal regimen) can help balance the doshas.
Eat nourishing meals:
Ayurveda reminds us that what we eat impacts how we feel. Eat freshly cooked meals. Reduce leftovers as they have no prana. Add seasonal spices to your food. Eat on time without any snacking in between meals. Eat for your constitution.
Boost your agni:
According to Ayurveda, we have a general tendency for either weak or aggravated Agni depending on our dominant dosha. When Agni is strong and in balance it allows us to digest our food properly and to assimilate our experiences and memories; absorbing what our bodies need and burning off what we don’t. Ineffective agni (slow, sharp, or erratic) symptoms include malabsorption of nutrients or constipation or diarrhea or heartburn or acid reflux. It’s important to keep the agni sharp, but you want a balanced agni that is neither too weak nor too excessive.
Do a cleanse:
When agni is weak, ama (toxins) build up and are a cause of most physical and emotional ailments. These toxins could be endogenous, environmental, or psychological. Pay attention to the effect that people, food as well as your environment has on you. Take social media breaks. Turn inward. Stay connected with others without taking on their baggage. Cleansing lends clarity, helps get rid of ama, restores health and wellness, and prevents future recurrence of diseases. I write about Panchakarma here, which includes five different purifying and rejuvenating procedures in Ayurveda.
Get enough sleep:
One of the key Ayurvedic tips to enhance your mental health: quality and time of sleep. Ayurveda recommends getting into bed and lights out before 10 pm, which is Kapha time of the day. Kapha is the energy of water and earth, and thus is heavy and sluggish, so it makes it easier to fall asleep. Have a soothing nighttime ritual: massage your feet with oil, write in a gratitude journal, meditate, and do self-reflections. Having a routine in place helps. Turn your phone off 2-3 hours prior to getting into bed.
Volunteer your time:
Studies have proven that both volunteering as well as human connection offer several physical and mental health benefits aside from stimulation and a sense of connection.