Ayurveda is an ancient science, close to yoga in its understanding of the body, mind, and spirit. According to Ayurvedic medicine, anxiety and depression are reflective of an imbalance in one of the doshas – in this case, the Vata dosha.
Vata dosha is part of the system conceptualized by ancient seers who believed that the human form is made up of energy and mass from five different elements: Space or Ether, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth.
Your personality – the way you tended to be even as a small child – is said to be created from a combination of these elements. Some people will display more fire in their personalities with lots of get-up-and-go, for example, and others might seem more water-based – happy to just flow with whatever comes along, and without any real burning desire to do anything in particular.
The doshas, and their respective influences are outlined clearly in the following chart:
|Dosha||Element||Qualities When Balanced||Qualities When Imbalanced|
|Kapha – These people usually have a larger build, strong, pale skin, thick hair and dislike cold.||Water and Earth are Dominant||Clam Mind, Reflective personality, Nurturing, Compassionate, Very patient||Greedy, Envious, Tendency toward jealousy, Holds grudges, Difficult time letting go|
|To support Kapha dosha, eat four small meals spaced equally apart and rise early. Get moderate exercise. Avoid dairy, fried foods, and iced drinks.||Kapha dosha is supported by the seasons of late Winter and early Spring, and is governed primarily by the moon/rain.||Positive aspects for the Kapha influence in the body include building of muscles, supporting the reproductive system, fats, fluids, and immune system.||Imbalance in Kapha appears in the body as congestion, sinus problems, lethargy, obesity and allergies.|
|Pitta – This dosha dislikes hot weather, they have fair or reddish hair, and lighter complexions.||Fire and Water are dominant elements.||Pitta people are intelligent, discerning, and can focus intently when they are balanced.||When out of balance they can be hateful, angry, hot-tempered, jealous and controlling.|
|To balance Pitta stay out of the heat. Meditate later in the day just before bed. Avoid salty, oily foods.||Pitta is supported by the Summer and late Spring. It is dominated by the sun.||Pitta supports the brain, eyes, blood, skin and heart in the body.||When out of balance, Pitta problems will display in the body as hypertension, fever, acid reflux, migraines, endometriosis, etc.|
|Vata – These people have the slightest build. Often they will also have small or crooked teeth and dry hair. They dislike cold weather.||Air and Space are dominant elements.||In a balanced Vata spiritual intelligence and creativity are high. They can be tranquil though a bit restless.||Imbalance in Vata shows as anxiousness, depression, fear, poor memory, and excessive worry.|
|To support Vata avoid cold, raw foods. Eat nourishing, warm meals four times a day. Take an afternoon nap between 2-4 in a place that isn’t drafty.||This dosha is ruled by Winter and Fall. The wind is a primary force.||Vata is responsible for blood flow, nerve impulse and fast actions in our bodies.||Vata out of balance will appear in the body as dry skin, constipation, pneumonia, arthritis, and hyperactivity.|
Once we understand the basic doshas, we can then begin to look at how anxiety was formed. When we support Vata, we can ease anxiety and support our creative, spiritual evolution.
- Start the Day Right. The first step is to create consistency in your schedule. You will want to start they day stress-free. For inward balance, you need to establish outer tranquility. If the body doesn’t know when it gets to sleep, or when it gets to eat, it can throw it into a cycle of stress and worry. Though routine’s can always be shaken up for fun, you should try to maintain an early-to-bed, early-to-rise habit, eat consistently, three healthy meals a day (minimally), and make sure you get exercise at least five times a week, also at a consistent time. You can add additional self-care practices to lessen anxiety, but just giving yourself the luxury of a consistent schedule can ease Vata greatly. If you need an idea of what a healthy daily schedule looks like, check one out at Svastha Ayurveda.
- De-clutter Your Space. Your environment will always reflect your state of mind. If you are surrounded by unopened mail, clothes you never wear, and a generally-chaotic home or office, you can’t really expect to calm anxiety with much success. Clutter is similar in its harmful effects to multi-tasking. It hurts your brain, and can even make you age faster. It certainly contributes to stress and anxiety! If you aren’t sure where to start, Leo Babauta at Zen Habits recommends 18 different 5-minute decluttering tips. Or you can be generous while cleaning up your act. Colleen Madsen at 365 Less Things gives away one item each day.
- Walk Every Single Day. A brisk, ten minute walk activates soothing neurons in the brain. Though almost any exercise can be good for relieving anxiety and depression, Ayurvedic practitioners believe that walking offers a special combination of calm, and stimulation that our nervous systems really need.
- Spend Time in Nature. This single practice cannot be stressed enough to help reduce anxiety. From an Ayurvedic perspective, anxiety is a stimulating force, that spending time in nature helps to calm. A University of Minnestoa study, among numerous others, proves that spending just a few hours a week in nature can reduce anger, fear, and stress. It changes how your endocrine system works, and boosts immune functioning. It also calms a busy mind, and induces feelings of peace and calm.
- Skip the Raw Food Diet. When we are stressed, our Vata is out of balance. Though raw, cold foods and beverages can be tasty in the summer, and are generally healthy, from an Ayurvedic perspective, you need lots of warm, hot foods cooked well with healthy oils and spices. You can follow a Vata pacifying diet and see if you experience any changes in your anxiety levels. Some soothing options are oatmeal, buckwheat groats, and quinoa porridge.
- Practice Abhyanga (Ayurvedic Massage with Built-in Aromatherpay). In the famous books of the Charaka, Ayurvedic massage was given great importance as a means to heal imbalances in the nervous system. It was so revered that warriors would even undergo massage as part of their training to help fortify them before battle. Though you hopefully don’t have to prepare to fight in hand-to-hand combat, daily living in the modern world can feel like going into battle. When we practice self-massage with Ayurvedic oils like refined warm sesame, infused with lavender, bergamot, or other herbal medicines, the entire body becomes happy and balanced. You can learn how to practice Ayurvedic self-massage, here.
- Use Ginger and Baking Soda in Your Bath. A warm bath is one of the easiest ways to calm frazzled nerves, and anxious thoughts. By adding 1/3 cup of dry or powdered ginger and 1/3 cup of baking soda to your bath, you can further support the relaxation response. You may also want to add additional healing oils such as rose, lavender, or tulsi. Turn down the lights, and allow your body to release into the water. For even more profound results, practice self-massage first followed by a warm bath.
- Practice Restorative Yoga. Many western yoga classes are great for getting the heart pumping, and burning calories, but when we are anxious and depressed, we need deep, slow, calming, restorative yoga. Restorative yoga will focus on just five or six postures or asana in an entire class, instead of doing sun salutations, or other, more vigorous practices. It can take the body up to five minutes to fully release tension in any yoga posture we practice, so allowing ourselves time to relax into a pose in a restorative or yin-based yoga class is the best method of supporting Vata.
- Meditate. The nervous system responds completely differently to stress when we meditate. There are both immediate and long-term neurological changes that happen to the brain when we meditate too, making it easier for us to deal with life’s stressors.
- Breathe 10 Deep Belly Breaths, 10 Times a Day. Shallow breathing is both caused by, and perpetuated by anxiety and stress. If you take just ten truly deep breaths, as many times as you can remember to every day, stress hormones are diminished, and anxious feelings begin to disappear. Even physical pain can be lessened by deep breathing. Correct diaphragmatic breathing also helps with emotional pain and Vata imbalance.
- Take Medicated Ghee – Ghee is a cornerstone to Ayurvedic healing. Majja Ghrita, or medicated ghee has been specifically formulated with herbs to help treat disorders of the nervous system/stress and imblanaced Vata. The ghee acts as a vehicle to absorb the herbs, and then move them beyond the blood-brain barrier, to directly affect the mind and its neurochemistry. 1 tsp of Majja Ghrita, 2 to 3 times daily after meals can be extremely healing.