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Ayurveda, India’s ancient system of health care, has been addressing many of the diseases that we still deal with today for thousands of years, including diabetes, hypertension, and arthritis. However, Ayurvedic medicine doesn’t only deal with issues of the body, but also the mind and spirit. For that reason, it has an excellent perspective to offer potential solutions for the world’s rising mental health epidemic.
Let’s explore Ayurveda’s point of view on three common mental health disorders that many of us experience today—chronic stress, anxiety, and depression.
(Predispositions From the Past)Khavaigunya is a term used in Ayurveda that refers to weak spaces in the body caused by past injury, illness, or familial genetic patterns. These defective spaces attract toxins and imbalances, making them particularly susceptible to chronic issues. For example, having a personal or family history of respiratory issues can leave you vulnerable to diseases such as bronchitis in the future, and weak sinuses can put you at greater risk for colds. As modern medicine is now discovering, this theory applies to mental health as well. Having a family history of stress, depression, or anxiety can make you more prone to these conditions. However, Ayurveda believes that it’s not just the genetics that we inherit that cause these conditions, but also the diet and lifestyle habits that our families imbue in us. If our parents eat foods that promote imbalance, it’s more likely that we will too. Thankfully, with a bit of effort our diet and lifestyle choices can be altered to serve our health and well-being.
The Gut-Brain Connection
We all know that our mind can impact our gut; nervousness leads to feeling butterflies in our stomach, while stress can make us feel nauseous. However, this information pathway isn’t just a one-way street. In fact, just as our feelings impact our gut, our gut also impacts our feelings.
Modern medicine is just beginning to understand what has been the central claim of Ayurveda of over 5000 years—disease starts in the gut. Specifically, eating foods that cause inflammation has been linked to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Some foods that cause inflammation include
- Table sugar
- High fructose corn syrup
- Artificial trans fat, found in foods like:
- French fries and other fast food
- Packaged cakes and cookies
- Microwavable popcorn
- Processed foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oil
- Vegetable and seed oils
- Refined carbohydrates
- Excessive alcohol
- Processed meats.
Do you best to avoid these inflammatory foods while simultaneously incorporating items that reduce inflammation such as
- Good oils such as ghee, olive oil, grapeseed oil, and avocado oil
- High fiber foods
- Green tea
- Eating turmeric and black pepper together.
In addition to reducing inflammation, Ayurveda also recommends eating a diet that is aligned with your Ayurvedic body type. Each individual has a unique constitution, therefore everyone requires their own, unique diet and lifestyle habits. To find out body type, taking an online quiz can be a good start, but we recommend working with an Ayurvedic physician to ensure that your analysis is accurate.
By eating Ayurvedically, you’ll experience optimal digestion, which is a great aid in your journey towards peak mental and physical health. However, in addition to diet, lifestyle habits are equally important when it comes to maintaining mental health.
Healing Through our Daily RoutinesAyurvedic medicine believes that it’s paramount for individuals to keep a regular daily routine, also known as a dinacharya. Keeping a consistent approach to our days keeps us grounded within ourselves. As such, the forces of stress, anxiety, and depression are less likely to get their grip on us. Furthermore, just as the modern study of circadian medicine is beginning to uncover, Ayurveda maintains that aligning our routines with the cycles of nature brings about optimal health. That means rising and falling with the sun. In fact, waking up before sunrise, or at least before 6:00 am is considered optimal. After that, try your best to incorporate some of the following healthy practices into your morning routine:
- Drink a large cup of warm water, preferably with lemon
- Wash your face
- Scrape your tongue and brush your teeth
- Evacuate your bowels
- Practice yoga or brisk walking while breathing through your nose
- Practice pranayama
- Shower or take a bath
- Practice oil pulling
- Enjoy abhyanga, an Ayurvedic self-massage
- Eat a small breakfast
- Study or work until noon.
If you don’t maintain a well-balanced routine and diet, you may be at risk of developing some mental health issues. The specific kind of issue that you develop depends on the dosha that is imbalanced.
Provoking pitta in your life can lead to pitta-type depression. This form of mental imbalance typically stems from a sense of failure, stemming from events such as losing a job or getting divorced. Symptoms of this pitta-type depression include
- Excessive criticism, both towards the self and others
- Blaming others or blaming themselves
- A sense of failure
- Anger and aggression
- Feeling worthless
- Suicidal thoughts
- Hiding your true feelings from others.
Taking steps to reduce pitta in your life is the key to overcoming this condition. This can be done by practicing relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, yoga, or meditation. Other options include avoiding overly hot, spicy, and light foods. Rather, favor mild, dry, and cooling foods such as beans, potatoes, oats, and most vegetables.
If your diet or daily routine contains too much vata, you are more likely to suffer from vata-type depression. This mental health disorder can also be brought about through trauma, shock or loss. Symptoms that characterize vata-type depression include
- Crying easily
- Unpredictable mood swings
- Auditory hallucinations
- Reduced libido
- Fear and anxiety
- Reduced appetite and weight loss
- Joint aches and headache
- Excessive talking.
Treating this form of depression requires reducing vata-provoking diet and lifestyle choices. So, try to avoid raw foods, as well as bitter, astringent, and pungent flavors. Rather, favor cooked foods with sweet, salty, and sour flavors. It’s also best to stick to a regular, grounding daily routine.
Kapha-type depression is created by an imbalance of kapha in one’s diet or lifestyle. Some symptoms of this condition include
- Feeling down, dull, or sluggish
- Overeating to compensate for difficult feelings
- General apathy
- Speaking very little
- Sleeping too much
- Staying in bed all day
- Having a poor outlook on life
- Weight gain
- Negative thought patterns.
To avoid this condition, work to pacify kapha in your life. This can be done by avoiding sweet, salty, and sour flavors while favoring bitter, pungent, and astringent ones. Furthermore, it’s best to avoid heavy foods. When planning meals, enjoy three regular, small meals per day without snacking in between.
In addition to these three ailments, many Ayurvedic physicians maintain that mental illnesses can result from imbalances in the body’s chakras.
The Chakras and Mental Health
As you might know, Ayurveda recognizes 114 chakras—or energy centers—within the body. Of these 114, there are seven primary chakras, located throughout the head and spinal column.
One good way to conceptualize these is that they’re places where the mind-body connection manifests as our physical sensations and feelings intertwine. For example, we experience sexual feelings in our sacral center, and we feel love from our heart, and we sense a connection to the universe from the crown of our head.
When it comes to negative emotions, anxiety typically stems from the root chakra, which resides at the base of our spine. This is due to the fact that this area represents our stability and grounding in the world. If we aren’t properly grounded, fear and anxiety can easily overtake us. The root chakra can be balanced by enjoying the color red, sitting on the floor, walking barefoot on the earth, and immersing yourself in water.
On the opposite polarity, our crown chakra, which lies at the top of our heads, can be responsible for feelings of depression. This energy center regulates our connection to our highest self and even the divine. When it is functioning properly, we feel connected, intuitive, and guided in all that we do. Inspiration and creativity also stem from this center. However, when this area is not working, we can feel cut-off from the light of the world, uninspired, directionless, and depressed. Some great ways to reactivate the crown chakra include practicing meditation, selfless service, and self-love through healthy self-care routines.
Healing with Ayurveda
With all this information, you’re in an excellent place to start your own Ayurvedic healing journey. As always, be sure to contact your physician first if you are experiencing any mental disorder, and use Ayurveda in conjunction with their recommendations.
If you’d like to further explore how Ayurveda can help you manage stress, anxiety, and depression, we recommend that you attend our upcoming Anxiety, Depression, and Chronic Stress Wellness Retreat at our retreat center in Boone, North Carolina. You’ll receive guidance from world-class Ayurvedic doctors and board-certified Western doctors as you learn practical tools that guide you to a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life.
We hope to see you there!