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Coping With Loss

Apr/14/2024 / by Sweta Vikram

An Ayurvedic explanation for why grief processing is unique for all

Young South Asian woman looking sad
Photo via Shutterstock

I have been doing a lot of magazine and podcast interviews as well as grief workshops in relation to my new book, “The Loss That Binds Us”. I did an interview with an NPR host where she asked me to speak about self-care, grief, compassion, women’s health, and aging from an Ayurvedic perspective. Another podcast interviewer in Costa Rica asked about Ayurveda’s views on grief and why the grieving process looks different on each person.

Remember the last time a crisis hit you and you endured grief? Grief doesn’t discriminate. It’s the after effect of any kind of loss. Someone broke your heart, you lost a work opportunity, a friendship ended, a health crisis consumed you, a loved one passed away, or you had to give up your dream job, home, friendship, or partnership? It’s all loss of different kinds. So is any situation that ungrounds you completely.

If you are an adult, grief has visited you. Grief is the emotional suffering we feel when something or someone we love is taken away. The intensity and duration of pain you feel will differ from one situation to another. This means the heartache from losing a bet at a football game versus the pain from the death of a loved one will be different. 

Notice how everyone in the situation responds differently, whether your parents, sibling, partner, or best friend. Grief is unique to an individual and so is their grieving process. Some take charge, some shut down, some make nasty comments, some can’t be still, some have a hard time moving on.

People often ask how and why am I calm and composed in chaotic situations where others can’t keep it together? Over the years, between personal losses and challenging circumstances at work, I have been forced to engage in profound contemplations. I learned that I am a natural problem solver, disciplined, a storyteller who can diffuse tension, and am reliable in moments of crisis. Despite being an emotional person, I can be very practical.

Grief in a Pitta Individual

In Ayurveda speak, those are all traits of a pitta-dominant person. Pittas are born leaders, full of energy, dependable, focused, and they thrive in challenging settings. Even when it comes to grief and loss, you will rarely see me sitting in a corner, waiting for someone to take charge, or wanting people to console me. I am stern yet stable—neither can you walk over me, nor can you emotionally blackmail me with your bad behavior. Pittas are ambitious doers, so even in crisis, they can build boundaries and achieve whatever they set their mind to.

If my pitta gets imbalanced, the short fuse, sharp tongue, and mind filled with judgment will start to make a guest appearance. For some pitta individuals it might be diarrhea or acid reflux or hives or skin rashes that appear as the intensity of their emotions overgrows. The doshic imbalance manifests in both the mind and body.

Grief in a Vata Individual

Have you noticed that with certain people, anxiety gets worse during moments of crisis? Those are mostly vata individuals. The people who shake their legs while sitting are exhibiting signs of vata aggravation. Some people might develop erratic sleep and irregular appetite during grief cycles. I have heard people even complain about constipation. My mom-in-law soothes her sternum rhythmically and will say, “Bahut ghabrahat ho rahi hai.” (I am feeling restless and nervous).

My father’s anxiety would show up as mind chatter. His mind would fabricate stories as vata thrives on fear. Vata’s gunas or qualities include mobility, lightness, roughness, and dryness amongst others. I have a colleague whose response to grief is making abrasive comments and building a container around herself to remain unattached to anyone. See how the qualities of the dosha show up in her personality?

Grief in a Kapha Individual

There are people who are loving and nurturing in general but when calamity strikes, they turn numb, dull, immobile, stuck, and shut down. Now those are the kaphas. Someone dear to me, who is predominantly kapha, exhibits classic signs of Kapha response to grief—stagnation. When grief strikes, she will cease all communication, alienate herself, and become excessively attached to the situation. She turns to food as a coping mechanism, which further aggravates the lethargy, heaviness, and dullness in her.

Grief is associated with kapha, so it makes sense that even engaging with her can pull you down. My mom would tell me about a woman who turned her house into a museum filled with her dead father’s clothing and shoes. Decades after his passing, she still couldn’t let go or accept a healthy way to process his end or her grief. Excessive attachment is a sign of kapha imbalance.

Ayurvedic Doshas and Gunas and Their Impact on Grief

The one thing I remind everyone who wants to talk to me about grief, grieving, and healing is that I love the Ayurvedic lens on grief. It will tell you that the mahagunas or attributes of the mind matter just as much as the constitution or Ayurvedic doshas.

Just as each of us is born with a unique ratio of vata, pitta, and kapha doshas in our constitution, we are also born with a distinctive proportion of mahagunasor mental qualities of human beings that are sattva (purity), rajas, (activity) and tamas (darkness and destruction). The mahagunas are how we relate to circumstances, both everyday ones and unexpected ones. Grief is no exception. 

For example, pitta dosha can be equated to rajas and kapha can be like tamas, especially when out of balance. This helps an Ayurvedic doctor do an analysis of the client’s mind-body-energy state and offer them help for their grief.

What’s beautiful about Ayurveda is that it’s a compassionate, living science that empowers you to accept people for who they are and meet them at a conducive emotional point versus expecting them to be a version you’d like and approve of. 

“Ayurveda is not just about nutrition or herbology, it has a unique tool for diagnosis, diagnosis of understanding the human constitution is different from person to person. Each one has a unique metabolic system.” ~ Maya Tiwari

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional. If you are looking for advice from a trained yogi and ayurvedic doctor, contact the author here.

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