Depression, Anxiety and Ayurveda
By Dr Sajimon George BAMS, AAA, ATMS
Depression is an illness affecting a vast number of people in the globe with an estimated 15% of people experiencing severe, chronic depression at some point in their lives.
The number of people dealing with depression is doubling every 10 years. While many medications have been developed to deal with this issue and they can be necessary in severe cases, generally most individuals will receive the same type of treatment and the root cause may go unchecked.
Depression and anxiety have become an inseparable part of modern man’s life. Depression is usually the result of old unresolved emotional problems that have not been addressed, often from childhood.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression
- Excessive fatigue and muscle weakness
- Palpitations and headaches
- Sweating and tremors
- Shortness of breath
- Indigestion and stomach upsets
- Interrupted sleep and seeing nightmares
Depression: An ayurvedic perspective
Our level of consciousness is considered to have different sheaths. Ours self resides in our heart which is the seat for the blissful sheath or Aanandamaya kosha.
Another kosha of mind other than the heart is the manomaya kosha. When we are hurt or shocked or a sorrowful incident occurs, we use our mind at that moment to construct a protective barrier around ourselves. In some cases this barrier causes one to lose access to the essential self and the result is depression.
Free flow of Prana allows the doshas (bodily humors) to balance, the seven dhatus (tissues) to develop, and the gross channels (srothas) of circulation, like blood and lymph, to move. When exposed to etiological factors, the flow of energy or prana shakthi is also restricted and the person gradually loses interest in life.
Depression is a kapha predominant imbalance. Vatha and Pitha may also go out of balance by the exposure to its etiological factors. Vatha is vitiated by experiences that induce fear, terror, anxiety, irregular eating habit, pattern of sleep and all forms of excessive movement.
Pitha dosha is associated with metabolism of all things: food, emotions, and experiences. When emotional experiences cannot be digested they accumulate in the body and cause dosha disturbances. Alcohol, verbal abuse, excessive spices and over ambition will create Pitha depression which manifests as anger and violence.
It is worth noting that people suffering from a Pitha depression may commit suicide or engage in self destructive habits.
Initially the brain’s powerful changes in electrochemistry cause Vatha imbalance, this triggers a loss of enzymatic activities in the metabolism or Pitha imbalance. Kapha responds by trying to provide a protective sheath to slow everything down. This shut down mechanism, brings about heaviness, darkness, and stagnation.
This condition is interpreted as the negative message of hopelessness and depression.
Ayurveda Line of treatment
Treatment involves thorough understanding of the patients unique constitution (Prakruti) and state of imbalance or vikruti of doshas. Ayurveda takes both the physical and mental plane into consideration while designing the treatment protocol. This system utilizes herbs and treatment procedures to correct the imbalances created in the mental plane of doshas.
Gradually the person moves towards his natural prakriti (doshas in balanced state) and the mansikaroga (mental disorders) vanishes. Treatment depends on the willingness of the patient. He or she should follow the guidelines of the physician and make the necessary lifestyle changes.
Depression and Anxiety Treatment Procedures with Ayurveda
Abhyanga Oil Massage Massage with suitable oils is good in relieving depression.
Njavara Kizhi Heating procedure by using cooked njavara rice in milky decoction (Ksheera kashaya) of root of Bala or Sida rhombifolia.
Nasya Nasal administration of suitable medicated oils. This procedure is believed to release drugs through blood brain barrier.
Shirodhara Pouring of herbal oil on the forehead to promote relaxation.
Herbal Fumigation Controlled inhalation of fumes of herbs such as Guggulu, Jatamansi, Vacha (Acorus Calamus) etc are useful for this condition.
Herbs for Depression and Anxiety
- Ashwagandha or Withania Somnifera can very effectively solve problems like manic depression, anxiety disorders, mood phobias etc.
- Brahmi or Bacopa Monnieri is a nervine tonic that enhances mental ability. It calms and soothes the mind.
- Jatamansi or Nardostachys Jatamnsi eliminates depressive and negative thoughts. It channelizes the mind towards positivism and calms the mind.
- Guggulu or Commiphora Mukul contains a special mind calming chemical called guggulsterones. This chemical can effectively relieve depression.
- Turmeric or Curcuma Longa can treat depression caused from seasonal changes.
Depression and Anxiety Diet
The person must not eat to full capacity. Hot, spicy and pungent tastes must be avoided as these will aggravate the senses further. Fluids and fresh vegetables (in salads) must become an important part of every meal. Tea and coffee may be taken occasionally to stimulate the brain.
Most people with depression lose their appetite and desire to eat. For such people, food must not be forced, or it could lead to vomiting. When such a disinterest in food occurs, fruits can be consumed. A diet rich in fruits is beneficial in the treatment of depression.
An ideal diet which will assist in maintaining physical and mental health is suggested.
Depression and Anxiety Mental Qualities
Satwa, Rajasa and Thamasa are the three mental qualities.
Satwika mental quality activates a persons cleanliness, intellect, happiness, positive thoughts and confidence.
Rajasa quality induces dynamism, talkativeness, ego, anger etc .
Thamasa quality activates lack of intelligence, fear, excessive sleep and lack of motivation etc.
Harmonic equilibrium of these three mental qualities results in mental health. For a patient of depression achieving and sustaining equilibrium of these three qualities of mind is inevitable.
Food is divided in to Satwika, Rajasa and Thamasa activating types. Satwika ahara should be strictly followed as per the physician’s suggestion. This includes vegetables, fruits, non spicy fresh foods.
Yoga and Exercises for Depression and Anxiety
Engage in breathing, yoga and physical exercises to strengthen the mind and body. This keeps the channels of the body clean and allows proper flow of mental energy and nutrients.
Praanayama and yoga must become an important part of a person’s daily routine. This helps to concentrate the mind on positive thoughts and a recurrence of depression can be prevented.
Yogic asanas that are beneficial to people with depression are bhujangasana, halasana, paschimottasana, sarvangasana, shalabhasana, shavasana and vakrasana.
Pranayamas yoga to be done only as per doctors advice.
Dos and Don’ts for Depression and Anxiety
- Listen to soft music
- Exercise regularly and take brisk walks to fight depression
- Expose yourself to bright sunlight
- Avoid alcohol, sweets and caffeine
- Don’t indulge in negative thinking
- Avoid consuming stimulant or processed food
- Refrain from consuming excessive calories
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