+ Anxiety, Depression, & Chronic Stress
Ayurveda is a complete and complex system of healthcare that stands apart from western medicine. As such, it has its own unique understanding of disease development that fully integrates the mind, body, and spirit. Because of this, Ayurveda has a valuable perspective to explore when it comes to understanding anxiety, depression, and chronic stress.
In fact, Ayurveda has long known what Western medicine is just beginning to discover: our gut health is directly linked to the well-being of our entire mind-body-spirit system. As such, Ayurveda maintains that all illnesses start as imbalances develop in the gut, which is seen as the first of six main stages of disease.
Imbalances in the Three Doshas
Ayurveda understands that our bodies are always maintaining a balance of three key components known as the three doshas—vata, pitta, and kapha. Vata consists of the air and ether elements, pitta is made up of the fire and ether elements, and kapha is a mix of the earth and water elements. Each of these doshas plays a key role in maintaining our vitality and can become imbalanced if they’re not managed properly. This can eventually lead to mental health issues.
These imbalances will build up in weak or defective areas in the body, known as khavaigunya. Khavaigunya can occur due to previous illnesses that leave us weak in certain areas, or due to factors that are passed down to us by our parents, such as genes, diet, and lifestyle. If our parents were prone to certain imbalances, it’s likely that we will be too.
Eventually, these imbalances become so pronounced that they promote the accumulation of toxins, which create breeding grounds for disease in the body. For example, a disproportionate amount of vata dosha in the body creates vata-type depression, which manifests as insomnia, hyperactivity, or weight loss. A pitta imbalance breeds pitta-type depression, which is characterized by irritability, anger, and self-criticism. Finally, kapha imbalances give way to kapha-type depression, which includes oversleeping, melancholy feelings, and emotional eating.
Other Imbalances in the Body
In addition to the three doshas, Ayurveda also recognizes 20 gunas, which are the fundamental properties of nature. When the gunas that promote life fall out of balance, we also fall into a state of disease.
Substance abuse, especially with alcohol, is one of the easiest ways to promote anti-life gunas in the body. Unfortunately, one third of people with depressive disorders also have substance abuse disorders. From an ayurvedic perspective, stopping all unnecessary drug and alcohol use is imperative for the promotion of mental health.
Ayurveda also recognizes yet another system element of the body that is prone to imbalances: our chakras. Chakras are centers throughout the body that purify and distribute energy. There are 114 chakras in our body, however, most people are primarily concerned with the seven main chakras, which run from the base of our spine to the top of our head.
When these main centers are over- or under-functioning, we run into many physical, mental, and spiritual issues. For example, our root chakra, which resides at the base of our spine, represents our material security in life. If it isn’t functioning properly, we feel quite anxious, fearing that our needs won’t be met. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the seventh chakra, which is seated at the top of our heads, signifies our connection to our higher spiritual source. When this energy center falters, our feelings of inspiration, creativity, and purpose dwindle, leading us toward depression.
So, as you can probably tell, Ayurveda’s main approach to treating all diseases, including mental health disorders, involves bringing these many factors in the body back into balance. This can be done through a number of avenues, which we’ll start to explore now.