Ayurveda for Mental Health

Table of Contents

In our fast-paced world, mental health issues have become increasingly prevalent. While modern medicine offers valuable treatments, alternative approaches are also gaining recognition. Ayurveda, a traditional Indian system of medicine, provides a holistic framework for promoting mental well-being. 

With a history spanning over 5,000 years, Ayurveda offers a profound understanding of the mind-body connection and offers time-tested remedies and practices to restore balance and harmony. Here, we explore the principles of Ayurveda as they relate to mental health and highlight key strategies for nurturing mental well-being.

Understanding Ayurveda

 Ayurveda views mental health as integral to overall wellness, emphasizing the balance between mind, body, and spirit. According to Ayurveda, each individual possesses a unique constitution or dosha, comprising the elements of Vata (air and space), Pitta (fire and water), and Kapha (earth and water). Imbalances in these doshas are believed to contribute to mental health disorders. Ayurveda seeks to restore harmony by addressing the underlying imbalances.

Diet and Digestion

  • Regarding mental health, we often focus on therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. However, one point that is often overlooked is the impact of diet and digestion on our mental well-being. Ayurveda, an ancient Indian system of medicine, recognizes the deep connection between the mind and the gut and emphasizes the importance of a healthy digestive system for overall mental health.
  • According to Ayurveda, the digestive system is defined as the source of health, and strong digestion is essential for nutrient absorption and eliminating toxins from the body. When our digestion is compromised, undigested food, toxins, and metabolic waste can accumulate, affecting the mind and contributing to mental imbalances.
  • Ayurvedic principles suggest that a diet rich in fresh, whole foods is key to maintaining a healthy digestive system and promoting mental well-being. This includes consuming various fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Additionally, Ayurveda emphasizes the importance of eating mindfully in a calm and relaxed environment and chewing food thoroughly to aid digestion.
  • Certain Ayurvedic herbs and spices are also known for their beneficial effects on mental health. For example, ashwagandha, an adaptogenic herb, reduces stress, anxiety, and depression by supporting the body’s ability to adapt to stressors. Turmeric, with its active compound curcumin, has anti-inflammatory properties that may help alleviate symptoms of depression and improve overall brain health.

Herbal Remedies

Ayurveda utilizes many herbs and botanicals to support mental health. Some commonly used herbs include ashwagandha, brahmi, jatamansi, and shankhpushpi. These herbs are believed to have adaptogenic properties, helping the body and mind adapt to stress and aiding a sense of calm and relaxation. Ayurvedic formulations called “rasayanas” also enhance mental clarity and cognitive function.

  1. Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha, also known as Indian ginseng, is a renowned herb in Ayurveda for its adaptogenic properties. It promotes the body’s coping with stress and anxiety by regulating its stress response system. Ashwagandha also promotes better sleep quality, reducing insomnia and improving overall mental relaxation.
  2. Brahmi: Brahmi is an herb known for its cognitive-enhancing properties. It supports memory, concentration, and mental clarity. Brahmi also helps alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression by calming the mind and enhancing the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that controls mood.
  3. Jatamansi: Jatamansi is often used in Ayurveda to promote a sense of tranquility and calm. It acts as a natural sedative, helping to reduce anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia. Jatamansi also has neuroprotective properties, which can help defend the brain from oxidative stress and improve cognitive function.
  4. Tulsi (Holy Basil): Tulsi, considered a sacred plant in India, has numerous health benefits, including its positive impact on mental health. It is known for its adaptogenic and anti-anxiety properties, helping to reduce stress and enhance mental clarity. Tulsi tea or supplements can promote a relaxed state of mind.
  5. Shankhpushpi: Shankhpushpi is an herb used in Ayurveda to enhance cognitive function and memory. It also reduces anxiety and nervousness and improves overall mental agility. Shankhpushpi is often consumed as a herbal tea or in supplement form.

Incorporating herbal remedies from Ayurveda into your mental health routine can provide natural and holistic support for emotional well-being. While these herbal remedies have been used for centuries, consulting with a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner or healthcare professional is important to ensure safety and efficacy before starting any new herbal regimen. Embrace the wisdom of Ayurveda and nurture your mental health naturally with these time-tested herbal remedies.

Yoga and Meditation

  •  Yoga, a Sanskrit term meaning “union,” combines physical postures (asanas), controlled breathing (pranayama), and meditation techniques to enhance mental clarity and relaxation. Regular practice of Yoga helps reduce anxiety, stress, and depression by calming the mind and releasing tension from the body. It improves the flow of energy, known as prana, through various channels in the body, promoting emotional stability and mental resilience.
  • Meditation, another integral part of Ayurvedic tradition, involves training the mind to reach a state of deep concentration and mindfulness. Meditation cultivates self-awareness, reduces negative thought patterns, and promotes emotional well-being by focusing the mind on a specific object, mantra, or breath. Scientific studies have observed that regular meditation can improve attention span, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and increase feelings of happiness.
  • Ayurveda, the traditional Indian system of medicine, complements Yoga and meditation by providing a personalized approach to mental health. Ayurvedic treatments, including herbal remedies, dietary adjustments, and lifestyle modifications, aim to restore balance and harmony to the mind and body.
  • Combining Yoga, meditation, and Ayurveda creates a holistic approach to mental health, addressing the root causes rather than just alleviating symptoms. By integrating these practices into one’s daily routine, individuals can experience improved mental clarity, reduced stress levels, enhanced emotional resilience, and a greater sense of well-being.
  • It is important to remember that Yoga, meditation, and Ayurveda are not quick fixes but require commitment and regular practice. Seeking guidance from qualified teachers or Ayurvedic practitioners can help tailor these practices to individual needs and ensure their safe and effective implementation.

Lifestyle Recommendations

Ayurveda recognizes the importance of a balanced lifestyle in maintaining mental health. It encourages individuals to establish daily routines, known as “dinacharya,” which include practices such as waking up early, oil massage, regular exercise, and adequate sleep. Ayurveda also emphasizes the need for self-care and stress management techniques, such as aromatherapy, gentle massages, and spending time in nature.

Ayurveda offers a comprehensive approach to mental health, addressing the root causes of imbalances and promoting overall well-being. By adopting Ayurvedic principles, individuals can nurture their mental health through a harmonious blend of diet, herbal remedies, Yoga, meditation, and lifestyle practices. However, it is essential to remember that Ayurveda should complement, not replace, conventional medical treatments. It is preferable to consult with a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner or healthcare professional before embarking on any Ayurvedic regimen. With its holistic perspective and centuries-old wisdom, Ayurveda continues to inspire and guide individuals toward mental wellness and inner peace.

Here we discuss this with Natalie Bondine, a yoga teacher, to get her thoughts on this topic.

Shirodhara For Mental Health

NourishDoc: Hello, everyone. The mental health all of us have been going through some anxiety and stress for the last couple of years, and that’s why we wanted to bring up the topic of how Ayurveda can help with mental health. Well, Natalie is joining me live from Australia, and she is a yoga teacher and a Marma specialist. So she will demonstrate simple techniques that Ayurveda uses for mental health, like Shirodhara. Namaste, and thank you so much, Natalie, for joining me.

Yoga Teacher Natalie: Thank you so much. I’m thrilled to talk about one of my favorite therapies, Shirodhara. However, I think more specifically about mental health this morning because really the last two years have shown us more than ever the importance of our mental health, our mental well-being regardless of anything that’s going on in the world, and so I think Ayurveda offers us so many solutions that are very practical to help us come back into the body. When we return to this place of stillness in the body, healing can occur. Mental health is key to all healing and is where we need it.

NourishDoc: Okay, so let’s talk specifically about Shirodhara, right? Because we want to understand what does it do? How does Shirodhara help our nervous system? We want to understand the mechanics of basically Shirodhara.

Yoga Teacher Natalie: Well, I have the Shirodhara pot here. So, this is an ancient therapy. It’s been in the Ayurveda practice for thousands of years. It’s a combination of physical therapy via oil and a copper vessel; sometimes, they’re made out of brass or other metals, held above the client lying face up on a specially designed table.

Warm herbalized oils are placed in the vessel and allowed to gently stream down through this opening onto the Ajna chakra and different places on the forehead. It’s multi; I would say it’s a multi-facet approach with Shirodhara because it’s not just about the warm oil and the medicated oils but also about the very gentle rhythm of the oil on all of these beautiful points through the head through the temple through the skull, a little bit like acupuncture.

Yeah, most of us in the west understand acupuncture more than marma. But marma is a very similar point in the body that can either pacify or activate our energy and bring a certain amount of stillness or calmness. So the Shirodhara treatment has many effects, not just on the oil but the percussion of the oil.

So the client is lying there for around 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the energy and what’s happening in the body. It’s you could say it’s a passive form of meditation allowing this sometimes two active minds, particularly over the last couple of years of this stress, that we’re all feeling collectively to come to the point of stillness, to come back really to our center, through the gentle rhythm of the body. Did that explain a little bit?

Types of Oils & Applications

NourishDoc: Yeah, that’s good. So, the next step is, what type of oils, that you use for this procedure? That’s number one, and number 2 is, are you going to heat it or not, or what is that you said 20 minutes, but is it the duration is 20 minutes, and how often can someone do this particular type of therapy?

Yoga Teacher Natalie: Well, Shirodhara is part of a bigger body of therapies in Ayurveda called Panchakarma. So it’s one of many options we can use, particularly for this Vata Constitution. You’ve probably heard the word Vata from many of the people here. You know Vata is the wind element, and when we think too much, we have this wind that is out of control.

So we want to use something very nourishing for this air-like quality. So we warm the oils and herbalized oils and choose them specifically to what the client is present. We generally have the oils around body temperatures simply because it feels much more comfortable. We might mix these oils with either sesame if you tend to be more Vata, so that’s if you’re quick like the wind. It would help if you pacified that overactive vata, and then for some clients coming in, they might be super hot, quite fast, because Pitta also has a quick quality, but they have heat.

So we want to calm that heat down; letting too much heat rising can also give us, so we use oils that are more specific for pitta constitution. So coconut depends on the climate that we’re in because coconut is cooling, and coconut grows in the tropics. So nature always gives us a clue as to the kind we will use. So hot climate, hot head, may be mixed with other medicinal oils. Cooler climate, with lots of air blowing. Vata, we need nourishment.

So you asked about the timing to warm oils and the qualities of oils with more gentle heating. The timing is also key in this therapy because different constitutions can, can we say, lay more comfortably for a certain amount of time, you know, vata people tend to relax. Once they start moving into that parasympathetic nervous system, they can relax.

But we need the oil to be longer flowing through these points. If they’re hot and fiery, Pitta people may only like to be on the table for up to 20 or 30 minutes. So, we adjust the timing of the treatment according to the constitution, which is the difference. Otherwise, we can aggravate the very thing that someone paid for.

Self-Care of Mental Health

NourishDoc: Okay, so, I think that makes sense, and then I think, something else, I mean, this is a quick, short, ten-minute, five-minute interview that we do, you know, daily, we are talking about how Shirodhara can help come under a system, and I just wanted to mention that there is solid research that also validates the efficacy of Shirodhara. I was reading, you know, before an interview today. Is there anything else that you can add to this before I wrap up the session today?

Yoga Teacher Natalie: Well, I think, you know, sometimes it’s not always practical to go and have Shirodhara depending on where you might be in the world, but this is something that you can do as a home practice just by understanding or maybe reaching out to your local Ayurveda practitioner and finding what your constitution is, what are the appropriate oils, and simply massaging your head with these oils or even a warm washcloth soaked in well and just letting it sit on the forehead for five or 10 minutes because in Ayurveda they say that our head is like the roots of a tree. So we want to nourish and give an oil-unctuous-like quality to the tree’s roots so that the tree can be strong and steady. So self-oily at home, super easy five or 10 minutes, and it will make a remarkable difference.

NourishDoc: Well, thank you so much. Just keeping your head with hot oil, as you said, and holding it for even once a week helps calm the nervous system if we cannot go to an Ayurvedic physician and get the proper Shirodhara done. That’s a great home remedy.

Well, thank you so much, Natalie, for being with us. This is a quick ten-minute tip that we wanted to bring about how you can calm your nervous system by using a simple Shirodhara at-home remedy with that namaste; Natalie, for being with us, and everyone, keep supporting us. We are launching a lot of cool programs. So, please keep supporting us. Thank you.


Have a Question?