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Did you know that in the 46.6 million people in the United States suffer from mental illness? That’s one in every five Americans. Furthermore, despite Western medicine’s best efforts, cases of severe mental illness have been on the rise since the early 1990s.
To stop this growing epidemic, it’s clear that we need a new approach to mental health. Thankfully, we do have another option: Ayurveda—India’s ancient system of health care. This system has been healing people physically, mentally, and spiritually for more than 5000 years. In fact, the aim of the ancient sages who developed this system of medicine was to bring balance to the mind and body in order to experience states of ultimate spiritual bliss. So, Ayurveda is in an excellent position to provide a new perspective on treating modern mental-health ailments such as depression, anxiety, and chronic stress.
The Importance of Gut Health
As modern scientists begin to uncover the mysteries of the gut microbiome, they’re confirming what Ayurveda has always maintained: disease starts in the gut. In fact, the digestive system has always been of central importance to Ayurvedic physicians, who strive to keep patients healthy by prescribing diets that balance the three doshas. According to Ayurveda, an imbalance within the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is the first of six stages of disease. Together, these six stages are known as samprapti.
According to samprapti, after the imbalance accumulates, without proper treatment it will move onto the second stage: aggravation. Here, the imbalanced dosha worsens as it continues to grow. After this, the third stage begins as the imbalance overflows into the bloodstream moving throughout the body.
Then, in the fourth stage, the imbalanced dosha finds its way into vulnerable organs and tissues where it remains dormant until the fifth phase of manifestation begins. Here, clear and measurable signs of illness—such as cancer, diabetes, or depression—develop.
Finally, in the sixth stage, the disease becomes complex and/or chronic, such as an abscess becoming a chronic ulcer or cancer metastasizing. At this stage, the ailment becomes quite difficult to cure.
The dosha that causes the initial imbalance will directly correlate with the outcomes experienced in the later phases. For example, an imbalance of vata dosha will eventually manifest as anxiety, an excess of kapha-dosha can create depression, and too much pitta dosha can lead to anger.
So, as you can see, maintaining a healthy digestive system is paramount for experiencing well-being. However, in addition to maintaining health through the doshas, Ayurveda also contains an entire system of psychology with which to analyze the mind specifically.
Mental Health and the Three Gunas
In Ayurveda, the mind is known as manas. Manas is made up of three traits—the three gunas. These gunas are sattva, rajas, and tamas. Sattva is associated with qualities such as peace, happiness, self-control, wisdom, patience, truth, and spiritual clarity. Rajas is defined by qualities such as passion, activity, dynamism, changeability, anger, greed, anxiety, and violence. Finally, tamas is associated with inertia, lethargy, restfulness, selfishness, heaviness, indecision, and depression. When either rajas or tamas predominate, mental disorders appear.
So, in Ayurvedic thought, we should always aim to be in a sattvic state of mind. This can be cultivated by eating healthy, calming foods such as ghee, basmati rice, almonds, legumes, fruits, and lightly cooked vegetables. Furthermore, overly stimulating and heavy foods such as garlic, onion, green chiles, meat, fried foods, processed foods, and alcohol, should be avoided.
Other practices to maintain a sattvic state of mind include waking up and going to bed early, as well as practicing tongue scraping, yoga, and meditation. Ayurvedic massage therapy, aromatherapy, chanting, and taking certain herbs also help to cultivate sattva.
Additionally, Ayurveda has a technique similar to Western psychotherapy, known as sattvavajay, which translates to “conquest of the mind.” Here a practitioner guides a patient verbally, helping them replace challenging thought patterns with more positive ones.
An Integrated Approach to Mental Health
As you can see, from an Ayurvedic perspective, maintaining the mind and body equally is important when it comes to curing mental health issues. Best of all, Ayurveda’s holistic treatments don’t create any negative side effects and can be used in conjunction with modern, Western treatment options.
When it comes to managing mood disorders, most Ayurvedic physicians maintain that using modern treatment options in conjunction with an Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle is the key to full recovery.
If you are experiencing mental health issues, be sure to talk to your doctor as soon as possible. After that, consider attending our upcoming anxiety, depression, and chronic stress event to experience mental health treatment from an Ayurvedic point of view. There, world-class Ayurvedic physicians guide you in easing stress, improving your diet, detoxifying your body, and many other invaluable activities that lead you toward a happier future.
We wish you all the best on your healing journey!