Sunday, July 4, 2010

Ayurvedic Psychology

The ancient system of Ayurveda offers a holistic approach to mental health that integrates the mind, body and soul. Sushruta defines health as "Svasthya" -a state of total biological equilibrium, where the sensory, mental, emotional and spiritual elements are harmoniously balanced. This shows that ancient Ayurvedic physicians have given their attention to physical health as well as mental health. Ayurveda defines mental health as a state of mental, intellectual and spiritual well-being.
"Sama dosha sama agnishca - Sama dhatu malah kriya
Prasannatmendriya manah - Swasta ityabhidiyate"
World Health Organization defines mental health as a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.

There is a great theory in Ayurveda about mind. The ancient classical ayurvedic expert, Charaka places the mind in the heart though other texts locate it at the head and the navel. These various views are considered complementary rather than contradictory. The mind is functionally divided into ahankara (ego), ichha (desire, will) and buddhi. Ichha, directed by ahankara, controls the mind. Buddhi, or the intellect, takes the decisions.
There are three gunas (sattva, rajas, tamas) of mind that connected to tridosha in ayurveda. The ideal state of mind is sattvic, marked by equanimity. An agitated mind is in the rajasic state, while the lethargic and gloomy mind is in the grips of tamas.
Further describing, Sattva is the quality of clarity and purity. When our minds are sattvic, or pure, there is a natural innate connection between ourselves and God. With this awareness, our highest most virtuous qualities manifest.
Rajas is a state of activity and distraction where we forget our true nature as spirit and get wrapped up in the dramas of our lives. As a result we get caught in the experience of emotion and the challenging feelings of fear, worry, anxiety, anger, resentment, and attachment.  When rajas dominates the mind & this imbalance more pronounced, hyperactivity, anxiety, insomnia & inability to concentrate can manifest.
Tamas is a state of darkness and inertia. In this state of being, not only are we unaware of our connection with God or spirit, but we spiral down into our own darkness and become harmful to ourselves or others. With our darker nature being dominant, we take actions such as violence or vindictive behaviors, or possibly addiction and suicide. When tamas dominates the mind, the result is lethargy, depression, dullness, negitivity & lack of motility.
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When we think of Freudian theory of mind, Id, ego, and super-ego are the three parts of the psychic apparatus. They are the three theoretical constructs in terms of whose activity and interaction mental life is described. According to this model of the psyche, the Id is the set of uncoordinated instinctual trends; the ego is the organised, realistic part; and the super-ego plays the critical and moralising role.
Concept of mental illness in Ayurveda:
Bhutavidya is the special branch of psychiatry in Ayurveda dealing with mental diseases.
The accumulation of toxins in the body is termed ama. Psychologically, ama arises from holding on to negative emotions and undigested experiences.
It is said in Ayurveda that Rajas and Tamas are the causes of disease. The actions taken and the emotions felt by the rajasic and tamasic mind upset the balance of the three Doshas -Vata, Pitta and Kapha, thus leading to physical disease. Sattva is the sole cause of health. Disease cannot affect the sattvic person--the one who has awakened into the light, therefore we could say that disease is the end result of forgetting our true nature as spirit.
Charaka describes eight essential psychological factors that are negatively affected in various ways in all psychiatric disorders. The psychopathological condition is a function of these factors, which are;
  • manas (mind)
  • buddhi
  • smriti (memory)
  • sajna jnana (orientation and responsiveness)
  • bhakti (devotion)
  • shila (habits)
  • cheshta (psychomotor activity)
  • achara (conduct).
Signs of Mental Health as per Ayurveda:
o Good memory
o Taking the right food at the right time
o Awareness of one's responsibilities
o Awareness of the self and beyond self
o Maintaining cleanliness and hygiene
o Doing things with enthusiasm
o Cleverness and discrimination
o Being brave
o Perseverance
o Maintaining cheerfulness irrespective of the situation
o Fearlessness in facing situations
o Sharp intellectual functioning
o Self-sufficiency
o Following a good value system
o Ability to proceed steadfastly against all odds
Primary psychological conditions caused purely by mental disorders:
Kama (lust), krodha (anger), lobh (greed), moha (delusion), irshya (jealousy), mana (pride), mada (euphoria), shoka (sorrow, grief), chinta (anxiety), udvega (neurosis), bhaya (fear), harsha (happiness).
The psychiatric conditions caused by a combination of physical and mental (psycho-physical) disorders:
Unmada (psychosis), apasmara (convulsive disorder), apatantraka (hysteria), atattvabhinvesha (obsession), bhrama (illusion, vertigo), tandra (drowsiness), klama (neurasthenia), mada-murchha-sanyasa (loss of sensory perception leading to coma), madatyaya (alcoholism), gadodvega (hypochondriasis).
The third classification consists of prakriti or personality disorders. There are sixteen manasa prakriti (psychological personality) representing sixteen types of behavioral traits.
 Other conditions are buddhimandya or mental retardation of varying degrees, jara-janya-manasa vikara (psychiatric problems of the aged or gerontological disorders), and manodaihika vyadhis or psychosomatic diseases where the cause of disease is mental but the manifestation is somatic.
Ayurvedic Treatment Methods:
Ayurveda has widely described prevention methods of physical & mental illnesses. Those are dinacharya (daily) and ritucharya (seasonal activities), involving diet (ahara tatva), vyayam (exercise), meditaion and virtuous qualities (sadvrutta).
Ayurveda prescribes the ayurvedic daily routine, beginning with abhyanga (oil massage), which removes toxins and stimulates the flow of natural intelligence in the body. Transcendental Meditation that dissolves deep-rooted stress and promotes harmony, creativity and clarity of mind through bliss consciousness, is an essential component of this routine. A proper diet in tune with the ayurvedic body type is also important.
Ayurveda has a comprehensive system of curative medicine too. Ayurveda classifies herbs with a stabilizing effect on the mind as 'medhya rasayanas'. These herbs promote the intellect and deeply nourish the neurological tissues. 
Especially in the system of Traditional Medicine in SriLanka, there is a special field for Traditional Psychiatry. Today the speciality of Ayurveda in SriLanka is that the SriLankan Ayurvedic physicians practice a combination of both traditional & Ayurvedic system which is very effective.

Dr. Indunil Weerarathne


  1. I love the quote widget on right of your page!!

  2. Many thanks GvSparx. Please keep in touch with Ayu SriLanka!

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