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Ayurvedic Tips To Manage Anxiety

Feb/25/2024 / by Sweta Vikram

Use these simple yet effective practices to improve mental health

Young woman lying under shirodhara ayurveda pot
Photo via Shutterstock

Did you know that Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) affects 6.8 million adults or 3.1% of the U.S. population?[1] According to the American Psychiatric Association, women are more likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder compared to men.

Ayurveda and Mental Health

In Ayurveda, each dosha impacts our mental health. There are three main doshas or biological humors: vata, pitta, and kapha. Imbalanced vata creates anxiety, vitiated pitta shows up as anger, and kapha creates depression. It’s the permutation and combination of these doshas that determines your prakriti or unique constitution.

Your prakriti does not change during your whole life and is responsible for the characteristics in every individual. This prakriti is of seven types depending on the tridosha combination. Think of prakriti as your Ayurvedic DNA.

Ayurvedic Perspective on Anxiety

Anxiety, known as chittodvega in Ayurveda, is a result of imbalance of vata dosha. Simply put, pacification of vata will help in lowering anxiety. The nervous system is governed by the vata dosha. It regulates higher neural functions such as mental health and behavior. Vata also regulates the nervous system. To “treat” anxiety, a vata imbalance, the focus is to stabilize your energy. 

In the book “Ayurveda and the Mind” Dr. David Frawley writes, “Psychological disturbances occur with great frequency when vata is too high, which, as the nervous force, easily affects the mind. Lika vata, the mind is composed of the air and ether elements.”[2]

Cause of Anxiety: What Ayurveda Says

Vata is made up of two elements: air and space. The main qualities of vata are dry, light, cool, rough, subtle, and mobile. If you have a vata-predominant prakriti, it means these qualities will express themselves generously throughout your mental, emotional, and physical make up. Due to excess of air element, there will be instability and agitation in the mind. This might result in excessive thinking and worrying and blowing your problems out of proportion.

Or think of it another way. When vitiated vata accumulates in the channels of the mind or manovaha srotas, it constricts them. This would manifest as nervousness, fearfulness, anxiousness, and a sense of loneliness. When vata is aggravated, we feel ungrounded and unstable. 

How To Manage Anxiety The Ayurvedic Way

Coping with anxiety can be a challenge and often requires making diet and lifestyle changes. Ayurveda emphasizes that like increase likeMeaning, exposure to opposite qualities of vata—through diet, lifestyle, herb, relationships, and environment—will help stabilize it.

Think heavy, oily, warm, and nourishing foods, steady relationships, and stabilizing lifestyle.

Daily Routine

Vata is balanced by predictability and a healthy schedule. Eat vata-balancing foods (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) at the same times every day. Wake up and go to bed at the same time daily. Exercise should also be a part of your schedule, not an erratic activity that one performs at odd hours of the day.

Also, you need to cultivate a morning and evening ritual, following the ancient Ayurvedic concept of dinacharya, which is a daily ritual of self-care. According to Ayurveda, a daily routine utilizes our natural biological clock, per nature’s rhythm.

Try Pranayama

We know that we are nothing without breath. For a vata individual battling anxiety, they might have trouble slowing down their mind and breathing in a way that’s healing. One of the most effective pranayama or yogic art of breathing for vata imbalance is alternate nostril breathing. It balances both hemispheres of the brain and calms the mind. It reduces the mind chatter.

Practice Mindful Asanas

Yoga moves prana through the body, and the colon is the main seat of vata. Practice asanas that emphasize the pelvic region and colon to release tension from the hips, lumbar spine, and sacroiliac joint.

Do poses that are heating, slow-paced, and allow the release of stagnation and tension. Savasana is great for eliminating vata from the channels of the mind. Keep your exhalations longer than your inhalation.

Eat a Supportive Diet

Raw foods, cold foods, and difficult to digest meals further aggravate vata. Choose warm, nourishing, grounding, well-cooked, spiced, and freshly prepared meals. Avoid processed foods, caffeine, stimulants, stale foods, and refined sugars.

Treat Yourself to Abhyanga

This ancient practice of anointing yourself with warm oil from head to toe does wonders for lowering vata. During the colder months, Ayurveda would recommend using sesame oil and coconut oil for summers. Abhyanga calms the nervous system, lubricates joints, improves sleep, and improves circulation. Keeping a 20-minute gap between self-massage with warm oil and taking a warm bath is recommended.

Try Shirodhara

A traditional Ayurvedic therapy, shirodhara helps repair a distressed nervous system. In this therapy, a steady, gentle stream of warm oil is continuously poured over the forehead. According to Ayurveda, the gentle but constant pouring of warm oil stimulates healthy blood circulation to the brain and pituitary gland. It also eliminates toxins and can provide relief from symptoms of anxiety. Please don’t try this at home. Seek out a skilled Ayurvedic practitioner to help you with this technique.

Reduce the Mind Chatter

Ayurveda recognizes that the mind and body are connected. Taking care of your mind is just as important as taking care of your body. But if your vata is imbalanced, you might struggle in quieting your mind. Try japa mantra or mantra meditation or chanting. These forms of meditation help keep the mind calm and focused.

Explore Ayurvedic Herbs

Anxiety is a complex problem and, therefore there are no simple solutions. That said, there are Ayurvedic herbal remedies like ashwagandha, brahmi, and tulsi that can help. Caution: Please don’t purchase or take any Ayurvedic herbs without consulting with an Ayurvedic specialist first. Plant medicine is potent, and only an Ayurvedic practitioner can tell you if the herb is a fit for you and what dosage, period of usage, contraindications, you need to follow.

“Ayurvedic medicine is ancient, its resurgence is necessary because we do need the proper balance in our medical approach.” ~ Maya Tiwari

[1] https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics

[2] Ayurveda and the Mind: The Healing of Consciousness, Dr. David Frawley, Lotus Press; 1st edition, Page 154