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Ayurveda Approach to Treating Stress
These are truly stressful times we live in. Body, mind, heart and spirit are all subjected to the ravages of day-to-day stress. Worries about security, economic difficulties, emotional trauma-stressors like these can take a toll on health and longevity if not addressed in a timely fashion.
To be effective in treating stress, it's important to be specific. With the Maharishi Ayurveda approach, we always try to target the etiological (causal) factors and then bring that area into balance. But we are careful not to create imbalance in other areas that may produce negative side effects.
There are three different manifestations of day-to-day stress from the perspective of Maharishi Ayurveda - mental, emotional, and physical. Each requires different approaches and therapies.
Mental stress, according to ayurveda, is caused by an overuse or misuse of the mind. For instance, if you perform intense mental work many hours a day, or if you work long hours on the computer, it can cause an imbalance in Prana Vata, the mind-body operator concerned with brain activity, energy and the mind. The first symptom of Prana Vata imbalance is losing the ability to handle day-to-day stress. As the person becomes more stressed, it impacts mental functions such as dhi, dhriti, and smriti-acquisition, retention, and recall. The person's mind becomes hyperactive, yet the person loses the ability to make clear decisions, to think positively, to feel enthusiastic, and even to fall asleep at night.
To address day-to-day mental stress, it is important to begin by managing mental activity. Secondly, you can take measures to pacify Prana Vata, for example, by:
Favoring Vata-balancing foods, such as sweet, sour, and salty tastes.
Favoring warm milk and other light dairy products
Performing a full-body warm oil self-massage everyday
It is important to get plenty of rest, and if you are having trouble falling sleep, avoid stimulants like caffeine and sip on herbal tea instead. Relaxing aromatherapy and meditation can help calm the mind.
Emotional stress can be caused by a problem in a relationship, the loss of a relative, or any situation that might hurt the heart. Emotional stress shows up as irritability, depression, and emotional instability. It affects sleep in a different way than mental stress - it can cause you to wake up in the night and not be able to go back to sleep.
Emotional stress disturbs Sadhaka Pitta, the mind-body operator concerned with the emotions and functioning of the heart. To balance emotional stress, you need to favor Pitta-pacifying foods and routine, such as:
Eating lots of sweet juicy fruits
Favoring Pitta-pacifying foods such as the sweet, bitter and astringent tastes.
Drinking a cup of warm milk with cooling rose petal preserve before bed
Cooking with cooling spices such as cardamom, coriander, cilantro, and mint
A daily self-massage with a cooling oil such as coconut oil
Going to bed before 10:00 p.m.
Physical stress is caused by misuse or overuse of the body, such as exercising too much or working for extended periods at a job that is physically taxing. This can cause a person to experience physical fatigue, along with mental fogginess, difficulty in concentrating, and dullness of the mind.
Excessive physical strain causes three sub-doshas to go out of balance: Shleshaka Kapha, the subdosha concerned with lubrication of the joints and moisture balance in the skin, Vyana Vata, which governs the circulation, nerve impulses and the sense of touch, and Tarpaka Kapha, which governs the neuro humors.
Another reason for physical stress can be too little exercise, which results in a sluggish digestion and the formation of ama, the digestive impurities that clog the channels. In either type of physical fatigue, the process of regenerating cells slows down, and thus the cells themselves become physically tired.
The solution is to balance Vata and to support Kapha to make the body more stable and nurturing, for example, by:
Getting adequate rest and moderate exercise
Following a Vata-Kapha pacifying diet
Performing the full-body warm oil self massage everyday
Certain foods are natural stress busters according to ayurveda. These include walnuts, almonds, coconut, sweet juicy, seasonal fruit such as pears, apples (cooked if possible), milk, and fresh cheeses such as panir or ricotta.
On the other hand, if you build your resilience to stress through natural methods, you can begin to experience stressors more as a challenge or a positive opportunity for growth. If you learn to evoke the 'stay and play' rather than the 'fight or flight' response, you can truly live a stress-free life of self-actualization, and become a 'spiritual being' in human form.
Note: Vata, Pitta and Kapha are the three psycho-physiological ayurvedic principles that govern all the activities of the mind and body. A person enjoys perfect health if these principles are in perfect balance.