“Nature Deficit Disorder”: An Ayurvedic Approach to Understanding and Treating Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder By Saran Ekambaram

Introduction

Ayurveda is a 3000 year old science of personal responsibility (with some references dating it back to 5000 years). Its approach to disease is threefold: Understanding the nature of the disease, the person, and the medicine. Only in this threefold manner can any approach to healing be considered Ayurvedic. From here, through mindful practice, one can achieve more balance in health. To understand these natures, we look at things partly through the lens of the doshas: categories of the energetic forces that make up all of existence, which in turn are made of the pancha maha bhutus, or the five great elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether. These elements in turn have gunas or pairs of opposite qualities which make it easy to categorize things that exist in nature, such as disease.

When Ayurvedic classical texts were first being written, there was no such disease labeled as attention deficit disorder (hereafter referred to as ADD). Therefore, this paper will look to understand what ADD is via the western definition, and how that applies to understanding it through the lens of Ayurveda as a disease of majja dhatu (nervous system) and manas (the mind). These types of diseases are referred to as vatavyadhi. In understanding vatavyadhi diseases, such as ADD, we look to the “king of diseases”i - Vata dosha, and it's five subdoshas or vayus. Vata dosha is comprised of the elements of ether and air. It is the least stable of the doshas, and is prone to movement making it the easiest one to become imbalanced. It's gunas which help us to classify it are: cold, dry, light, subtle, flowing, mobile, hard, sharp, rough, and clear. Knowing our disease's gunas allows us to use treatments made up of the opposite gunas to bring balance to it.

But what causes ADD/ADHD? Ayurveda considers there to be three basic causes of diseases – Misuse of the senses, intellectual error, and change.ii All of these causes contribute to ADD or vata imbalance. In order to discover how to treat ADD through Ayurveda, one must look to pacify vata dosha in these areas.

However, there is also one fundamental cause of all disease: forgetting that we are connected to nature and believing we are somehow separate from it. This is where the idea of NDD or “Nature Deficit Disorder” comes into play. This paper will show that through practices in diet and lifestyle that bring us closer to nature, many symptoms of ADD can be easily managed. Furthermore, Ayurvedic treatments can be used to manage the numerous side effects of ADD related western medical drugs.

Ayurveda can help manage the disease in preventative ways as well as symptomatic relief, as referenced by studies listed in this research paper. While western medical treatments are limited and not without side effects, Ayurveda has many options available with no side effects. This paper will explore the Ayurvedic options in depth: herbal medicines, bastis, five sense therapies, oleation therapies, routines, diet, yoga, time in nature, and meditation.

When comparing western treatments to Ayurvedic treatments, this paper will also examine the effects of ADD medication in conjunction with Ayurvedic treatmentsiii (Note: Though at times this paper may refer to both ADD and ADHD, the two diseases are similar and generally research is done on both simultaneously. For brevity's sake, sometimes only one will will be referred to where appropriate).

ADD and ADHD are diseases that affect a large portion of the population and put enormous costs on the system as well as individuals and families. The drug based approach to treating this disease is incomplete and non-curative, with side effects that can cause further health issues in both the short and long term. Ayurveda looks at all disease from a holistic approach. By understanding the root cause of this disease, those with ADD can use Ayurvedic treatments to help them live a relatively symptom free life, and to also improve their general health in body, mind, and spirit.

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