Ayurvedic Approach to Stress & Depression

by Trace on May 11, 2010

Chapter 3 of my book How To Overcome Stress Naturally, I interviewed Shanti Gowans, President Australasian Ayurvedic Practitioners Association & CEO The Meditation Institute – Southport, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

What is Ayurveda?

Ayurveda is the ancient and extremely well refined traditional medicine of India and one of the oldest health care systems in the world.  Ayurveda, often regarded as the ‘sister’ health care system to Yoga, has a recorded history of Ayurvedaover 3,000 years.

Health is defined as ‘harmony and happiness,’ hence disease is disharmony and imbalance.

The word Ayurveda is comprised of two Sanskrit words ‘Ayur’ means ‘life’ and ‘Veda’ means ‘knowledge’. So, it is knowledge about life, a healthy life, a long life.

In Ayurveda an average person is expected to live to 120 and if, by chance, there is something like disease in a person’s life, then it looks at how to go about making that life better, either by curing that disease or at least managing it.

People come to ayurveda for a variety of reasons including: headaches, allergies, chronic fatigue, depression, back StressedManpain, digestive disorders, joint pain, menstrual disorders, sleeping problems, asthma, addictions and stress.

In the case of life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, AIDS and heart disease, ayurveda can help improve the quality of life and reduce the side effects of chemotherapy, radiation and medication. In many cases, ayurveda in combination with other therapies like yoga and meditation can halt the progression of a disease.

What is the Ayurvedic approach to disease and in particular, stress?

There are three different manifestations of day-to-day stress from the perspective of Ayurveda – mental, emotional, and physical. Each requires different approaches and therapies.

Mental Stress

Mental stress, according to ayurveda, is caused by an overuse or misuse of the mind. For instance, if you perform intense mental work many hours a day, or if you work long hours on the computer, it can cause an imbalance in Prana Vata, the mind-body operator concerned with brain activity, energy and the mind.

The person’s mind becomes hyperactive, yet the person loses the ability to make clear decisions, to think positively, to feel enthusiastic, and even to fall asleep at night.

To address day-to-day mental stress, it is important to begin by managing mental activity. Secondly, you can take measures to pacify Prana Vata, for example, by:

• Favouring Vata-balancing foods, such as sweet, sour, and salty tastes.warm milk

• Favouring warm milk and other light dairy products

• Performing a full-body warm oil self-massage everyday

It is important to get plenty of rest, and if you are having trouble falling sleep, avoid stimulants like caffeine and sip on herbal tea instead. Relaxing aromatherapy and meditation can help calm the mind.

Emotional Stress

Emotional stress can be caused by a problem in a relationship, the loss of a relative, or any situation that might hurt the heart. Emotional stress shows up as irritability, depression, and emotional instability. It affects sleep in a different way than mental stress – it can cause you to wake up in the night and not be able to go back to sleep.

Emotional stress disturbs Sadhaka Pitta, the mind-body operator concerned with the emotions and functioning of the heart. To balance emotional stress, you need to favour Pitta-pacifying foods and routine, such as:

• Eating lots of sweet juicy fruits

• Favouring Pitta-pacifying foods such as the sweet, bitter and astringent tastes.Sweet Fruits

• Drinking a cup of warm milk with cooling rose petal preserve before bed

• Cooking with cooling spices such as cardamom, coriander, cilantro, and mint

• A daily self-massage with a cooling oil such as coconut oil

• Going to bed before 10:00 p.m.

Physical Stress

Physical stress is caused by misuse or overuse of the body, such as exercising too much or working for extended periods at a job that is physically taxing. This can cause a person to experience physical fatigue, along with mental fogginess, difficulty in concentrating, and dullness of the mind.

Another reason for physical stress can be too little exercise, which results in a sluggish digestion and the formation of ama, the digestive impurities that clog the channels. In either type of physical fatigue, the process of regenerating cells slows down, and thus the cells themselves become physically tired.

The solution is to balance Vata and to support Kapha to make the body more stable and nurturing, for example, by:

• Getting adequate rest and moderate exercise

• Following a Vata-Kapha pacifying dietSelf Massage2

• Performing the full-body warm oil self massage everyday

Certain foods are natural stress busters according to ayurveda. These include walnuts, almonds, coconut, sweet juicy, seasonal fruit such as pears, apples (cooked if possible), milk, and fresh cheeses such as panir or ricotta.

almondscoconutOn the other hand, if you build your resilience to stress through natural methods, you can begin to experience stressors more as a challenge or a positive opportunity for growth. If you learn to evoke the ‘stay and play’ rather than the ‘fight or flight’ response, you can truly live a stress-free life of self-actualization, and become a ‘spiritual being’ in human form.

Note: Vata, Pitta and Kapha are the three psycho-physiological ayurvedic principles that govern all the activities of the mind and body.

A person enjoys perfect health if these principles are in perfect balance.

How can people find an Ayurvedic practitioner in their local area?

You can get in touch with one of the associations. There are several. Shanti Gowans is President of Australasian Ayurvedic  Practitioner’s Association.   http://www.ayurvedapractitionersaustralia.com/

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