Ayurvedic Tips for Enhancing Mental Health
In recent years mental health, its importance to the well-being, not just of an individual but also to the society as a whole, has gained prominence. Mental health awareness is thought of as a vital factor in not just understanding early signs and symptoms of mental illness but also in helping people struggling with various mental health issues such as depression, bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, suicidal tendencies, anxiety disorders, PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder as well as substance addiction disorders.
India has one of the highest prevalence of mental illnesses globally with approximately 56 million Indians suffering from depression and 38 million suffering from some anxiety disorder. In particular, the covid-19 pandemic has accentuated mental health problems for people of all ages. A survey conducted in 2016, stated that roughly 2 lakh Indians take their own lives and that almost 14% of the population needed mental health interventions. The number may have become a lot higher in the past 6 years.
Unfortunately, there is a massive shortage of mental health counselors to deal with the problems of a large population. According to the WHO, there are only three psychiatrists and psychologists for every 1,00,000 people.
In India, mental health issues are generally not talked about in the open due to a number of reasons including stigma, expensive mental health care as well as lack of knowledge that along with the body the mind is also equally important for the entire wellbeing.
Deteriorating mental health has serious implications on the health of an individual as it compromises immunity, creates digestive problems, increases fatigue, insomnia, lack of concentration and focus, etc., and can also result in serious health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, heart conditions, etc.
- Ayurveda and Mental Health
Modern society may have understood the implications of mental health and its consequences in the past few decades (the USA has observed the month of May as mental health awareness day since 1949) but Ayurveda, the oldest healing science known to man, has propagated the importance and benefits of sound mental health since thousands of years.
The comprehensive Ayurvedic texts of medical knowledge, Charak Samhita, Sushrut Samhita and Ashtanga Hridaya Samhita written by Vagabhatta focus on mental health or manas shastra in great detail outlining etiology, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues.
According to Ayurvedic principles, holistic health or Swasthya depends on the mind-body correlation. Ayurveda states that mental health is based on a combination of tridoshas (vata, pitta and kapha), three gunas (sattva, rajas and tamas) and the Panchamahabhutas or 5 core elements (Prithvi/earth, Jal/Water, Agni/Fire, Vayu/Air, Akash/Space). This combination of gunas, tridoshas is inherited at the time of birth and that forms a person’s particular Prakruti.
Acharya Sushrut says about health
“Samadoshah samagnishcha, samadhatu malakriyah,
prasannatmendriya manah, svastha iti abhidyiyate”
The above shloka means that a person whose doshas are in balance, whose metabolism is balanced and whose tissues and waste removal are regular, and whose mind and senses are centered, that person is a fully healthy individual who will remain in a state of happiness.
Ayurveda stresses a lot of importance on the mental well-being describing Vishada (termed as a continued sad mood, feeling of incompetence due to fear of failure that results in the incapability of mind and body to function properly) and Avasada (mild depression that results in ignorance and lack of interest in daily activities) as the primary two conditions that are similar to depression.
Acharya Charak states ‘Vishado Rogavardhananam Agrya’ which means that vishada is the main reason for worsening a disease as there is a close connection between mind, body and soul. Mental illness can lead to physical disorders and physical illnesses can disturb mental wellbeing.
- Concept of Mind as per Ayurveda
Ayurveda believes that the mind is related to three areas Dhi, Dhruti and Smruti and that the right coordination between these three factors of the mind is responsible for sound mental health. Any imbalance leads to mental health problems.
Dhee or intellect that promotes learning, concentration and understanding. The vata dosha needs to be in balance for the Dheeto function optimally.
Dhruti means strength that helps nurture senses and awareness of the mind. It is mainly related to the chemical and electrical processing of information. Pitta dosha has to be in balance for the proper functioning of Dhruti.
Smruti literally means memory, or the ability to remember. Kapha dosha has to be in equilibrium for the proper functioning of Smruti.
- The Mind and Body Composition as per Ayurveda
As per Ayurveda the physical body is a manifestation of one’s mind and plays a critical role in an individual’s overall wellbeing. In fact, accumulation of mental ama or toxins (due to unsettled emotions such as anger, grief, envy, anxiety, etc.) can lead to disturbances in mental health and can cause a lot of physical diseases.
Tridoshas – Vata (vitiated vata can cause bipolar disease, attention deficit disorders, phobias, hallucinations, etc.), Pitta (imbalanced pitta can result in anger, frustration, violence, jealousy, etc.) Kapha (aggravated Kapha can cause sadness, depression, overeating, kinesthetic hallucinations, etc.) are the three main energies or psychobiological expressions that have a large impact on the interaction between biological systems and behaviors.
Trigunas – Sattva (intelligence, goodness, virtue and is responsible for awakening the soul), Rajas (turbulent, agent of change and activity, stimulating, provides pleasure but also causes disruptions and suffering) and Tamas (dark, dull, causes depression, the lethargy of mind, and obstruct actions). These three gunas are responsible for an individual having different temperaments and personalities based on a particular gunas predominance.
Both the tridoshas and the Trigunas play an important role in the psychosomatic structure of a person.
Manovaha Srotas – these are described as channels of the mind or consciousness via which the energies and substances move throughout the body for optimal functioning. Hriday (heart) and Dasha Dhamanis (10 great arteries) are known as the mind-carrying channels that regulate the flow of motor & sensory information and thought processes.
Manas & Ojas – Ojas (the vital energy that influences vigor, immunity, moods, and digestion among others) has a vital relation with manas (mind). Ojas gets depleted in case of mental disturbances (anger, sadness, grief, etc.) and can cause confusion, delirium, fainting, laziness, oversleeping, etc. Thus a healthy Ojas is essential for sound mental health.
Asatmya Indriya Artha Samyoga – Acharya Charak lays great importance on mental health in the Charak Samhita stating that when there is an imbalance occurring due to excessive or unwholesome contact of sensory organs with objects it aggravates the tridoshas and results in over stimulation or deficiency of sensory organs which cause harm to the mental functioning.
- Causes of Mental Illness as per Ayurveda
Acharya Vagabhata states that for optimum mental health a person should have control over their senses as well as negative thoughts such as greed, irritability, anger, competition and attachment.
“Dharayaet tu sada vegan hitaishi pretya cheha cha
Lobha irshya dvesha matsarya ragaadeenam jitendriya”
There are various reasons for mental illnesses including biological, hereditary, traumatic, incorrect diet, bodily illnesses, social environment, personality, etc.
Ayurveda describes some of the psychiatric conditions such as
- Unmada – psychosis
- Apasmara – convulsive disorder
- Bhrama – illusion
- Atatvabhinivesham – Obsessive Disorders
- Prajnaparadha – lack of coordination between dhi,dhruti and smruti
- Tandra – drowsiness
- Klama – neurasthenia
- Mada – loss of perception
- Apatantrakam – hysteria
- Avasada – Depression
- Chitta Udvega – Anxiety neurosis
- Manasa Mandata – Mental Retardation
- Madatyaya – Intoxication
- Ayurveda Cure for Mental Illness
Ayurvedic therapies for mental illness include
- Daivavyapashraya – These healing methods are meant to inspire confidence in the person and include chanting of mantras, aushadha (medicinal herbs), niyama (regulated daily regimen), upvasa (ayurvedic Vaidya monitored fasting), prayaschita (atonement) manimangala (auspicious offerings to deities), homa or yagnya (fire rituals as per Hinduism), etc.
- Yuktivyapashraya – These therapies include the use of two methods: shodhana (detoxification or removal of waste) and shamana (healing process that balances the aggravated doshas). Use of medicinal herbs (Brahmi, Mandukaparni, Ashwagandha, Jatamamsi, Shankapushpi, etc.) and ghritas or medicated ghee (Panchgavya ghrita, Brahmee ghrita, Maha kalyanaka ghrita, etc.)
- Sattvavajaya Chikitsa – Also known as psychotherapy, it aims to control the mind via multiple techniques such as imparting gyan or spiritual knowledge, vignana or awareness of mind, dhairya or boosting a person’s morale, smruti or reviving an individual’s memory/knowledge, samadhi or meditation to focus on spirituality and abstain from materialistic temptations.
- Yoga & Pranayam – Ayurvedic teachings state ‘Yoga moksho pravarkak’ meaning that through Yoga one can attain freedom from the daily grind of the real world. Yoga helps in increasing the guna of sattva and diminishing the gunas of Rajas and tamas thus helping awaken the soul and mind leading to feelings of peace and happiness and reducing emotions of darkness and lethargy. Pranayam (breathing exercises) is very important for calming the mind and soothing the senses and has been known to be highly beneficial in uplifting moods and promoting sound mental health.
- Aaachara Rasayan– Maintaining total control over life processes by thinking positive thoughts, speaking the truth, staying away from feelings of jealousy, anger and frustration, dinacharya including self-care, personal hygiene, abstaining from alcohol and any overindulgences, regulated sleeping hours, wholesome & nutritious diet at regular hours, control over sensory organs, healthy social life, etc. all leading to a complete sense of physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
Ahara – What we eat has a lot of influence not just on the body but also on the mind. Ayurveda has always propagated eating a nutritious, season-specific and dosha-specific diet or ahara for optimum health.
Consuming easy-to-digest, freshly cooked, warm meals made using the right spices and herbs (turmeric, tulsi, black pepper, ginger, cumin, cardamom, coriander) that include the shad rasas (Madhura/sweet, amla/sour, lavana/salty, katu/pungent, tikta/bitter and Kashaya/astringent) or the six tastes in the daily diet are highly recommended.
Eating fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables, whole grains, good fats, and avoiding processed & packaged foods, cold & raw foods also play an important role in keeping a healthy mind. Drinking enough water to keep the body well hydrated is also important.
A person’s mental constitution is not fixed like the physical one and can change & evolve over a period of time. Ayurvedic health care, known to take a holistic approach to health, supports this evolution of consciousness that helps boost emotional and mental wellbeing. Disturbances of the mind need to be taken seriously and treated in a quick time as they can have a serious effect on the body and overall wellbeing.
Book an ayurvedic consultation with an experienced Ayurvedic Vaidya for a customized Ayurvedic diet & lifestyle plan and to guide you in your journey towards sound physical, emotional & mental health.