We are all living in a very uncertain time in human history. Nearly the entire world has been forced to lock itself in, owing to a raging pandemic outside. As such, many of us are struggling through the isolation our body and mind is experiencing. This has reinvigorated conversations around the already fundamental subject of mental health.
This is a conversation however, that unbeknownst to many, has always been at the forefront of Ayurveda. The almost 5000-year-old practice understood how the mind was inextricably connected to our body, and thus preached methods that could help the mind transcend its field of activity to relax our body as a whole.
Through several research material, over the course of many years, we now know that stress is a key cause of several mental health issues. Not just stress, but poor diet, poor hygiene, inadequate sleep and lack of exercise have all been qualified as definitive causes of mental illness.
Despite many advancements, modern science is yet to find answers to sustained mental health. In some cases, the ingestion of artificial supplements has only aggravated situations among people suffering from such an ailment.
This is where Ayurveda and Yoga can play a role in helping fight mental illness, if not alone then in collaboration with modern science. Ayurveda focuses on stress and fatigue as the major antagonistic presence in the human body and suggests practices in relation to diet, exercise, herbal remedies, and sleep to effectively overcome our negative emotions and experience bliss in its purest form.
In this article, we will look at how Ayurveda approaches mental health through many crucial aspects of its teachings. Without much further ado, let’s get started.
Digestion and Mental Health
We have already mentioned how the Ayurvedic diet plays an important role in galvanizing positive emotions in our body and mind. Ayurveda, throughout its ancient texts, has always warned us about the negative impact of an unhealthy diet and the egregious consequences it can have on both our mind and body, resulting in a flood of negative emotions within us. Ayurveda claims that when our food is not properly digested, it gives birth to metabolic by-products called the ‘ama’.
‘ama’ can be classified into three types. The Vata ama, the Pitta ama, and the Kapha ama. While Vata ama can cause anxiety and nervousness, the Pitta ama can result in unbearable anger. The Kapha ama, on the other hand, can cause both sadness and a gloomy feeling of hopelessness. Our dosha type in combination with the food we decide to consume, decides what kind of ama is produced in our bodies.
Modern science is only now talking about the connection of our gut to our minds. It has been proven through science, that there is indeed a connection between our emotional state and the food we consume. Therefore, it is crucial to have a proper diet full of nutrition to reduce the amount of ‘ama’ in our body. Not only that, but factors like ‘when we are eating’, ‘the amount of food we are eating’, and ‘where we are eating’ are all important elements in reducing ‘ama’ in our bodies.
Food and Mental Health
As for food, according to Ayurveda, people should follow a strict three-course meal diet with a heavy middle meal and light supper to compliment. Add to that, a daily exercise or yoga session and you have a perfect routine designed to keep your functioning at optimal mental capacity.
It is also recommended that one eats only when you are hungry that too in a calm and comfortable place. Eating the right quantity of warm meals with high quality ingredients makes it easy for the body to absorb and assimilate the nutrients. Lastly, be in the now when you eat using all the 5 senses. Take time to appreciate the smell of the meal, the look of the plate, texture of food, identify the different flavors and the sounds that you make when you eat.
Exercise and Mental Health
Exercise should without any doubt become a crucial part of our daily routine. Its effects on our body and mental health have been well documented in medical journals and global research. Ayurveda has always maintained the importance of exercise for a healthy body and mind.
Through physical exertion, neurotransmitters like endorphins and serotonin can be released throughout our body, both of which are well-known mood enhancers. Apart from the release of neurotransmitters, exercise can also help in reducing chemicals in our bloodstream which are responsible for flaring up inflammation levels in our body.
Inflammation today, is being put under the microscope for being a major catalyst for mental illness. Although exercise is great for your body, you should avoid overdoing it. Just like everything good in this world, too much of anything good can prove to be just as bad. This also applies to exercise. As for how much exercise one needs, it can be determined by understanding your mind-body dosha type. (You can fill the questionnaire on our website to know your dosha type).
For e.g. a Vata type will feel their very best with a mild exercise like walking, a Pitta type will feel his best with something moderate like swimming. Whereas as Kapha type will feel great with an intensive amount of aerobics. Yoga has also been proven to have positive impact on mental health and recommended for all dosha types.
Herbal Remedies and Mental Health
Modern science has launched a war on mental illness by prescribing artificial pharmaceutical products that come with their own set of merits and side effects. They can temporarily inhibit the effects of mental illness, but can also cause other unwanted issues, the most prominent of which is addiction.
With Ayurvedic herbal supplements, addiction is not an issue and the right combination of appropriate herbs can work on many different levels of an individual’s psyche. That said, we highly recommend that you consult with an Ayurvedic practitioner to settle on an herbal option that might best suit you. You can check our directory to identify the consultant nearest to you.
Panchakarma or Body Purification and Mental Health
Panchakarma is an integral part of Ayurveda, and is instrumental in supporting mental and emotional well-being of any individual. Panchakarma treatments like Abhyanga (oil massage), Shirodara (pouring medicated liquids over the forehead), and basti (enemas) are all effective purification methods that help in removing toxins and other unwanted foreign elements from your body. Panchakarma has many positive effects on the mental health of an individual. It has been credited with enhancing mood, decimating depression, and providing one with clarity of thought.
Rest and Mental Health
So much of an optimal mental health depends on a diligently followed daily routine. The idea of waking, eating, working and sleeping at an appropriate time has great bearings on our mental health. Not getting enough sleep can severely affect our mood and cause an unanticipated feeling of despair and isolation. Getting adequate sleep is crucial in improving our cognitive and mental health.
What has only become a major talking point in recent memory, was being dissected by the ancient text of Ayurveda nearly 5000 years ago. Ayurveda has always been a flag-bearer supporting mental health ever since its inception. With all of our modern comforts and advancements in technology, it can be confounding to understand the rising number of depression and suicide cases that continue to haunt many civilizations around the world.
Maybe it is high time we draw our attention towards Ayurveda to find respite from the problem of mental illness that plagues us today. So if you are someone struggling with mental health issues, and find no respite in prescription drugs and therapist consultations then Ayurveda might be the salvation you seek.