Physiologically speaking, it is the time when the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system is at an all-time low which allows the heart rate to slow, conserves energy, and enables blood flow to return to the thoracic cavity and increase peristaltic movement.
The Ayurvedic View of the Mind
According to Ayurveda, an individual has to have an aligned mind, body, and spirit in order to be considered healthy. Mental health and spiritual health go hand-in-hand as per the Shashtras. Sattavajaya which can be loosely translated to mean the western concept of psychotherapy has been mentioned in the ancient Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita. Satwavajaya Chikitsa is a unique non-pharmacological approach for treating mental disorders. It is the first of its kind and if developed can really prove much useful. The effectiveness of “traditional mental health promoting practices'' was identified as health regimens (Swarthvrtt), correct behavior (sadvrtt), and yoga.
Sattvavajaya as psychotherapy is what Charaka Samhita referred to as mental restraint or mind control, which is achieved through concentration, improving memory, learning about philosophy, understanding fortitude, and expanding one’s spiritual knowledge.
Ayurvedic psychotherapy combines the ancient knowledge of primordial sounds, and the discovery of the authentic self on a deeper level. Becoming aware of the nature's laws and integrating the self with the larger universe is a crucial step in the journey towards ensuring that your mind is calm and resilient.
Ayurveda teaches us to rediscover critical knowledge and awareness about the nature forces and rhythms in nature that bolster our human experience in this lifetime. It is important to understand the psyche and tune in to our inner experiences by being mindful every day. This can only be possible if you are able to be present in your environment and in your relationships on a daily basis.
Once you start practicing mindfulness through meditation and breathing techniques, your body will automatically speak to you and let you know how different types of energies affect you.
The Attributes of the Mind
A pleasant state of mind is instrumental for your holistic health. It is the very basis of balance of all energy principles, including the doshas. An Ayurvedic practitioner asks for information related to different aspects of your life: current stressors, past stressors, lifestyle, diet, schedule, routine etc.
Since Ayurveda is such an ancient science that accounted for mental imbalances (Manovikara) thousands of years ago, mental diseases or depression, anxiety etcetera are not stigmatized, but rather are categorized by their attributes to provide distinct treatment options.
- Vata imbalance causes anxiety and fear which can lead to phobias in cases where vata imbalance remains unmanaged.
- Pitta imbalance can lead to anger and obsessions.
- Kapha imbalance makes a person prone to depression.
Different attributes of the mind, Gunas, are also important to understand when trying to better grasp your own mental health.
- Sattva is described as the natural state of mind which is the best mindspace to be in to achieve optimal mental health. It is the characteristic of the mind that lets you feel light, productive, and balanced.
- Rajas is the ambitious quality of our mind which makes us restless.
- Tamas is the attribute that makes us feel lethargic and dull.
All three attributes are important in their own right. However, an imbalance of any one of the three gunas can lead to anger or depression or anxiety.
Now that we’ve taken a look at the attributes of the mind and the doshas and elements that make up not only our physical being but also our mental state, let’s look at ways in which you can take care of your mental wellbeing in a holistic manner.
Focus on Building Up Your Sattva
Bolstering up the mind’s ability to be calm and in a state of rest is tough work. There are numerous stimuli vying for our attention in the course of the day which puts a strain on our capacity to process emotions and daily stressors. Building up the sattvic quality of the mind can enable you to become resilient towards life’s stressors and hence enhance your mental stability.
How do you help your body and mind build up sattva? Here are six simple changes that you can make to your daily routine.
Diligently practicing pranayama (breathwork techniques) that focus on clearing out the thoracic cavity at dawn and dusk through several deep cleansing belly breaths can work wonders. Incorporate it as a part of your dinacharya, or daily routine, in order to let your body know that there is a choice–you don’t always have to feel out-of-breath or anxious! Once your body experiences calm, it will crave more calm and attract a similar type of energy.
Meditation is the age-old cure for mental instability. It rewires your brain into becoming more present and mindful. Studies on meditation practices have shown that meditators are more likely to be able to breathe through anxiety and deal with depression in a positive manner and also build better relationships and deep connections with fellow human beings.
3. A Balanced, Sattvic Diet
A balanced and sattvic diet is not only important in order to build up the immune system of the body but also to make the mind more resilient. Sattvic food items include those that are easy to digest, plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lentils, no processed or junk food, and avoiding white sugar, white flour, etc.
4. Selfless Service (Seva)
Seva or volunteering helps in increasing the feel-good aspect of your being and thus helps in building up your self-esteem. It not only helps reduce stress but also gives you a sense of community and a feeling of belonging which is essential for the human brain to feel safe and secure.
5. Positive Practices (Sadvritta)
Ayurveda emphasizes practice and regularity in all of its prescriptions. The key is making small changes on a daily basis so that the body gets used to those new patterns. Just like our body is accustomed to old patterns, it needs time to adjust to new patterns. It is precisely why sadvritta or positive practices are so crucial for establishing optimal mental well-being.
Self-inquiry, patience with oneself, establishing a healthy routine, regular body movement in the form of exercise and regular mental stress in the form of meditation teaches the body and mind that you are able to handle systemic stress–thus nurturing resilience.
Other positive practices include cultivating hobbies, exploring your creativity in different forms, practicing gratefulness and journaling can go a long way in helping you with introspection which in turn can bring you closer to the higher self.
6. Engaging the Senses (Aahaar)
Aahaar is not just the food that you consume. It refers to anything that you feed your senses: smell, touch, sight, sound, taste, and your dhriti, the ability to discern between the right and wrong. The news that you peruse on the internet or the shows you watch on TV or the books that you read have an impact on you and your mental health. The food that you consume needs to be digested completely, similarly, the thoughts that you “feed” your mind need to be processed in a healthy manner. If the food and the thoughts are sattvic to begin with, it is easier on your gut and mind, respectively.
The concept of the mind in Ayurveda proves a very intricate way of looking at certain imbalances within the physical as well and causal body. There is a template on how to move from a tamasic mind to a more sattvic mind, even how to reverse some of the causes for mental disorders without the use of traditional pharmacological drug interventions. When we harness the positive qualities of the mind we are able to create a state of being that is conducive to healing!
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.
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