The Ayurvedic Guide to Mental Health
Today is 'Bell Let's Talk Day' in Canada, an annual event whose intention is to bring awareness and conversation to the topic of mental health in this country. While this may simply be a clever marketing initiative by Bell Canada, the truth is that mental health imbalances in our culture are heartbreakingly rampant.
This comes as no surprise, from the perspective of Ayurveda, given that we as individuals, as a collective and our societal systems have diverged further and further from Swastha, from the way of naturalness, the way that we were designed by consciousness to live in order to be aligned with Nature and to thus exist in peace, wellness, health, vitality and joy.
Graciously, no matter how far we have veered from our natural state, we can always return bit by bit. And although we believe that medical interventions have their place in severe and chronic cases, Ayurveda offers a whole range of ways that we can work with the body, mind and our environment to realign ourselves internally to an embodied and lived state of ease.
Do know, that if you have found yourself in a dark place, there is always a way home. Begin implementing some of the below practices little by little, and at a pace that feels safe, yet somewhat challenging. And if you require greater individualized support, please reach out to us or book an Ayurvedic Consultation.
RETURN TO SATTVA
Sattva means truth, purity or the quality of harmony. Sattva is one of the three Maha Gunah (great qualities), including Rajas and Tamas, which describe the full spectrum of existence. Sattva is literally the stillness of consciousness and thus, the great balance within the truth of who we are, even as seemingly individual beings. Sattva is the ever-enduring harmony. Living from a state of inner Sattva allows one to exist in the world with knowledge, intelligence, love, happiness, compassion, pleasure, emotional stability and healthy detachment from outcomes.
When we live from the opposite of Sattva, the quality of Tamas, we are operating from Avidya, from ignorance or darkness. When we are unaware of the truth of our being and are thus entirely focused on and believing in the external, material world, we will thus be bound to the incessant fluctuations of this life and mind, and highly attached to mentally-projected outcomes. Tamas is also known as heaviness, dullness and inertia, qualities that we have witnessed rising rapidly in the era of lockdown-induced disconnection and isolation. A Tamasic mental state will express as brain-fog, poor memory, dishonesty, rigid thinking, apathy, ignorance, depression, self-indulgence, selfishness and more. One cannot live from Tamas and experience wellness at the physical, mental, emotional nor the spiritual level.
Between these two states lies Rajas, which refers to stimulation, desire or passion. Rajas is the stimulating force that invokes emotion, desire, excitement and activity and, in its healthy expression, is absolutely necessary for living in the world and for getting things done. However, living from a state of Rajas without strong anchoring in Sattva can lead to hyper expressions of our emotions, our passions, and our activities. Those who live in a Rajasic state will feed off of hyper-stimulation and will crave more and more activity in order to feel okay. Mentally, this can express as imbalances such as ADD, ADHD, insomnia, addictions, hyperactivity, adrenaline and/or drama addiction, aggressiveness, extreme attachment, control, power-hunger, jealousy, recklessness and more.
Thus, from this understanding, it is imperative for our own mental wellness that we intend to live from a recognition of Sattva, inherent within us, and make the commitment to live as expressions of that inner harmony and peace. And thankfully, the expression of the Tri-Gunas within us is changeable, so even if we have spent many years living from Rajas or Tamas, we can most certainly shift moment to moment, through Sankalpa (sacred intention) and practice.
HOW TO REMEMBER SATTVA?
1. EAT SATTVICALLY!
Strive to eat a vegetarian or plant-based diet that prizes whole, cooked foods and meals, made of natural ingredients and prepared with and consumed with love and appreciation. Cook, share and eat with gratitude in your heart. Chose foods that are and feel easy to digest in order to protect and promote the balance of Agni, as most disease stems from and can be treated with the healing of our digestive fire.
Here at RASA Ayurveda, we suggest meditation to almost everyone, no matter the ailment they are experiencing. We have witnessed unbelievable shifts in mental and physical health in our own bodies and in our clients and customers over the years. Meditation rewires the brain and brings the meditator out of the sympathetic nervous system (fight/flight/freeze/fawn) and into the parasympathetic state of rest and relaxation. It is a practice in feeling, sitting with, and being lovingly and compassionately tender towards all that arises in the body and in the mind. In this open and loving acceptance, so many stuck energies can find the attention they were seeking, and resolve themselves effortlessly or at least reduce in intensity. Meditation also invites us into the felt recognition of Sattva as our natural essence and our truth, meaning that we can thus live from Sattva more naturally rather than from having to make an effort to do so.
Karma Yoga, or selfless service, is a profound practice in serving others, even if this is only in small ways. Make an effort to uplift the lives of others on a daily basis, sharing care and compassion. Service is a recognition and reflection of the shared unity of each being; that we are all expressions of Sattva. Helping others can reduce stress, shatter rigid judgements and belief systems, and foster deep connection; the ultimate healing balm.
3. FOLLOW A DAILY & SEASONAL AYURVEDIC ROUTINE
It is said that we become the sum of our daily habits. Ayurveda knows this to be true, and this is why the Dinacharya (daily routine) and Ritucharya (seasonal) regimens are so important and encouraged. A daily and seasonal routine cleanses the body regularly of Ama and balances the Doshas, allowing our Sattvic nature to shine through. These routines ensure we remain in alignment with the rhythms of the day, the seasons, and thus, with nature itself. Find our Dinacharya Guide here and our guides to Vata Season, Pitta Season and Kapha Season.
4. PRIORITIZE MEANINGFUL CONNECTION & RELATIONSHIP
Ayurveda teaches us that all life is in relationship. All things in existence are in relationship with and interdependent upon one another. Truly, nothing exists in isolation and this is why we witness such imbalance and disease that results from a life lived in disconnection, hyper-independence (so heavily promoted by our individualistic culture) and ignorance of the natural law of connection. We are simply not biologically and spiritually designed to live disconnected from one another, from ourselves and from spirit. So many mental disorders can find their harmony through the medicine of depthful, stable and dependable connection. When living from Rajas and Tamas, the longing to connect may seem blocked, unsafe or simply unappealing, and so it is important to make conscious efforts to surround oneself with healthy loved-ones, positive social groups, loving family, and supportive community. And the more you live from Sattva, from great Love, the more you become an energetic match to loving and uplifting social connection and relationship!
Brahmi is the #1 tonic for the brain and nervous system. Its leaves even look like the brain! Brahmi also balances the left and right hemispheres of the brain, and decalcifies the pineal gland. It is tridoshic, but is especially beneficial for balancing high Pitta conditions. Brahmi removes toxins and blockages from the nervous system. It helps with depression, enhances intelligence and improves memory and concentration. Brahmi enhances the overall cellular wisdom in the body. It also happens to be great for hair growth! Take Brahmi every morning to rejuvenate the body-mind. Ways to take it: boil in water (as a tea), boil it in milk, or make Brahmi ghee. It can also be used as a medicated oil for the hair (see our Ayurvedic Hair Oil), and the nutrients will seep into the brain cells via the crown chakra.
One of the best anti-aging herbs, Ashwagandha enhances vitality and is considered one of the best mental rejuvenators. This herb is crucial for people suffering from too much stress, or who are overworked as it strengthens and supports the nervous system. Take 1/2 teaspoon cooked in milk (sweeten with 1 tsp of raw honey). Note that Ayurvedic herbs are fat soluble, and are able to go deeper into the tissues and cells when taken with a healthy fat (such as ghee, butter, or raw whole milk). Ashwagandha is also available in our Adapt-to-Life Potion, an herbal supplement that many of our customers swear by to keep them balanced and level-headed under tremendous stress.
Life is intended to be lived, enjoyed and even exalted, and Ayurveda truly shows us that this is not only possible, but gives us the tools and understanding so that peace and true happiness can become our lived experience and resilience, our dependable friend when moving through stressful times. Begin to implement a few of these suggestions and over time, little by little (and sometimes rather quickly, depending on the person) watch your external experience of life shift as your internal state harmonizes naturally with Sattva.