How strong is your mind? This question is at the heart of Ayurvedic psychology. Because the mental strength and resilience of the individual determines whether and which psychotherapeutic interventions are appropriate for coping with crisis situations or psychological complaints.
In order to give a well-founded answer to the question of mental resilience, it is not only necessary to analyze the problem according to the situation. As a basis for an Ayurvedic coaching and treatment strategy, the individual constitution with its physical and psycho-mental imprints as well as family and religious imprints, educational background and social anamnesis are at least as important and are determined with the help of Ayurvedic psycho-diagnostics.
But now from the very beginning: Not many readers will know that the traditional Indian medicine of Ayurveda has its own system of psychology and psychotherapy. This is an important part of Ayurveda and Yoga and is called Sattvavajaya. Translated, the term can be described as the knowledge of Sattva. And Sattva is exactly the quality of mind which is responsible for mental health.
Ayurveda is more than Shirodhara and Masala
Unfortunately, Ayurvedic psychology is still relatively unknown in the West. Apart from oil massage, forehead oil application and spice mixtures (Masala), not much is known from Ayurveda in our society. Yet Ayurvedic medicine means a comprehensive system of therapies, including purification therapy and manual therapy, pharmacology, dietetics, and a wide range of measures for preventive health strengthening. In all these methods rational, psychological and subtle therapy methods are used, which are adjusted to the individual constitution of the patient.
The special emphasis of Ayurvedic psychology is on strengthening measures for mental health and self-awareness according to the individual constitutional type.
The three therapy forms of Ayurveda
- Rational therapy (Yuktivyapashraya)
Rational therapies include all forms of treatment for the disorders in the functional and structural components of the body, which are mainly associated with Ayurveda:
Purification procedures (Panchakarma), phyto- and pharmacology (Dravyaguna), oil massages and manual therapies (Abhyanga), nutritional and life science
- Psychological therapies (Sattvavajaya)
Sattvavajaya supports through right philosophy and meditation for a balanced state of mind, a fast recovery and eliminates negative thoughts and conditioning that would accelerate the disease process.
- Spiritual therapy (Daivavyapashraya)
Daivavyapashraya is applied to people suffering from diseases that do not respond to conventional treatment. Often the causes of illness are on the spiritual level (unsolved traumas, negative information from deceased family members or similar), which are then successfully supported in the transformation and healing process with special rituals, meditations (mantras) and prayers.
Everyone is unique
And here we are already at a keyword: The individual constitution.
The type-appropriate view of the human being is the cornerstone of Ayurveda teachings. Every person is unique and has unique constitutional features on a physical and mental level based on his genetic and epigentic predisposition. Characteristics, likes, dislikes and disease tendencies can be classified based on constitutional types, too.
At the beginning of every Ayurvedic treatment or cure, the individual constitution (Prakriti) and its disorders (Vikriti) are determined during a comprehensive anamnesis and diagnosis with the help of constitutional questionnaires, pulse and tongue examinations and other diagnostic techniques. Ayurveda distinguishes between the physical constitution (Deha Prakriti), which is formed by the balance of the three dynamic forces of Vata, Pitta and Kapha, the so-called Doshas, and the mental constitution (Manas Prakriti), which results from the composition of the subtle forces of Rajas, Tamas and Sattva.
Whether we are tall or short, fat or thin, brave or shy, fearful or aggressive … all these can be traced back to the individual constitution and may be divided into changeable and unchangeable personality aspects.
Characteristics that shape the psychological constitution
In this sense, the knowledge of one’s own constitution is based on the differentiated consideration of the formative elements by which the constitution types are characterized. Related to the psyche, in the center there are the three gunas as mental qualities that shape the mind.
|Mental qualities of Sattva||Mental qualities of Rajas||Mental qualities of Tamas|
|Calmness of mind||Anger||Disgust, impurity|
|Affectionate manners||Many wishes and desires|
To understand these traditional classifications it is important to know: All three gunas are necessary. Without tamas, nothing would exist. Without rajas, nothing could change. Sattva provides the harmonious shape and keeps it in balance. The mixing ratio of the three gunas determines the quality of what exists. It also determines the quality of our mind.
A pinch of tamas gives the psyche stability, tranquility and a good night’s sleep. If tamas is too high, there is inertia and depression. A portion of rajas gives the power to change oneself and the world. Excessive rajas, as results from stress, makes the mind restless and produces negative emotions such as anger, anxiety, and irritability. From an Ayurvedic perspective, all mental disorders can be traced back to an excess or imbalance of tamas and rajas.
Of sattva, on the other hand, there can never be too much! The sattvic qualities give health and resilience to the psyche. Sattvic people are at rest within themselves; they are loving, tolerant, understanding and content. They enjoy clear intelligence and a stable discernment. They work efficiently and with excellent results without burning out or overstrain. They have a positive aura towards others and always find the right balance.
Sattva, the key to health and happiness
Coming back to the initial question of mental strength: The answer is Sattva!
The more Sattva a person has in his personality, the higher is his ability to withstand stress and being resilient. Even under stress, the person remains healthy, optimistic, able to make decisions and take action.
Ayurvedic psychology distinguishes three levels of mental health.
Pavara – strong resilience
The psyche is strong and remains centered and symptom-free even in stressful situations. The person faces the challenges and acts consciously, self-responsibly and thoughtfully.
Madhyam – medium stress capacity
The psyche is less strong and shows first symptoms of illness, such as exhaustion, mental irritation, nervousness, stress-related complaints and many more. The affected person now seeks help to overcome the mental overload.
Avara – weak ability to cope with stress
The psyche is weak and people suffer from mental discomfort. The ability to act is very limited and the affected ones do not feel able to take responsibility for themselves. They often complain and learn nothing from the past.
In order to achieve mental health, Ayurvedic psychology uses sattva-strengthening measures. These include a diet rich in vital substances and fresh food, as well as ethical behavior and meditation. Ayurvedic medicine also knows effective medicinal plants and spices, so-called Medhya Rasayanas, which have a positive effect on memory, concentration, nervous strength and inner balance.
Especially with a plant-based and freshly prepared food, the sattvic qualities of purity, love and serenity are nourished. If, in addition, one succeeds in organizing one’s daily life in a positive rhythm adapted to the inner bio-cycle and in seeking regular periods of exercise and relaxation in nature, these are valuable interventions that serve to balance stress and promote mental health.
Holistic strategies for mental health
The concepts of Ayurvedic psychotherapy are versatile and holistic. They can be combined very well with other therapeutic methods and are suitable for complementary therapeutic application. Thus the type-appropriate view of the changeable and unchangeable personality aspects of the patient can also be an enrichment for the systemic or gestalt therapist. Likewise, recommendations from Ayurvedic psycho-dietetics and chronobiology can be integrated into any coaching process.
Regardless which psychotherapeutic methods are used, Ayurvedic psychology is always based on three steps that accompany every treatment and counseling process. These reveal the holistic treatment concept of Ayurveda, which always considers body, mind and spirit as one.
Three-step therapy for mental health
Ayurvedic psychology always begins its practical treatment approach with directly effective body therapies to relieve the current situation. This is followed by psychotherapeutic interventions looking into the disease-causing factors of the past, and then looking into the future with measures to promote independence and professional skills. In this process, the type-appropriate nutrition and health recommendations are complemented with the spiritual therapy forms of Ayurveda in an ideal way.
Step 1: Strengthen the body
In order to face up with psychological conflicts and stress factors, from an Ayurvedic point of view, first of all relief and support for physical health and stability are needed. Oil massages, yoga and breathing exercises relax the nervous system and promote mental performance. Recommendations for a vegetarian diet with regular, freshly prepared meals, which should be taken in a mindful atmosphere, serve as a psycho-diet. Specifically sweet fruits and vegetables, nuts, high quality fats and selected spices are considered “superfoods” for the mind. These include dates, raisins, grapes, almonds, walnuts, pomegranate, pumpkin, zucchini, basil, rosemary, saffron, ajwain (royal cumin), licorice, as well as milk and ghee (clarified butter).
Step 2: Healing psyche and soul
Recognize what makes us sick – this is the motto of the second therapy step of Ayurvedic psychology. For this, Ayurveda relies on techniques of early childhood developmental psychology and trauma therapy to identify and treat the disease factors of the psyche. Unprocessed memories and experiences of the past (so-called ama of the mind) as well as an inadequate self-concept, wrong philosophies of life and negative thought structures are seen as subtle causes of psychological complaints. These are to be made conscious and transformed through psychotherapeutic processes.
Step 3: Shape life positively
“Behave as you wish to be” could be the translation of the Vedic guideline for a happy and healthy life. The 3rd step for mental health is about the right behavior through which health, happiness, success, joy of life, love and fulfillment can be gained.Because from the Ayurvedic point of view, everything is based on the causal understanding of cause and effect:
If I nourish the body in a type-appropriate way with foods rich in vital substances, I give it everything it needs for a healthy metabolism and regenerative renewal process.
If I practice positive thoughts and actions, this resonates in mind and soul in a positive way and brings forth joy and happiness.
For this to succeed, it is often necessary to work through the inner obstacles (Step 2). If, on the other hand, the old patterns have been overcome, nothing hinders a positive orientation of life. With loving thoughts, good deeds and a personality at peace with itself, it is possible to defy all the adversities of life and remain cheerful at the same time.
Spiritual dimension of psychology
With striving for inner harmony and serenity, the circle closes in Ayurvedic psychology. This is strongly connected with a spiritual awareness of the nature of life. Accordingly, every human being is a part of divine creation, who can find his/her freedom and fulfillment in union with his/her self-fulfilled core. Meditation is the key to detaching the mind from the disturbing factors of the external world and realizing the true self.
Interestingly, the translation of Prakriti, the term for constitution in the literal translation is also „self”. And so Ayurvedic counseling is always about the patient recognizing himself in his very own constitution, his true self, and learning to use the spectrum of his strengths and weaknesses in an optimal way to shape his life.
By practicing to train perception for inner processes and to follow the indications, you can become more and more the true master of yourself remembering what has always been in you as a unique expression of creation.
In all of this, meditation is a valuable tool for self-awareness. And at the same time, in terms of Ayurvedic psychology, meditation is also the path and the goal to live a happy and self-fulfilled life.
Small questionnaire to identify the mental constitution:
1. I love art, literature and classical music
2. I like to help others
3. I have self-control
4. I take care of my health
5. I am interested in spirituality
6. I have a good memory
7. I feel content and happy
8. I am courageously committed to justice
1. I am very good at working for my personal interests
2. I am prone to jealousy
3. I am passionate
4. I am anxious
5. I am often angry
6. I react very quickly
7. I live excessively and like to exaggerate (sex, food, work)
8. I am not deterred by adversities
1. I sleep more than 8 hours
2. I eat too much
3. I eat everything, including meat, fast food, etc.
4. I have a weak memory
5. I can’t/won’t make up my mind
6. I am melancholic
7. I feel listless and lazy
8. I do not pay attention to my health
Five Ayurveda recommendations to strengthen Sattva for a healthy psyche:
1. Make sure to eat a healthy, plant-based diet with natural foods. Consume fresh and freshly prepared food daily.
2. Keep a close watch on the state of your body and mind. Balance the overstimulated sensory organs.
3. Lead a regular and rhythmic life with fixed phases of work, relaxation and sleep. Adjust to sunrise and sunset of the seasons.
4. Do outdoor exercise daily. In dynamic contact with nature, body and mind gain new life energy.
5. Strengthen your mind with yoga, pranayama and meditation.
European Academy for Ayurveda
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