An Ayurvedacharya’s guide to pulling yourself out of stress before it leads to depression and other psychosomatic ailments

Many of us have succumbed to stress and depression in some form or other in this modern world. This has led to psychosomatic physical ailments such as migraine, blood pressure, heart ailments, psoriasis, ulcers and more. Our materialistic life in which we have no time for relationships and relaxation has pushed some to the brink — and few have ended up with some form of mental disorder, some manageable with a bit of yoga and meditation, good company and companionship, while others need more serious intervention such as antidepressants and counselling sessions with qualified mental health professionals.

Mental disorders are not new.“Manas roga was already a separate branch in ayurveda more than 5,000 years ago,” says Sakshi Raj Sharma, an ayurvedacharya at a research institute under the Ministry of Ayush. Ayurveda places equal emphasis on body, mind and soul, she explains.

Reena Singh

It is something that health professionals have realised the world over—even WHO describes health as a ‘State of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’

Sakshi says that “Ayurveda envisages our bodies as a combination of vata, pitta and kapha — and all three should be in a balanced state. An imbalance in vata, for instance, impacts movement and the central nervous system, while a kapha imbalance directly results in depression and lethargy. Our pitta factor regulates metabolism, and an imbalance leads to irritability, short-temperedness, and gives rise to a judgemental attitude.”

Our reactions to events and stimulus are also due to our prakriti, and once we have that identified from a competent ayurvedacharya, we can begin to work on a special diet so that the imbalance is rectified and we are able to change our prakriti. “A combination of the gunas—sattva, rajas and tamas—make up our prakriti,” says Sharma. “There are seven types of prakriti and answering a detailed questionnaire is all that you need to determine your prakriti,” she adds. The right treatment and the correct diet can then be prescribed.

What treatment does she recommend for mental ailments such as anxiety, depression and psychosis which are increasingly becoming more and more common?

Several treatment modalities are employed, she explains. Spiritual healing through sound therapy or healing through senses is used. A diet suiting your natural prakriti and aimed at correcting your imbalances is given. A dinacharya, daily routine is important, such as yoga, meditation and diet, and this must be followed strictly. “It is equally important to follow all eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga,” she emphasises. “Spend time in nature, do your daily yoga and meditation practices and follow a saatvic diet,” are her simple recommendations.

While many aspects of the treatment can be tackled on your own at home, you might have to visit an ayurveda clinic for further purification methods that might be suggested such as homa therapy and enemas. You might need to set your digestive system right, but don’t ever resort to self-treatment. Treatments that centre around shirodhara, or traditional oil and herb treatment may also be prescribed. As oil trickles down on a spot near your brain, it promotes blood circulation, as does thailam, a head massage with special oil.

“Sometimes, a remedy may lie in a simple change of scene and environment and in keeping company with positive people. Then, again, make sure that you don’t give in to an excess of emotions that harm you, such as excess of sorrow, ego and pride,” cautions Sakshi. And of course, there are now over-the-counter herbs that come packed in capsules sold almost by every ayurvedic company.

These include brahmi, ashwagandha, shankhpushpi and vacha, and they are prescribed with other herbs for treating anxiety. Ashwagandha, for instance is prescribed to people with Parkinson’s. Likewise, jatamansi is used often for treating cases of hysteria. Even the widely prescribed triphala churna has neuro-protective properties. And the best thing about Ayurveda is that there are absolutely no side-effects.

Reena Singh has more than 37 years’ experience in senior editorial positions in The Times of India (TOI) and Genpact. She was Deputy Editor with TOI’s spiritual newspaper, The Speaking Tree, where she spent nine years.