In this article, Dr Shijoe Mathew explains how Ayurvedic medicine can promote better mental health and how mental health is inextricably linked to your body and soul.
In the Ayurvedic concept, your mind is not created by a collection of neuronal networks and chemical transmitters alone. Similarly, life itself is not merely a biochemical process. According to Ayurveda, it is a combination of mind, body and spirit.
So, illness is not always an isolated physical event. It can be an expression of a deeper imbalance that manifests at your bodily level of existence.
Similarly, for mental illness, there’s a complex interplay, including body and soul, that manifests at the level of the mind.
This conceptual framework gives Ayurveda a truly holistic viewpoint on mental illness – much more so than conventional medicine which, unfortunately, focuses solely on manipulating neurotransmitters and retraining behaviours.
Meanwhile, the modern lifestyle bases personal worth on our possessions. Contentment has become rooted in how much we consume.
Ayurvedic treatment for mental illness focuses on relearning the concept of actual personal worth, achieving contentment through the collection of knowledge and inner peace.
The Four Pillars of Ayurveda Mental Health Therapy
Ayurvedic therapy attends to four distinct bases for our existence.
First Pillar: Satva Avajaya Chikitsa
In Sanskrit, Satva means mind and Avajaya means control.
Mind control is easier said than done, but there’s a well-defined pathway for achieving it set out by Acharya Charaka in the 3rd Century BC. This pathway is known as the ‘Six types of Jnana’, which are:
Atma Jnana or Self awareness
Desa Jnana or Community or Social awareness
Kula Jnana or Relationship awareness
Kala Jnana or Environmental awareness
Bala Jnana or Mental stability awareness
Shakti Jnana or Mental agility awareness
An Ayurvedic doctor is able to guide you through these six levels of awareness using a combination of counselling, planning your daily routine and paying attention to the effects on your body and mind.
Second Pillar: Daiva Vyapasraya Chikitsa
Daiva Vyapasraya in Sanskrit means “that which comes from God”.
Daiva Vyapasraya Chikitsa is not about healing sent from God. It’s about finding godliness within yourself and in the nature around you.
Spirituality is often misunderstood as a religious or even superstitious concept. But it is as an important quality that distinguishes living beings from even the most advanced Artificial Intelligence. It also helps us engage with causes that are greater and more important than ourselves.
This pillar is not about increasing spiritual energy. Rather, it’s about developing a heightened awareness of its presence and being open to feeling the immense potential of this energy within us.
Here are a few tips I would suggest to achieve spiritual fitness.
1. Practice detachment
Let go of some ‘material’ that you feel most strongly attached to. This may be as simple as removing the coffee, sugar or cakes that you crave. Go without and then observe the effect on yourself. The aim is to reach a stage where you’re able to decide whether or not to have it, which is a vast improvement on being completely addicted to it.
2. Practice to be content
Learn to be content with something one step short of reaching your level of expectation. For example, cook a new recipe and resolve to be satisfied with the outcome, irrespective of its taste. Learn to be aware of the goodness in the ingredients and the effort of putting together the dish. Find contentment in the process as well as the result.
3. Practice Mental Hygiene
Cultivate positive thoughts and weed out aimless thinking. Instead, use your limitless creative mental energy to express yourself in art or dance, and prevent that energy from creatively complicating your worries and anxiousness. Shut down the monkey brain!
4. Go on a pilgrimage
It doesn’t have to be to a religious place. Just go for a walk in the park or a longer hike if you have time; find time by sacrificing your routine weekend roast, Netflix binge or restaurant booking. Spend that time instead with someone in your circle who’s suffering from loneliness or mental illness. I’m sure it will help you both.
The core healing element in pilgrimage is not the destination, but the sacrifice you make and the journey along the way.
Third Pillar: Adravya Chikitsa
Adravya Chikitsa means treatment using your everyday actions, rather than material or herbal treatment.
These actions often include structured mental exercises like meditation and mindfulness practices. The aim is to eliminate the noise inside your brain. ‘Brain fog’ is not only a symptom of a mental imbalance. It’s also a significant obstacle on your journey towards achieving lasting mental wellness.
Your Ayurvedic doctor may also advise a combination of yoga postures and breath control practices as part of Adravya Chikitsa. Ayurvedic philosophy emphasises that control of the mind is not possible without achieving control of body, breath and senses.
Eliminating the obvious distractions like dependency on mobile phones, gambling addiction, sugary snacks, social media, work, etc. are all addressed in Adravya Chikitsa.
Fourth Pillar: Yukti Vyapasraya Chikitsa
Now we come to the medical management of mental illness.
Yukti helps an Ayurvedic doctor establish the causes and sequence of events that lead to an imbalance. This can be corrected using a combination of herbal medicine and diet. Various herbs like Brahmi, Ashwagandha and Mucuna are all easily available in the UK (in their organic dry powder forms) for use in this aspect of your treatment plan.
Ayurveda and Sleep
Ayurveda mental health also places a great deal of importance on the quality of sleep. The philosophy holds that your ability to perceive pleasure and pain, and to make choices conducive to health and wellbeing, can be taken only if the sleep is sufficient in quality as well as quantity.
Language and Neuroplasticity
A final word about the use of complex Sanskrit words throughout this article: Research shows using multiple languages helps to improve neuroplasticity – our brain’s innate ability to change according to the environment, cognitive demands and behavioural experiences.
It goes without saying that neuroplasticity is an important part of dealing with the most important cause of stress and anxiety: adapting to change!
Let Ayurveda transform your Mind, Body & Soul
Curious about how Ayurvedic mental health treatment can rebalance your own mind, body and soul? This ancient holistic approach is now available in Brighton & Hove.
We have an Ayurvedic Detox Workshop on 25th April and offer one-to-one appointments with Dr Shijoe Mathew at The Circle Holistic Health Clinic including consultations and massage treatments.