By Bonita Carol, M.A. Counseling, SVA Practitioner
How can Ayurvedic medicine be applied in the field of mental health? This three-part article seeks to answer that question by examining how Ayurvedic medicine can be utilized as an integrative approach to mental health that takes into consideration every aspect of an individual: mind, emotions, physical body, subtle body, environment, and Self, the beinglevel of life itself. In part one, we will explore the cause of mental health issues according to the ancient writings of the Charaka Samhita as well as hear what Vaidya Mishra has previously shared with us. Part Two will cover SVA understanding of Ojas and Balance and Part Three offers practical tools for emotional balance with SVA.
Causes of Mental Health Problems According to Ayurveda
Pragyaparadha: Mistake of the Intellect. The problem of pragyaparadha can be described by the declaration, “We are not who we think we are.” In the Ayurvedic analysis of the pathogenesis of disease and suffering, the term pragyaparadhameans the mistake of the intellect in the misunderstanding of the true nature of one’s self. This concept is written about in the main ancient Ayurveda textbook, the Charaka Samhita. It suggests that life is experienced within the limitations of the parts, leaving the individual unaware of the whole (Brooks, J. p.89).
Psychologist, Satya Prakash Choudhary (2013) explains pragyahparadha and said,
Pragyaparadha is a form of memory loss; one’s essential nature of being—the Self that transcends ordinary awareness—is forgotten or unconscious and the superficial levels of the mind and emotions hijack the deeper levels of awareness of being. Being, or the big Self is invisible but is the basis what is visible. At the level of the intellect, through the five senses, one gets drawn into the material outer world of living, work, family, leisure, conflicts, and the problems of everyday reality. The individual is over identified with sensory experience and temporal life. In my experience of growing up in and practicing Ayurveda in modern culture, there is not much acknowledgment of this essential Self or being and a pronounced focus of doing and accomplishing.
Physiological causes of mental health issues: The Doshas. The doshas manifest as mind–body types and form the subdoshas located in various organs and systems within the individual. Mental health issues here are discussed here as being caused by physiological imbalances involving the subdoshas.
Subdoshas connected to depression. In the ancient Ayurveda textbook, the Charaka Samhita, it is written, hridaya chetana sthanam (Mishra, 2002, p. 2) Vaidya . Mishra explained that hridaya is the heart, chet is consciousness, and sthanama is placed. The saying means that the mind and the heart are intimately connected, because the heart is the dwelling place of consciousness. It also indicates that the sadhaka pitta subdosha of the heart is associated with the processing of emotions (2002, p. 3). Dr. Mishra said (2002) said;
The main cause of depression is the lack of ability to process emotions in a timely fashion. Some people are able to process an emotion quickly, which means they are able to let go of it and move on with their lives. For others, the processing or “cooking” of thoughts is slow so the negative impression remains with them for a very long time and this impacts their current thoughts and emotions, resulting in depression. (p. 3)
Vaidya further explained that the agni, (fire) or metabolic mechanism, associated with sadhaka pitta is responsible for the cooking or processing of emotions. The health of sadhaka pitta processes effect the metabolic processes or agni in every cell of the body, as well as the agni associated with each subdosha. The sadhaka agni of the heart is related to neurohormones. The neurohormones located in the heart send signals to the brain to register depression or happiness (Mishra, p. 3).
An individual can be born with low sadhaka pitta and agni levels are unique to each person. Agni can also become low due to emotional and physical trauma, poor nutrition, environmental pollution, and digestive problems. If low sadhaka agni continues without being corrected for a long time, it can lead to a clinical depression (Mishra, p. 3), with symptoms such as the inability to enjoy normal pleasures and bipolar disease. The solution from an Ayurvedic perspective is to offer procedures to increase agni and nourish sadhaka pitta, which are discussed in Part Three on remedial interventions.
Subdoshas connected to postpartum depression. According to Mishra, (2002), after a baby is born, prana subdosha of vata dosha is aggravated and the digestive fire, or jataragni, is decreased to a very low point during the exertion of giving birth. This can lead to fluctuating emotions such as anxiety and depression. Ayurveda offers specific diet, daily routines, and massages that increase the agni to help process both food and emotions (Mishra, 2002, p. 7).
Subdoshas connected to anxiety. Anxiety is caused by many factors contributing to excess vata, which can be felt in one’s pulse in the subdoshas as apana and prana vata comprised of irregular movement of air and space. Vata’s imbalanced qualities are frenetic, dry, cold, unstable, and changing. Excessive vata shows up in the body as constipation (dryness), poor digestion, fatigue, and restlessness. It can present itself in the mind as disorganized, forgetfulness, anxiety, phobias, insomnia, and insecurity . If it is not corrected, vata can continue to increase and may turn into mania, anorexia, attention deficit disorder, and other learning problems.
Behaviors that contribute to increased vata are excess stimuli such as overindulgence of internet games, excess cold foods, irregular schedules, excess travel, excessive exercise, and excessive sexual behavior. More serious vata imbalances are due to trauma, car accidents, fasting, eating disorders, lack of sleep, drug abuse, exposure to constant unpredictable behaviors and anything that overwhelms the senses. When vata goes high, this disturbs pitta and kapha as well. The way to address this problem is to offer lifestyle recommendations, SVA herbal synergies, Ayurvedic Treatments and diet that help to reduce vata and balance it in conjunction to counseling. In Part Two, we will discuss SVA perspective of Ojas and Ama and it’s role in emotional balance and mental health.