Every disease starts with the mind. And stress resulting from one’s mental battles can set them off.
June 21st was the International Day of Yoga. It’s one of my favorite days: watching people take care of themselves brings me joy. I have been practicing yoga for close to two decades. The days I don’t want to practice are the days I need it the most. After a yoga session, I feel my mood improve, and my fatigue levels reduce. This is particularly relevant when I am battling jet lag or travel exhaustion or caregiving responsibilities. Or even burnout at work or grieving the loss of my dad and father-in-law. You see the element of mental connection?
The core focus of my work as a writer, teacher, coach, speaker, Ayurvedic practitioner, and yogi is empowering people’s mental and emotional well-being. Because Ayurveda will tell you that every disease — no matter how big or small — starts with the mind. Unresolved emotions and mental ama (toxins) can cause an array of health issues.
I have seen high-performing clients develop lifestyle-induced or other diseases, despite eating organic foods and working out five days a week. The more closely I worked with them, the more it became apparent that they hadn’t attended to their emotional and mental needs. Stress at work or home. Unaddressed anger. Shutting down in the face of conflict. Unspoken words. All of these impacted their mental wellness.
The Ayurveda-Yoga Connection
Ayurveda and yoga are considered sister sciences. In fact, an authentic Ayurveda practitioner is also a true yogi with a daily practice of yoga asanas, pranayama, and meditation. Any good yoga teacher should have the basic knowledge of Ayurveda. So they can design classes, suggest asanas/ pranayama, and create sequences according to seasons. For example, a persona battling high anxiety often benefits from practicing nadi shodhana pranayama.
How Does Yoga Help?
Yoga is more than holding poses and sharing selfies in new leggings on social media. Practicing yoga emphasizes the connection between our minds and our bodies. It encourages you to use both at the same time. The first study of yoga in people with psychological conditions appeared in the Journal of the Yoga Institute in 1971. It reported on improvements in symptoms of patients with anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia.
Yoga can lower anxiety, reduce stress, lower depression, increase flexibility, help with insomnia, sharpen focus, allow the flow of prana, balances hormones, and creates a sense of belonging. Yoga can also help survivors of violence, veterans, active-duty military with PTSD. I teach yoga to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, as well as incarcerated men and women. In the 60 minutes we spend together, I have seen the relief on their faces as stress leaves their minds and bodies.
Evidence-Based Research About Yoga
According to an article in Harvard Health, “All exercise can boost your mood by lowering levels of stress hormones, increasing the production of feel-good chemicals known as endorphins, and bringing more oxygenated blood to your brain. But yoga may have additional benefits. It can affect mood by elevating levels of a brain chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is associated with better mood and decreased anxiety.”
A Personal Story
Working with a new client , I realized something. Their untold stories, unresolved anger, self-created isolation, and victim mindset were the root causes of their health issues. In the U.S., Ayurvedic doctors and practitioners don’t diagnose their rogis or clients. So, you observe, ask questions, do tongue analysis, read the pulse, and rely on other modalities to find doshic imbalances, and make recommendations. But Ayurveda does consider the root cause of every disease. This client’s mental health is not optimal given her life situation.
Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist, once wrote, “The absence of mental illness doesn’t mean the presence of mental health.”
My client hasn’t been diagnosed with any mental health diseases. But she is struggling with accepting her divorce when she was the one who asked for it. She is unable to handle the end of a 30-year-old relationship when she felt it was beginning to suffocate her. She feels stuck and like a victim even though she proactively planned to end the marriage. Her kids are upset with her, and she believes her friends picked her husband’s side. She has developed digestive issues and insomnia. Her energy levels are low. She feels unmotivated to eat right or live mindfully. The combination of the above factors has created a host of issues for her.
Among other things, yoga teaches us acceptance. Once we learn to accept our situation, we channelize our energy better. The exhaustion lessens and our stress goes down. Lowered stress leads to reduced anxiety/depression and better quality of sleep. If we feel mentally and emotionally centered, we make better diet and lifestyle choices. Ayurveda considers the integration of mind-body-consciousness whenever it considers any illness.
We are working together on her diet and lifestyle to relieve her of physical discomfort. We are what we eat, and what we digest impacts everything. This is another nugget of wisdom per Ayurveda to address mental health. There are three mahagunas in Ayurveda and yoga: sattva, rajas, and tamas. I help bring her more sattva — the calm, centered, grateful, kind, positive mindset — through diet and lifestyle management.
Through asana, pranayama, and meditation I’m helping her increase self-awareness, work on mental clarity, reduce chronic stress patterns, and enhance her self-healing. We are also working on non-attachment. Non-attachment is not indifference. It’s not removing yourself from the current situation that is bringing you down or making you feel alone and low. Non-attachment is about acknowledgment, perspective, flexibility, and acceptance that we cannot control things. Actions have consequences, which isn’t a bad thing. But it is real. It’s about becoming freer, understanding impermanence, focusing on self-reliance, and experiencing unconditional love.
I urge you to start a yoga practice. Your mental health is just as important as nourishing your physical well-being. The best way to learn yoga is with a qualified teacher, either in a private session or in a group. A yoga teacher can help avoid injuries and customize a program that addresses your needs. Also consult an Ayurveda expert because that ancient science focuses heavily on prevention of diseases.
“Yoga is a way to freedom. By its constant practice, we can free ourselves from fear, anguish and loneliness.” ~ Indra Devi
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 nursing, taking medications, or have a medical condition, please consult with your health care practitioner prior to the use of any of these herbs. If you are looking for advice from a trained yogi and Ayurvedic coach, contact Sweta Vikram here. Deshmukh DK. Yoga in management of psychoneurotic, psychotic and psychosomatic conditions J Yoga Inst. 1971;16:154–8