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Ayurveda’s Approach to Mental Health

Strengthening your mind-body connection is crucial for your mental wellbeing, especially during these high-stress, modern times. Here's how this ancient medicinal system can help you stay calm and carry on.

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In Ayurveda’s fundamental principles, a good life is only possible when three things come together: the body, the mind, and the soul. This is a tripod-like concept; if you take away one, life topples. Ayurveda also sees the mind as very powerful, quick, and resilient. It controls all of the sense organs, like the eyes, nose, and tongue. It can restrain itself, too. In other words, you are in the driver’s seat of your own mind―though I’m sure it may not always feel that way.

The three main aspects, or working parts, of the mind from the Ayurvedic viewpoint are:

  • Dhi or Buddhi: Intellect, or the ability to analyze information
  • Druti: Willpower, or the ability to make decisions
  • Smruti: Memory

Before thoughts effortlessly pop up into your head, they are first processed through these three “livers” of the mind―intellect, willpower, or memory―and then they take expressions in the psyche in whatever relevance they might have. Thoughts may trigger a memory, pique your intellectual interest, or manifest themselves as desires or decisions through your free will.

The most important of these three is the intellect. If your ability to analyze information is in good shape, then you’ll make good decisions, practice a mindful way of living, and have the potential to advance spiritually. This translates into both a healthy mind and a healthy body.

One of the reasons looking after your mental health is so important in Ayurveda is that diseases and imbalances often start from the mind. The term we always use to describe this phenomenon is prajna aparadha, which means ignoring your consciousness or mindful ability. This is seen as the cause of all diseases, both physical and mental. When we overrule our mindfulness or consciousness, we will make erroneous choices. As a result, our sensory organs are motivated toward less-than-ideal objects, and the choices made trick the body into accumulating disease-causative factors. It’s no surprise that modern science has linked stress and anxiety to conditions like heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, and type 2 diabetes.

While the body is controlled by the doshas (vata, pitta, and kapha), the mind is characterized by two main forces: rajas and tamas. Rajas is the aspect of the mind that activates and intrigues it. It’s all about action, movement, and change. Conditions, like anxiety, can come about as a result of too much rajas. Tamas is the opposite; it slows the mind down, making it more ignorant and inert. When these two aspects are balanced, a person can achieve sattva, which is characterized by intelligence and harmony. This state promotes wellbeing and keeps us on the spiritual path. So, one who is in the sattvic state of mind seldom errs in physical aspects or mental, and thus, is less likely to develop physical or mental health issues.

How Ayurveda Manages Stress

Working toward sattva is one of the best things you can do for your health, and there are several avenues Ayurveda suggests for dealing with stress and achieving optimal mental health.

Routine

Ayurveda always supports routine for a good reason: When each day has a set pattern, there is less distraction for the mind, and the mind can elevate itself toward spirituality or a spiritual state. That’s why we have both daily and seasonal routines. When you know what to expect, it can be a good, stress-relieving factor. Even if you can’t have a set routine for your entire day, try creating a morning, afternoon, or evening routine for yourself to allow your mind to have some time to rest.


Related: 5 Morning Rituals to Help You Rise and Really Shine



Yoga

Exercise, in general, is good for the mind, but from a historical point of view, yoga is the main physical activity for Ayurvedic practitioners. There were also other modes of exercise, but yoga is one that they always promoted. Practicing yoga on a daily basis opens the channels of prana (life force), and encourages a deeper relationship between mind and body. I’m certain some Sonima readers may have already experienced this phenomenon. (If you’re new to yoga, however, check out our yoga pose tutorials as demonstrated by Ashtanga lineage-holder, Sharath Jois.)

Food

What you eat plays a very important role in balancing out the whole body and mind. The main aspects of food nourish the body, but the more subtle aspects of food affect the mind. The quality of food—whether it’s dry, oily, light, heavy—can have an impact on our mental state. For example, if a food is light, it promotes a rajas state; if it’s heavy, it encourages tamas. So when you eat in accordance with the Ayurvedic diet, your food is balanced in terms of these qualities, and it’s healthier for your mind.

Foods that are known to enhance the mind in Ayurveda include: ghee, honey, brown rice, mung beans, Himalayan salt, and barley. These should be incorporated into the diet in one way or another due to their qualities and their impact on the gut. There is a very low chance of these foods creating metabolic toxins, which can in turn affect the mind.

Intellect-promoting herbs are also a great option for everybody. The most commonly available ones are gotu kola, also called brahmi, licorice, and amalaki fruit. By incorporating these and the other methods discussed above into your lifestyle, you’ll be well on your way to a healthy mind and, ultimately, a healthy body, too.

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