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Ancient Ayurvedic Medicine and Its Application to Mental Health, Part 1

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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

 

  

Acknowledgements

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

 

 

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World Sickness and the Thirst for God

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World Sickness image

By Nicolina Santoro, MA, IMF 77972

Once upon a time, in the vast kingdom of the helping professions, there lived a therapist whose thirst for knowledge and desire to aid in the process of personal and interpersonal change was unrivaled in all the land. This therapist had taken it upon herself to rewrite the story of her own history in a manner that changes the context of painful past experiences from blockages into tools that create a larger understanding and empathy for those she has chosen to serve in her work.

This constantly evolving therapist became immersed in theory and work of great minds such as Carl Rogers and William James. Realizing that human potential is vast, she wanted to understand how important stories and fairy tales were to constructing the memories that colored the landscape of reality, a reality that seemed to have the power to dictate how people see themselves and live their lives.

These dominant fairy tales permeate the fabric of our perceptions which also bump up against the lives of others we come into contact with out in the world. Personal narratives or “life styles” are filled with characters that are archetypal in nature, influencing us to play out repetitive sequences in life. These characters tend to take on the personas of stereotypical themes that are reinforced by learning them at a young age, or by the social referencing effect of our dominant culture.

William James calls the mental fatigue effect of living in an environment laden with unrealistic scenarios or fairy tales “world sickness.” It appears as though living in a world dominated by stereotypes and fairy tales could be implicated in the aggravation of many types of mental health issues.

How can we address the fatigue, depression, anxiety, and thought distortions that world sickness creates and impacts?

Let’s start with being gentle with ourselves. When we imagine a supreme spiritual being, the embodiment of certain characteristics seems to be present across many cultures. Some of these characteristics include unconditional love (a love that exists beyond judgment), a superconscious presence that never dissipates or abandons, and the ability to create out of seemingly thin air. For the scientists who have a different path, god could also be described as the picture of what we theorize as the highest human potential. We have the potential to express this in our own reality by living our lives in accordance to our deepest and strongest values while moving away from comparing ourselves to the unrealistic standards or “fairy tales” woven into the fabric of our society, loving ourselves and others through the lens of acceptance and vulnerability, a gentler version of happily ever after.


References
James. W. (1902). The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study on Human Nature. Longmans, Green & Co. London, UK.

Miller, W.R. (2006). Integrating Spirituality into Treatment: Resources for Practitioners. Washington: American Psychological Association.

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Learning From The Loss Of Robin Williams

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Ron Henry/Flickr/Creative Commons

By Leona Kashersky, Psy.D.

When I learned of the tragic death of Robin Williams two weeks ago, tears came to my eyes.

I valued his mind and contribution to the arts and humanity, as did so many in the world who share in the loss of this beloved comedian, who took his own life on August 11, 2014.

Not only did I feel an emptiness at the thought of never seeing another new Williams’ masterpiece, but knowing that so many looked up to him, I feared that his end could inspire those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts to follow his example.

Recent studies have shown that when a mentor, parent, loved one, or admired celebrity commits suicide, communities can become vulnerable to more tragic loss of the same kind.

As such, I’d like to speak to Williams’ specific situation, and address some general suicide risk factors in hopes that education could help us to grieve and prevent further harm.

O’ Captain, My Captain: Robin Williams’ Struggle

It is well documented that Williams had a long battle with substance use, and mental health professionals have hypothesized that he also suffered from bipolar disorder.

In early July, he checked himself into rehab, though news reports stated that he did not technically relapse. This readmission into rehab was right after his new sitcom The Crazy Ones was canceled after only one season. Whether or not Williams actually relapsed or was preventing a relapse, it is important to recognize that he was proactive in addressing his need for help.

Further, Williams had just started a new medication to treat his newly diagnosed Parkinson’s disease; his medication did come with warnings related to depression and suicidal ideation.

Risk Factors, Warning Signs & Intervention

Though we don’t know the complete details of Williams’ personal life, there were risk factors present in Williams’ history and current life situation that indicate that he was vulnerable to suicide.

Most suicides occur within three months following the treatment of a major depression, as the patient’s energy increases and before negative and destructive thoughts decrease. This leaves individuals in the initial phases of treatment at risk to follow through on suicidal thoughts. Moreover, even individuals who have a drug, alcohol, or eating disorder in full remission can be 10 percent more likely to complete suicide and are at higher risk. Professional monitoring is needed in the form of regularly scheduled counseling to teach healthy coping skills for managing stress.

In addition, patients starting some new medications that are not related to mental health treatment can be at risk of developing depressed and self-destructive thoughts. When patients are warned of the side effects, they don’t always remember the warning was given when the thoughts start to intrude. Often, patients are caught off guard and can be at greater risk of harmful behaviors.

Most people who contemplate suicide do not want to die, but rather feel disconnected from others and are likely experiencing difficulty thinking creatively about how to solve life’s challenges.

Here are some more general risk factors and warning signs that can help you identify and help those considering suicide:

Risk Factors

  • Mood changes or depression
  • Peer and/or family conflict
  • Perfectionism/overachievement
  • Poor coping skills
  • School or work failure
  • Drug or alcohol use


Warning Signs

  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Recent break up
  • Running away
  • Talking about suicide (even if it sounds like a joke)
  • Dramatic changes (for the worse) in personality and/or appearance


9 Initial Interventions for First Responders to Suicide: 

  • Be patient and nonjudgmental
  • Treat the problem seriously
  • Do not try to talk the person out of it
  • Do not be afraid to ask direct questions about suicide
  • Communicate your concern and support
  • Offer yourself as a caring listener until professional help can be arranged
  • Try to evaluate the seriousness of the risk presented in order to make the appropriate referrals to mental health professionals and emergency services (i.e. 911)
  • Do not swear to secrecy. Contact someone who can help if the individual will not get help personally
  • Do not leave the person alone if you feel the threat of self-harm is immediate


Ted Eytan / Flickr / Creative Commons

At the “Mrs. Doubtfire” House, 2640 Steiner Street, San Francisco, CA, USA. Ted Eytan / Flickr / Creative Commons

 

Community’s Role in Suicide Prevention

As community members interested in preventing suicide, we must work together to identify, reach out, show compassion, and educate people who are or who know someone that may be at risk.

As a larger community, we can support individuals in developing a spiritual practice that fosters community inclusion and engages individuals in altruistic projects that inspire them to help others or the environment. Programs that build a sense of mastery and inspire a sense of community inclusion rather than alienation are known to be effective in preventing suicide.

In addition, community can support centers that provide organized outings for cultural enrichment, specialized training, education, sexual counseling, crisis intervention, and health care.

We can find a Healing Pathway!

Healing Pathways offers its condolences to everyone who loved Robin Williams dearly. We hope that we can all grieve together as a community and teach each other how to move through pain and sadness with compassion for each other and ourselves.

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