Ancient Ayurvedic Medicine and Its Application to Mental Health, Part 1
family yoga on the beach at sunset
By Bonita Carol, M.A., CT. Ayurveda Health Practitioner
Ayurvedic medicine is a comprehensive holistic system of health care originating in India that spans over 5000 years. I have been an Ayurvedic health practitioner since 1991, having witnessed profound changes, such as stress reduction and reduced depression in clients in a short time, often within a month of adopting some of the techniques and knowledge of Ayurveda. This blog explores how the practice of Ayurvedic medicine can be a complementary modality to psychotherapy by including all aspects of the person: mind, body, environment, and soul.
Ayurvedic medicine offers knowledge and techniques for understanding how to prevent mental and physical illness while improving well-being. In an age when toxins bombard the environment (EPA, 2016), high levels of stress and addiction plague society (Segura, 2013), and the cost of healthcare is skyrocketing (Bryan, 2016, para. 8), the need for preventive healthcare education and services seems to be at an all-time high. Ayurvedic approaches to psychology can help address some of the problems that challenge U.S. society, including Alzheimer’s (Rao, Descamps, John, & Bredesen, 2012), grief, depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, childhood autism, PTSD, adapting to change, and relationship issues (Elder, Nidich, Moriarty, & Nidich, 2014, para. 5). Ayurveda also offers alternatives for individuals who feel limited by the mainstream medical model or have not had success with medications or therapy alone, and want something more as an adjunct to therapy sessions.
Ayurveda also addresses existential questions, such as “Who am I?” It provides for personal and spiritual growth through knowledge about the experience of Atman and the numinous, which psychiatrist Carl G. Jung (1938-1940/1983) defined as “either a quality belonging to a visible object, or the influence of an invisible presence that causes a peculiar alteration of consciousness” that connects the individual with a force that transcends the personal self (p. 239). In addressing psychospiritual needs, Ayurveda defines two selves: The ego, or small self of ordinary awareness, is denoted by self with a small s; a capital S denotes the Self that transcends the ego, and is the silent witness and the universal backdrop for all thinking and feeling (Maharishi, 1983, lecture).
An Ayurvedic orientation may bring to therapy an extensive and comprehensive understanding of the source of the client’s problems on a physical, mental, intellectual, and spiritual level. An Ayurvedic treatment plan not only approaches the client from a cognitive level, but is inclusive of all areas of one’s life, from inquiry into the house one lives in, called Vastu or Vedic architecture; to lifestyle and habits, diet and nutrition, familial history, significant life events, and spiritual health. By understanding the etiology of the client’s issues from this comprehensive view, a solid treatment plan can be constructed that does not isolate any area of the client’s life and that contributes to growth toward wholeness.
This blog series explores how psychotherapy and Ayurveda might be used as adjunct therapy to provide additional support for clients to make profound changes in their psychological, cognitive, and physical health. The Ayurvedic practice of meditation, particularly Transcendental Meditation (TM), has been shown to support cognitive development and reduce psychological symptoms (Barnes, Bauza, & Treiber, 2003). For example, TM meditation is currently used in inner city schools to help students reduce violent behavior, improve grades, and reduce detentions (p. 1). There seem to be gaps in the fields of psychology and medicine to the extent that they may treat the mind and body as separate and body awareness appears to be left out of the therapeutic process. As heart health researcher Robert Schneider (2015) said, “Heart disease is now correlated with mental health” (lecture); to prevent heart disease, mental health issues need to be addressed.
Ayurvedic practitioners Nancy Liebler, a clinical psychologist, and public health expert, Sandra Moss (2009) impart about the mind–body connection in Ayurveda:
“Mind-body medicine and its emerging field psychoneuroimmunology are bringing the issue of the unity of the mind and body to the stage of modern science. The Vedic sages, on the other hand integrated this concept a long time ago. They looked for the unity that underlies all the systems of our physiology rather than the sole focus on the systems’ diverse functions. This is the holistic approach that we should consider when we study the global affliction of depression.” (pp. 32-33)
Ayurveda can have benefits for both clients and therapists. It brings attention to the way in which Ayurveda techniques can cultivate a deepened sensitivity, receptivity, and consciousness, making one a more effective therapist. This research supports therapists in working with clients who have an interest in integrative modalities and gives the client access to more choices in how to attend to mental health and cultivate personal growth. In part 2 of this blog, I will discuss the effect of Ayurvedic enhanced interventions on ADHD and Autism.
Bonita Carol, M.A. is a certified Shaka Vansiya Ayurveda Practitioner and lineage holder by the late Ayurvedic Master Healer, Vaidya Ramakant Mishra. She is a marriage and family therapist registered intern supervised by Dr. Leona Kashersky PsyD at Healing Pathways Psychological Services. For information on Ayurveda, please contact her at www.ayurvedahealthcoach.com. (530) 401-8627
Barnes VA, Bauza LB, Treiber FA. Impact of stress reduction on negative school behavior in adolescents. Health and Quality of Life Outcomes. 2003;1:10. doi:10.1186/1477-7525-1-10. Retreived from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC155630/
Elder, C., et al. (2011). Reduced psychological distress in racial and ethnic minority students practicing the Transcendental Meditation program.” Journal of Instructional Psychology, vol. 38, no. 2.
EPA. (2016). Air quality management process. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/air-quality-management-process
Garrido, M. (2013, April,15). Vedic Philosophy and Quantum Mechanics On the Soul retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mauricio-garrido/vedic-philosophy-and-quantum-mechanics-on-the-soul_b_3082572.html
Jung, C. G. (1983). From Psychology and Religion (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). In A. Storr, The essential Jung (pp. 239-249). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1938-1940)
Liebler, N.C. and Moss, S. (2009). Healing depression the mind body way, creating happiness through meditation, yoga and ayurveda. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, (April 1983), unpublished lecture, TM Teacher Training Course, Maastricht Holland.
Rao, R. V., Descamps, O., John, V., & Bredesen, D. E. (2012, June). Ayurvedic medicinal plants for Alzheimer’s disease: a review. Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy, 4(3), 22. http://doi.org/10.1186/alzrt125
Schneider, R. (2016, Nov. 10). Dr. Robert Schneider Discusses Ayurveda and Vedic Psychiatry. Published lecture. paper University of Management, Fairfield, Iowa. Retrieved from youtube: Robert Schnhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ugr_Mslc5gk
Segura, G. (2013, April 22). Mass nervous breakdown: Millions of Americans on the brink as stress pandemic ravages society. Retrieved from: https://www.sott.net/article/261360-Mass-nervous-breakdown-Millions-of-Americans-on