Ayurveda is the worlds oldest and most complete holistic healing modality. Although Ayurveda appears in the Rig Veda, dating back over 3000 years, it is widely believed to be thousands of years older. Ayurveda in relative terms is ancient, yet it is not a relic of the past. Rooted deep in timeless wisdom, Ayurveda is ageless. It has been continually practiced for millennium, passed down from generation to generation, Ayurvedic medicine remains alive, enlightening and healing.
Ayurveda recognizes life as one unified spirit that contains and connects the energy of the universe to the individual soul. Ayurveda sees every life form as a unique combination of matter, spirit and mind. It approaches healing by balancing the elemental forces that make up the physical and spiritual construct of our universe. Ayurveda is the knowledge of how to live, this knowledge brings awareness of our situation here on earth, it is very practical and yet it is profound. Awareness and understanding of our true selves, the environment, and how the two interact. Ayurveda looks at the qualities inherent in all matter, to the energy that pulses through all life.
According Ayurvedic theory, there are three main constitutions make up the body. These constitutions are often referred to as doshas or humors. Every person has a unique dosha, with different combinations of ether, air, fire, water, and earth. These elements combine to make up Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Vata dosha having more air and ether, with pitta being more so fire. Earth and water make up Kapha dosha. Ayurvedic medicine seeks to recognize the dosha in each person in order to understand any imbalances that may cause disease. By examining the doshic qualities of modern diseases, Ayurveda can balance and heal them.
One such ailment that widely affects people today is Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). This disorder was known and treated by Ayurvedic doctors in ancient times, and continues to be treated by Ayurvedic doctors today. By looking at modern and classical Ayurvedic writings to shed light on the causes, we can learn holistic treatments that can heal this disorder. This disorder considered benign by some, is very serious. Millions of people struggle with ADD, and the numbers continue to rise.
ADD is defined by the Diagnostic and Statical Manual of Mental Disorders as “ inattention, compulsive behavior, and hyperactivity.” According to the Attention Deficit Disorder Association www.adda.org , over eight million adults, and two million children have a form of this disorder. People who suffer from ADD will have varying degrees of symptom intensity. ADD may also be referred to as ADHA (Attention Deficit /Hyperactivity Disorder). ADHD presents with more hyperactivity. ADD is further classified as Adult ADD or Child ADD. This only indicates the age of the person who has ADD and is not a differential diagnosis. ADD was recognized but not defined by the psychiatric world until the mid 1970's. Up until the last couple years, some children diagnosed with ADD were thought to grow out of the condition as they got older. It is now thought that children whose ADD symptoms disappeared as they grew up, were in fact wrongly diagnosed. It is now believed by western medicine that ADD is a life long affliction.
Most people can relate to feeling unfocused, and we all have made impulsive decisions. Certainly most people at one time or another have felt hyper. So, what are the differences between common experiences, and what is experienced by people who have Attention Deficit Disorder? This question makes it hard for doctors to diagnose ADD. ADD is defined as having one or more of three main symptoms; inattention, compulsive behavior, and hyperactivity. In addition, there are nine defining secondary symptoms associated with ADD used to diagnose the condition. The most common are insomnia, learning disabilities, and delayed language development. The majority of people with ADD have two if not three of these secondary symptoms.
A person suffering from this ailment will find it hard to complete tasks, meet deadlines, and manage their time. Dr. Thomas Brown author of Attention Deficit Disorder, suggests ADD effects the executive functions of the brain, “ getting started, shifting focus, making an effort, being persistent, being organized, managing time, managing frustration, and retrieving things from memory”, can all be compromised when suffering from ADD. According to Dr. Russell Barkley www.russellbarkley.org, people who suffer from ADD have “impaired response, impulse control, poor sustained attention, remembering to do things, delayed development of language, poor rule following, and regulation of emotion.”
Any one symptom of ADD can pose a problem, but combined, these symptoms can create real life challenges to work, school, relationships, and just about every facet of life. People who suffer from ADD will be plagued with many difficulties. Dr. Russell Barkley lists that , “up to 36% of people with ADD will drop out of high school, up to 40% suffer from low self-esteem, up 25% will suffer from clinical depression, and up to 25% will suffer from long term addiction to drugs and or alcohol.”
According to Kenneth Appelbaum in The American Journal of psychiatry, up to 45% percent of American inmates may suffer from ADD. Although there has never been a widespread study on American inmates, a study published by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, suggests that ADD is very prevalent in the inmate population in Norway. The Suicide and Mental Health Association International, http://suicedandmentalhealthassociationinternational.org, website, Lists higher rates of “failed marriages, motor vehicle accidents, teen pregnancy, and increased rates of suicide by ADHD sufferers.” In the book Driven To Distraction by Dr. Edward M. Hallowell and Dr. John J. Rately, they suggest that men and women who have ADD will seek out stimulation, negative or positive, from drugs, sex, and excess eating. A study published by the a Nutritional Disorder Clinic in Toronto Canada, suggests a link between obesity and ADD. It suggests that treating ADD may became an affective tool in fighting obesity.
ADD can damage the health of the person who has it. The inability to focus and to be able manage ones time, actions, and thoughts can create real hardships in all aspects of life. Failure can strongly weigh upon a person with ADD, when they are unable to meet goals necessary to move forward in life. This syndrome does not just effect the individual, but also affects the society as a whole.
Author and Psychologist Dr. Edward M. Hallowell states that,” ADD is almost always accompanying problems such as a learning disabilities and or low self-esteem,” and that if left untreated, “it leaves millions of children and adults misunderstood and unnecessarily floundering and even incapacitated.”
Western medicine does not know the cause of ADD. There are several theories that underline possible causes of ADD, but nothing has been proven. Some believe exposure to environmental toxins while in the womb may have caused ADD. Others blame sensitivities to sugar, and synthetic food additives. The increased exposure to television and the internet is a popular theory. Many authors will site the combination of all three of these. However, there is no consensus, or solid evidence supporting them. Currently the most accepted theory is that ADD is a genetic disorder, and that is hereditary.
Scientists have compared brain function and activity of a person with ADD to that of a person without it, using various tests that take images of the brain. According to the Dana Foundation www.dana.org, an organization dedicated to the study of brain science, “people with ADHD have differences in brain structure and function, especially in chemical regulation of dopamine and norepinephrine.” , suggesting that lower levels of these neurotransmitters may cause ADD symptoms. Dopamine and norepinephrine have critically important roles in our brains, both are key for stimulating many different areas of the brain in order for us to function properly, and especially in stimulating our brains in order for us to focus. Current research indicates the frontal lobe, basal ganglia, caudate nucleus, cerebellum, as well as other area of the brain, play a significant role in ADHD (ADD) because they are involved in complex process that regulate behavior.” The role of dopamine and norepinephrine regulation in patients with ADD is considered the most important in treatment, from a western science view point.
The treatment for ADD consists of medication, counseling, and cognitive behavioral therapies, with the main focus being pharmaceutical medications. The most commonly prescribed medications are central nervous system stimulants like Ritalin and Adderal. Both theses medication speed up the release of dopamine and norepinephine, increasing brain function. Anti depressant drugs and other non-stimulant drugs are also used. It is thought that anti depressant medications will increase up take and absorption of neurotransmitters in the brain, thus increasing brain activity.
Both types of medication are prescribed to children and adults. These medications do not cure ADD. The symptoms associated with ADD cease only for the time the medication is active within the body. When the medication wears off, the symptoms return. A patient taking these medications are to continue taking them throughout their life.
In order for an Ayurvedic treatment of ADD, the disorder must be seen from a Ayurvedic perspective. The doshic imbalances that cause the symptoms of ADD must be recognized in order to balance them. Looking for references in the Caraka Samhita in regards to ADD, we can interpret what ADD would have been classified by Ayurvedic doctors during ancient times. Although the western classification will not be identical, the symptom picture will remain the same. We can find passages in the Caraka Samhita that sight symptoms associated with inattention, hyperactivity and compulsive behavior.
The inability to keep a steady thought stream or focus, is described in the Caraka Samhita as one of twenty main blocks of Vata in the body. In chapter XXVIII verse 198, The Caraka Samhita states, “ If vyana-vayu is occluded by prana-vayu, then there will be loss of all the senses, and there will loss of memory as well as strength.”
The Vata dosha is a combination of ether and air. The qualities of Vata are light, cold, rough, and subtle. Because of these qualities, it is the most changeable and moveable. Being that it is the most moveable, it can easily become imbalanced, and cause imbalances in the other doshas, Kapha, and Pitta. Vata plays many roles within our bodies and minds. Vata dosha being in balance is vital to the health of our bodies and mind. Vata, although one dosha, is divided up into five sub-categories, classifying the different actions and movements of Vata into and out of our body.
The two sub-categories referred to in the cited quote from the Caraka Samhita refer to Prana and Vyana. Prana Vata is responsible for bringing in all of the sensory perceptions of the environment outside of us. Prana Vata relays information we experience from the world around us to the mind through the nervous system. According to Ayurveda the nervous system and Prana Vata are intricately connected. Proper function of Prana Vata is key for proper neurological function.
Vyana is the circulation and movement of the Prana once it is in the body and mind. Because of the world around us, the Prana we take in may in a sense become toxic. These sensory impressions may be considered toxic for the following reasons: they may not be harmonious, they may be become too much, and over load or overwhelm the neurological system. Prana can obstruct Vyana, and because of this, Vata dosha in the mind and body may become disturbed. This disturbance is an over stimulation of Prana Vata. According to Ayurveda too much stimulation can increase the prana of the mind. This excessive movement of the mind due to an over stimulation of the neurological system deranges the mind, and upsets the balance of our bodily system as a whole. The high Vata in the mind will not only cause emotional and behavioral symptoms but will also manifest as bodily distress as well. Vata can cause numerous symptoms that include weight loss, weight gain, constipation, hyperactivity, insomnia, disorientation, confused speech, light headed, confusion and depression. Dr. David Frawely states that, “ Vata is aggravated by excess and wasteful mental activity like worry and too much calculation about things,” he goes on to say that, “ Vata people should not read too many newspapers or magazines, or watch several television programs at the same time, as these agitate Vata and the mind.”
To look at another cause of ADD we may examine the description of mental illness in the Caraka Samhita, Ch IX, verse [6-7], it describes that “unmada (mental illness) is a wandering mind, intellect, consciousness, knowledge, memory, inclination, manners, activities and conduct.” Describing the possible causes for imbalances, it says that any one or all of the three doshas, Vata, Kapha, Pitta, may cause mental illness, or mental illness may be due to outside factors.
The outside factors that may cause, what Ayurveda deems “a wandering mind”, may be the environmental pollutions of the modern world. An exogenous factor causing ADD may be the vast amount of information we are exposed to through our eyes and ears. With the inventions of modern transportation, film, TV, internet, cell phones, video games, and so forth. These images may be too much for some brains to process. They may disturb the flow of Vata, and damage the nervous system. Not only is the mind subjected to fast moving images and sounds, but it has to deal with the consequence of their qualities. Many images are in fact negative, and can also cause disturbances in Vata. Mass media may be considered to be harmful because of it's over stimulation. This over stimulation is also often accompanied by negative subtle forms of advertising, that among many things: subjugates women, propagandizes violence, war, and greed. According to the Nielson report, a company that tracks advertising and programing, “the average person is exposed to 1600 advertising messages a day, has their TV on for 7.5 hours and watches about 4.5 hours daily.”
Prana is not just the images we see, but it is also the smells, textures, tastes and sounds. It is the food and water we consume. Exposure to harmful toxins in our food and water may be other exogenous factors. Fluoride, a chemical found to lower cavities, is added to the water supplies across the United States. In fact, according to a study done in Brazil at the University Federal de Parana, fluoride even in small quantities may cause “memory impairment” and is considered harmful to neurological function. Other factors may include the standard American diet. According to the American Heart Association, “The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar a day.” Many people eat processed foods that contain additives like MSG and caffeine. The outer environment for many humans is harmful, sometimes deadly. Many cities and towns are polluted exposing humans to harmful pathogens, chemicals, and air pollutants.
Attention Deficit Disorder may be a result of too much exposure to the harmful substances in our environments, of too much Prana flowing into our nervous systems. The over stimulation of our day to day lives, may increases the flow of Prana Vata until it is too much for the body to handle. Vedic scholar Dr. David Frawely describes it as ''Vata (high air) is damaged by too many stimulating impressions, particularly those of an artificial nature.”
Vata is a combination of air and ether. According to Dr. Marc Halpern a leading Ayurvedic healer and educator, “ In the case of hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder there is an excess in the qualities of air and ether and deficiency in the qualities of earth. Hence, from the perspective of Ayurveda, ADD and ADHD are conditions of increased expansive and creative energies and decreased in stability.” To treat the symptoms of ADD, Ayurveda seeks to counterbalance the unstable elemental forces of ether and air by increasing the grounding element of earth.
In treating ADD, Ayurveda approaches the symptoms and the underlying causes by working with many treatments, including diet and lifestyle changes and specific herbs that improve cognitive function. These treatments include cleansing possible toxins known in Sanskrit as Ama, that have built up in the body and even the mind. To treat ADD, Ayurveda looks at each individual case, and does not prescribe one treatment, nor does it view any one protocol to be appropriate for any one person. Everyone has a unique make up of doshic qualities, with varying degrees of elemental make up. Each person has a different level of strength, or vital energy. Vital energy in Ayurveda is known as Ojas. Determining the level of the ojas is key in any treatment plan of ADD. If the cause of the doshic imbalance is deemed that of exogenous factors, treatment may include cleansing toxins from the body and mind. However, if the ojas in the individual is low, cleansing is contraindicated, because cleansing may increase depletion of Ojas.
ADD is a Vata disorder, that has increased elements of air and ether, this causing too much movement in the mind and body. To balance Vata, actions, food, and herbs of apposing qualities of ether and air are administered. The increased Prana causes agitation to the nervous system. This flow must be slowed, grounded and stabilized. Herbal medicines, routines, and foods that are slow, heavy and sweet have the elemental qualities of earth. They generally build tissues and ojas, which will nourish and calm Vata.
To fully treat ADD Ayurveda seeks to reverse the cause of the imbalance. This is paramount and must be looked at and dealt with for healing inattention, compulsive behavior, and hyperactivity. To reverse the cause of ADD, a lifestyle that is first and foremost regular must be experienced. Regularity of sleep patterns, eating patterns, and avoiding anything that disrupts, or over stimulates the senses. Steady routines stabilize Vata and negate the ill effects that irregularity causes. Individuals with ADD also must limit activities like TV, internet, and travel. They must avoid stimulants like refined sugar and caffeine. The relief an individual may experience by using stimulates to see through the fog of inattention is momentary. The use of stimulants will increase the disturbance to Vata, and will weaken the nervous system, and lower ojas. Over stimulation of any kind must be completely avoided, and is vital for successful long term treatment. Building Ojas is key to having and maintaining healthy minds, nervous systems, and bodies. Healthy levels of Ojas will help stabilize the mind and counter the symptoms of inattention, compulsive behavior, and hyperactivity. Ojas will also protect people from substances or environmental factors that cause Vata disturbances. Creating consistent patterns in our life, avoiding mass media, building Ojas, and clearing Ama in the the mind and body will heal ADD.
Ayurveda utilizes a large spectrum of herbal remedies to address neurological disorders caused by doshic imbalances. Holistic Ayurvedic herbal medicine seeks to bring balance to the entire body system. For example, if a person is suffering from symptoms like inattention, hyperactivity, or compulsive behavior, Ayurvedic medicine will employ herbal remedies that both seek to give symptomatic relief, and repair and rebuild healthy tissues in the entire body.
Rasayana therapies that include herbal preparations are useful tools in treating the nervous system and mind of a person suffering from ADD. Rasayana is defined as rejuvenation. Ayurvedic rejuvenation therapies that will treat both the Vata in the mind and nervous system, according to The Ayurvedic Encyclopedia are, “oil and ghee therapies are given to remove block.” The Ayurvedic Encyclopedia also includes “abhyanga, ingestion of ghee to stimulate the mind, intellect, memory, and consciousness.” The Ayurvedic Encyclopedia also sites the use of the herb Brahmi with ghee.
In the case of ADD a herbal medicine prepared with the herb Bramhi (bacopa monniera) would be administered. A study done in Australia by the Brain Sciences Institute at Swinborne University in Victoria, studied the effects of Bramhi on people. The study revealed to modern scientists what Ayurveda has known for centuries, noting; “cognitive enhancing effects in healthy humans after 90 day administration of the bocapa monniera extract.” Other therapies to improve the mind and nervous system include nasya, mana shuddi, and pratyahara.
Nasya is medicated oil administered into sinuses through the noise. Nasya medicated with herbs that ground Vata, and clear the mind will be very helpful in the treatment of Vata symptoms associated with ADD. According Vedic scholar Dr. David Frawley, “ Nasya and neti are important treatments of Vata conditions in the nervous system and mind”... “They help restore the organic equilibrium of the mind and body and hormonal secretions that hormonal secretions that are ruled by Prana.”
Mana Shuddi is mental cleansing. This can be achieved by pratyahara, which is fasting from one or more of the senses. Resting our senses by withdrawing from hearing, seeing, touch, tastes and smell, we rest the nervous system and also cleanse the mind. Both of these practices help build Ojas and increase the stability of the mind. According to The Ayurvedic Encyclopedia the yoga posture Shavasana, also known as corpse pose is a good way to practice Pratyahara.
The Ayurvedic approach is to balance elemental qualities by determining the underlying doshic imbalance, state of ojas, and toxin (ama) build up. Attention Deficit Disorder can be fully treated by Ayurveda. The combination of symptoms may be the result of a combination of causative factors. Regardless of the causes western medicine may discover for ADD, be it genetic, environmental, dietary, or a combination of all three, the Ayurvedic treatments will remain the same, and stand the test of time. The treatment will remain as effective today as it was 3000 years ago. However it is clear from the research that ADD is serious, for the individual suffering from it, and the effects on the society as a whole. The modern day world is over stimulating to the senses, and toxic to the mind and body. To combat ADD and to reverse the causes, we must reduce the speed and volume of modern life. We must live in the natural rhythms of day and night. The food we eat need to be appropriate for our needs, organic and fresh. The air we breath must be clean, and the water we drink and give to our children must be pure.
Vata is the most sensitive dosha, exhibiting symptoms of imbalances much Quicker than the other doshas. Perhaps it might be wise to view ADD, as an early warning. Maybe those suffering from these Vata imbalances or “ADD”, are the metaphoric canary in the mines. An alarm, warning us of the deeper issues that may come to manifest. The rising ADD population may represent pending issues the world faces. The human species is living out of balance from nature and because of that, the planet as a whole is suffering. Using Ayurveda as a lens to perceive the world, we can both heal much of what has been done, and we can see the causes for the issues. Ayurveda works both to minimize and end suffering, but more importantly, it seeks to reverse the cause. Ayurs is the root sanskrit word meaning “to align”. It is this aim of aligning with spirit, mind and body that Ayurveda seeks to attain. It is the truth of our reality that we must align ourselves with, to live in, and to abide in. The pure radiance of health and happiness is our birth right. Living in balance and harmony is not some idealistic dream, but a life style we can fully realize. It is not a foreign science we must adopt, but is the unnatural lifestyle of most modern cultures we must un-adopt. Living in balance is moving through life with our hearts fully open, and hearing life by listening to our soul. Only then can we live in alignment, to be in tune with our higher self. From our higher-self we know and make right choices. This is what it means to live righteously. To make the right choices, from the foods we choice to eat, from how we eat them, and for all the other millions of decisions we make. In ayurs, in alignment we simply live right. This is Ayurveda, this is knowledge of life.
1. The American Psychiatric Association, The Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4th Edition: (Washington D.C.: The American Psychiatric Association, 1994) 85.
2. The Attention Deficit Disorder Association. Www.add.org.mc/page?citepageid=92501eorgid=atdda. “Over eight million people” (1996-2009) 11/25/09
3. Brown, E. Thomas, The Unfocused Mind in Children and Adults: (New York: Integrated Publishing Solutions, 2005) 21.
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6. Kenneth L. Appellbaum, M.D., “Assessment and treatment of correctional inmate with ADHD,” The American Journal of Psychiatry 165( December 2008):1520
7. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Www.pubmed.gov.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez. “prison ADD” Rassmusen K. Alvmikr. J am acad psychiatry law. (2001) Pmid 29 (2) : 186-93. 11/25/09
8. The Suicide and Mental Health Association International. Www.suicideandmentalhealthassociationinternational.org/adhsui.html. “Failed marriages, motor vehicle accidents” (2004-2006) 11/25/09
9. Fleming, Levy. Nutritional Disorder Clinic. Http://www.ncbi.nih.gov/pubmed//9223848?itool
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Johnson (2002) 11/25/09
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20. California College of Ayurveda. Www.ayurvedacollege.com/articles/drhalpern/clinic/hyperactivity-add. “In the case of hyperactivity and attention deficit.” (2009) 11/25/09
21. Tirtha, Swami Sada Shiva, The Ayurvedic Encyclopedia: (New York: Ayurvedic Holistic Center Press, 1998)466.
22. Tirtha, Swami Sada Shiva, The Ayurvedic Encyclopedia: (New York: Ayurvedic Holistic Center Press, 1998)467.
23. Tirtha, Swami Sada Shiva, The Ayurvedic Encyclopedia: (New York: Ayurvedic Holistic Center Press, 1998)468.
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25. David Frawley, Neti, Healing Secrets of Yoga and Ayurveda: (Wisconsin: Lotus Press,2005)54.
26. Tirtha, Swami Sada Shiva, The Ayurvedic Encyclopedia: (New York: Ayurvedic Holistic Center Press, 1998)280.
The papers published on our website have been written by students of the California College of Ayurveda as a part of their required work toward graduation. After reviewing each paper, Dr. Halpern selects those papers that he feels are appropriate to publish. The information in each paper should not be construed as the final word on any subject nor should it be assumed that errors do not exist.