Most people, at one time or another, feel moments of stress. They may feel panicked after just missing another car while driving on the road, or find themselves fearful of being late for an important meeting or appointment. When someone feels a chronic sense of panic, worry, and fear without notably severe stimuli, though, they are often diagnosed with having what is known as generalized anxiety disorder. Suffering from a chronic sense of anxiety is a common affliction, particularly in the West. People who are diagnosed with this disorder are describedas suffering from an excessive amount of worry over situations that aren’t perceived as intense as their reaction to them. They have a harder time concentrating than most, and experience a shortness of breath, palpitations of the heart, and sweat a lot. It is also common for people diagnosed with this disorder to suffer from insomnia and a general sense of restlessness in any given moment.
Western medicine doesn’t make a specific claim as to the cause of generalized anxiety disorder, though it is commonly accepted that the condition is in response to a stressful environment and even biological factors. Western medicine offers a variety of therapies including the prescribing of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication, cognitive behavioral therapies, relaxation techniques, and other counseling techniques. The formal diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder is typically reserved for patients who exhibit symptoms over the course of six months or more.
In Ayurvedic medicine, conditions based on nervous disorders are primarily associated with the Vata dosha. This dosha represents the energy of the body related to movement and elimination, and sits in the large intestine. Properly balanced Vata energy facilitates healthy movement of the body and manifests this quality by sending the body messages through the nervous system. When waste matter isn’t properly removed from the system as a result of elimination problems like constipation, toxic matter builds up and uses the nervous system to spread throughout the body.
This imbalance of the nervous system triggers a variety of dysfunctions associated with thought, the senses, and movement. At the heart of these imbalances is an overpowering feeling of anxiety. Vata energy can become aggravated when we do things related to excessive thought and movement including talking too much, traveling too much, and exercising too much; it is also aggravated by food deprivation, eating too many dry foods, and generally depriving the body of moisture and lubrication. When we experience a severe combination of these habits and also endure significant amounts of stress in our day-to-day life, we can often experience a derangement of our senses in the form of chronic anxiety.
Like many Vata-related disorders, anxiety is first treated from the seat of this dosha in the large intestine. Patients suffering from anxiety are taught to lubricate their elimination with the intake and topical application of oils. They also work to ground the more manic aspects of their imbalances through the consumption of certain foods, and heal their nervous system with massage, breathing techniques, yoga postures, and other therapies.
By grounding themselves and resolving nervous system complaints through these various therapies, a patient will be able to settle the excessive fluctuations in their mind that lead to anxious, fear-based thoughts.
When we neglect to establish the root cause of one illness, it can turn into another, stronger illness in the future. The first step in resolving a specific ailment or disease in the body is to assess the nature of our lifestyle and make general modifications. Living our day-to-day life with a deliberate intention to improve our health will help us to both resolve the disease we are suffering from and prevent further incidence of it and other diseases in the future.
Ayurveda teaches us that disease and sickness are derived from poor digestion and inappropriate food choices. We then have the opportunity to make deliberate and more conscious decisions as to what foods we do and do not put in our body which increases the chance of resolving the body’s imbalance.
Food needs to be in season, in moderate combinations of one or two food groups, not too hot or cold, in a modest enough quantity to allow for room in the stomach later, consumed without too much liquid which hinders digestive power, and should be fresh and not left over for more than a few hours. The following foods will help to settle excessive Vata energy and therefore resolve issues related to anxiety:
Whole Wheat (unbleached)
Milk (in moderation)
Rice (white basmati)
While some foods can help to balance an aggravated dosha, other foods can cause further imbalance. Dry and cold foods as well as pungent, bitter and astringent tastes will dry out the body and aggravate the Vata dosha. Sour, salty and pungent tastes as well as spicy foods will add more heat to the body and aggravate the Pitta dosha. Sweet, sour and salty tasting foods will add heaviness to the body and aggravate the Kapha dosha. The following foods can aggravate Vata energy and therefore intensify symptoms associated with anxiety:
Avoid raw and cold foods
Most legumes including green lentils and garbanzo beans
Generally, Ayurveda discourages the consumption of too many cold beverages, as doing so hinders the strength of the body’s digestive fire. Instead, favors room temperature or hot beverages to encourage the strength of the digestive fire.Hot water, especially during meals and first thing in the morning.
Herbs are used in the Ayurvedic system much like Western medicine utilizes medicines and vitamins and can be taken like tea 2 to 3 times a day. Herbs aid in the digestion of food, the breakdown and elimination of toxins, and help to strengthen the cellular structure of our system for greater vitality. Herbs become more potent once mixed with other herbs of similar properties. Mix together 2 to 4 different herbs from the below list by adding a quarter to a half teaspoon full of each, for a total of 1 teaspoon. Drink these in half cup of hot water.
When applied therapeutically to specific ailments, yoga postures provide an opportunity to strengthen the body, rid it of toxic matter, and restore balance. The postures included in this section can be practiced as part of a more general sequence or can be focused on in short sessions. When first exploring yoga postures, it is best to only practice them for twenty minutes or so per day and build up from there once the body becomes more flexible.
Aromatherapy utilizes the fragrances of essential oils when applied to the skin. Essential oils can burn the skin and therefore must be diluted with a base oil such as sesame, coconut, sunflower, canola, or mustard oil. Mix 1 fluid ounce of base oil with about 12 drops of essential oil before applying to skin. You can also just mix 5 drops of base oil to one drop of essential oil if using on one spot.
Ayurvedic tradition suggests that repeating certain words or sounds can help a person suffering from an ailment to restore subtle balance to nerve tissue and enhance one’s mental clarity. Different sounds are prescribed to either repeat mentally or chant outwardly. These sounds are also used and repeated in the mind for the purpose of spiritual growth.
Controlling the breath is a central practice toward developing peace and stillness in the mind and body. When the breath is under our control, we are no longer at the mercy of the senses that are stimulated by everything and lead to greater fluctuations of the mind. When applied to the context of resolving specific ailments, the breath is used as a tool for developing lung capacity, heating and cooling the body, and resolving mental afflictions like anxiety and stress.
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