striving, and struggling, rajas lacks stillness and peace. The constant internal chatter obscures the truth of our divine nature, and blinds us to our purpose and potential. As one moves from rajas towards sattva, there is a process of questioning and reevaluation. Glimpses of awareness create emotional repercussions, and there is often attachment to the cycle of growth and learning and the pain that comes with it. The rajasic state of consciousness is characterized by constant mental activity.20
The tamasic state of consciousness is rooted in ignorance, darkness and inertia. An individual with a predominance of tamas will usually not have a connection to anything beyond him/herself, seeing the world in a simplistic, self-centered framework. There is little mental activity or deep thinking, and dullness predominates. In its more extreme forms, tamasic consciousness will express itself through violent or harmful behavior.
Thus, the essence of the treatment of depression and all mental disease is to move from tamas to rajas, then from rajas to sattva, and finally to transcend sattva entirely as the mind becomes liberated from the bonds of individual egoic identity.21 Usually the totality of this process takes many lifetimes, although it doesn’t have to. By bringing the doshas into balance, purifying ama, and increasing sattva guna, an individual learns to skillfully use the human mind and the human body as tools. Remembering one’s true identity as a divine being, one wields the tools of the human form with awareness and intention, using them in the service of all beings.
- The sense faculties, together with the mind, get vitiated by excessive utilisation, non-utilisation and wrong utilisation of the objects concerned. This causes an impediment to the respective sense perceptions. If, again, due to correct utilisation, they come to normalcy, they bring about the respective sense perceptions properly. Thinking constitutes the object of the mind. So
- the proper utilisation of mind or mental faculty is responsible for normal or abnormal mental conditions. This is to say, if mind or mental faculties are properly utilised, this is conducive to the maintenance of the normal mental conditions; if not, abnormal conditions prevail.22
This condition of normal utilisation of the mind is the goal that Ayurveda strives for, using many methods of treatment including diet, herbs, mantra, pranayama, and pancha karma therapies.
20 “Anxiety and Depression.” Lecture Notes.
21 Ayurvedic Psychology: Anxiety and Depression. Disc 6.
22 Caraka Samhita. Volume 1, Chapter 8. Principles of Psychopathogenesis. V. 15-16.
Classical Ayurvedic texts offer an understanding of mental illness that addresses many of the symptoms, root causes, and treatments of depression. They also provide instruction on the maintenance of health and prevention of disease.
- Normally, mind and sense faculties remain undisturbed. In order that they are not disturbed in any way, one should make all efforts to maintain their normal condition. This can be achieved by the performance of duties after duly considering their pros and cons with the help of the intellect together with the sense faculties applied to their respective wholesome objects and by
- acting in contradistinction with the qualities of place, season, and one’s own consitution including temperament. So one, who is desirous of his own well being should always perform noble acts with proper care.23
- The person of a strong mind who does not indulge in meat and wine; who eats only healthy food, remains clean both physically and mentally, does not becomes affected by unmada.24
Mental health issues are present in vata, pitta, and kapha forms. Mental illness of all types is addressed in classical texts under the category of ‘unmada,’ insanity, which presents itself in different forms according to the dosha(s) affected. Many of the characterizations of unmada are applicable to modern clinical manifestations of depression.
- Intellectual confusion, fickleness of mind, unsteadiness of the vision, impatience, incoherent speech and a sensation of vacuum in the heart (vacant mindedness) – these in general are the signs and symptoms of unmada. Such a patient, with bewildered mind becomes incapable of experiencing pleasure and sorrow. He becomes incapable of conducting himself appropriately. Therefore, he loses peace of mind altogether and becomes devoid of memory, intellect and recognition. His mind wavers here and there.25
Vata type depression can often be triggered by loss, which by creating emptiness in one’s life, increases the elements of air and ether. Loss of a partner, a job, a friend or family member, or a home can all contribute to vata type depression. Certain symptoms of depression, such as emaciation, are particularly linked to disturbances in vata dosha.26
Attachment, or clinging, to the object that is lost, is an attribute of kapha type depression, characterized
23 Caraka Samhita. Volume 1, Chapter 8. Principles of Preventing Psychic Disturbance. Verse 18.
24 Ashtanga Hrdayam. Volume 3, Chapter 5. Treatment of Insanity. V 59.
25 Caraka Samhita. Volume 3, Chapter 9. Treatment of Unmada: Signs and Symptoms. V 6-7.
26 Ibid. Etiology, Signs, and Symptoms of Vatika Unmada. V 10.
by an increase in the elements of water and earth. Water creates cohesion and attachment, an enduring sense of connection, whereas earth creates a stubborn and enduring stability, a resistance to and discomfort with change. Sluggishness, lack of appetite, desire for solitude, and excessive sleep are kaphic manifestations of depression.27
Pitta type depression is often associated with the perception of failure or burnout, the state of mind that arises when one does not live up to one’s own expectations of performance or achievement. Getting fired, failing a class, or not passing an exam can all be triggers of pitta type depression. Irritablility and ‘continuous anguish’28 are classical symptoms of pitta type depression.29
It is important to remember that multiple doshas can be simultaneously vitiated, and that a patient’s experience of depression may be dual-doshic or tridoshic (sannipatika). Traumatic events or abuse may trigger depression in all individuals, although those with a vata imbalance have less stability and often less endurance in the face of trauma. In treating depression, it is important to consider which doshas are out of balance and design treatment to restore balance.
An important aspect in treating depression is reestablishing a harmonious relationship with the cycles of nature. Healthy routines include waking in the morning, around the same time as the sun. Rushing should be avoided as this creates anxiety and disrupts the mind. Food should be fresh, free of chemical residues, and well-prepared, and should be consumed mindfully. Sattvic spices such as ginger, cardamom and basil open the mind and the heart.30 Herbal formulas are instrumental in lighting the path towards growth and healing. Intake of ghee builds ojas and is recommended for those suffering from diseases of “impaired intelligence and memory.”31 Healthy eating habits include sitting still while eating, resting after meals to give food time to digest, chewing all food to an even consistency, and eating without
27 Ibid. Etiology, Signs, and Symptoms of Kaphaja Unmada. V 14.
28 Caraka Samhita. Volume 2, Chapter 7. Diagnosis of Insanity. V 7.
29 Caraka Samhita. Volume 3, Chapter 9. Etiology, Signs, and Symptoms of Pattika Unmada. V 12.
30 Ayurvedic Healing. p. 325.
31 Sarngadhara Samhita. Section 3. Chapter 1. V. 12.
distractions like music or television. Bedtime should be early, around 10 pm, to avoid aggravating vata. Daily practice of asana, pranayama, mantra and meditation is recommended to increase sattva.
Pancha karma is recommended in the classical texts as a treatment for mental illness.32 Internal and external oleation as well as fomentation are powerful methods of liquefying ama and purifying the channels of the body. Therapeutic emesis removes excess kapha and can alleviate depression, grief and attachment. Therapeutic purgation alleviates anger and irritability (pitta), and enema therapy treats fear, anxiety, insomnia and many other symptoms of vata mental disturbance.33
The practice of pranayama, control of the breath, is the main way to increase prana, the vital life force. This can be a powerful practice for alleviation depression, especially of kaphic type. Pranayama increases the flow of energy in the nervous system and strengthens the mind. Alternate nostril breathing brings balance to the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Solar breathing can be used to alleviate kaphic depression as well. Inhaling through the right nostril and exhaling through the left burns ama and unblocks the flow of energy. The mantras RAM and YAM can be used in conjunction with this practice to bring in the energies of fire and air, respectively. Lunar breathing, which consists of breathing in through the left nostril and exhaling through the right, is calming and sedating, creating a grounding and stabilizing effect. This can be very helpful for vata and/or pittagenic depression. The mantras VAM and LAM can be used in conjunction with the solar breathing technique to activate subtle energies of water and earth.34
The practice of pratyahara, or internal withdrawal of the senses, can alleviate the negative effects of sensory overstimulation and purify the mind from the barrage of sounds and image that often prevail in modern society. One could begin treatment by reducing those sensory inputs that are most negative or injurious to the mind and senses. The mind is fed by the senses in much the same way that the body is fed by food, and junk impressions create toxicity and disease. Going hiking, spending time in nature, gardening, and contemplating the sky, clouds, and stars are all forms of bathing the senses in
32 Sarngadhara Samhita. Section 3. Chapter 1 & 3.
33 Ayurveda and the Mind. p. 203.
34 Ayurvedic Psychology: Anxiety and Depression. Disc 6
harmonious impressions. Fasting from the media, especially screen-based media, can be a very effective method of reducing vata.35
Color and aromatherapy also have applications in the treatment of depression. Use of the color gold can help to build ojas and increase mental endurance, stability and immunity.36 It is gently uplifting and transforms the consciousness to a sattvic state. Essential oils of tulsi, calamus, camphor and wintergreen can help to detoxify the channels of the mind and promote emergence from the dull haze of depression.37 Myrrh, frankincense, sage and mint promote the powers of perception.38
Mantra is a powerful tool to change the energy field of the mind. All sounds, thoughts and words have their own vibratory power that affects the mind on the subconscious level. By repeating a mantra, it is embedded into one’s consciousness. This repetition gives us the power to change the dominant thought forms of our minds. Bija mantras are single syllable sounds that have no meaning beyond the vibratory power inherent in their sound. Mantras or prayers that invoke the names of God or the divine create positive thinking patterns and help to create connection with divine forces. Extended mantras, which can also be described as prayers, invocations, or affirmations, exist in all spiritual traditions and can be used to increase intentionality and work on particular aspects of healing. The use of mantra helps the mind develop its power of concentration and memory.39
Ayurveda offers many tools in healing from depression, and as an ancient and evolving science is open to expansion and utilisation of new technologies and methods. By bringing balance to the doshas, increasing sattva, building ojas, and purifying ama, optimal health of mind and body can be achieved. Individualized treatment plans incorporate a diversity of modalities that address all aspects of the human being. Ayurvedic approaches to the treatment of depression can be combined with Western approaches
35 Ayurvedic Psychology: Anxiety and Depression. Disc 6.
36 Principles of Ayurvedic Medicine. p. 334.
37 “Anxiety and Depression.” Feb 2011. Lecture notes.
38 Ayurvedic Healing. p. 322.
39 Ayurvedic Psychology: Anxiety and Depression. Disc 7.
to mental health care. The journey to perfect health is approached as a journey of spiritual development, a philosophy which heals not only the individual but also has positive repercussions throughout society.
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Abstract: Prevalence studies in psychiatric epidemiology out-number incidence investigations by a wide margin. This report gives descriptive information about the incidence of depression and anxiety disorders in a general population. Using data gathered in a 16-year follow-up of an adult sample selected as part of the Stirling County Study (Canada), the incidence of these types of disorders was found to
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