Stress and Ayurveda
In Ayurveda, stress is known as ‘Sahasa‘. It is defined as a discrepancy between mind, body and spirit, which unbalances the doshas (vata, pitta and kapha). According to ayurvedic medicine, stress weakens immunity (ojahksaya), and thus makes the body more prone to getting infectious diseases.
Causes and Consequences of Stress
There are various aspects of stress which can unbalance the three doshas (vata, pitta and kapha) and which are involved in several diseases:
- Physical stress: too much physical exercise, lack or sleep and/or insomnia, constant moving about, irregular eating habits, sensory overload, or too much work.
- Environmental stress: pollution, noise, climate change and natural catastrophes, prolonged exposure to cold or heat, electromagnetic waves.
- Psychological stress: unhealthy relationships, sadness, anger, fear, attachment, greed, negative thoughts.
These various sources of stress weakens the nervous system (majja dhatu), which is closely related to the vata dosha, itself linked with motion through the five sub-doshas of vata (the five vayus). Thus, when the vata dosha is out of balance, it disturbs one or more vayus (prana, apana, samana, udhana and vyana), leading to irregularity in the workings of our organism at the physical and/or psychological levels.
Various symptoms then come up like too much motion (physical and/or mental), involuntary muscle tightening (shaking, spasms, paralysis), pain, blocks, or tension in the body, improper and irregular muscular and bone formation, and troubles at the sensory level. In the long run, this can cause various illnesses of the vata (nidana vaitika) kind to appear. The founding texts of ayurvedic medicine number 80 of them.
Ayurvedic Cures against Stress
The first treatment is to avoid stress causing factors (sahasam sada varjayate). In ayurveda, ‘it is better to prevent than to heal.’ The best way to avoid stress is to have a deep understanding of stress causing factors.
The second possibility is to raise the adaptability of our body through our lifestyle (dinacharya), mainly our diet (ahara) and rejuvenating treatments (rasayana chikitsa). Rasayana means ‘rejuvenation’ through plants and various cures which strengthen tissues, prevent our cells to oxidize prematurely, which will thus build and keep immunity (ojas) up.
‘Rasayana is what gets into (ayana) essence (rasa). It is what penetrates and revitalizes the essence of our psychophysiologic being.’ David Frawley
Ayurvedic Plants which can Reduce Stress
1- Brahmi (Bacopa Monnieri)
Brahmi means, ‘that which bestows the knowledge of Brahman or the Supreme Reality.’ This plant removes toxins and obstructions in the nervous system (Majja dhatu) while nurturing the latter. It revitalizes brain cells and has a balancing effect on the right and left hemispheres of the brain. It also improves memory and intellectual performances, boosts concentration and develops our meditation abilities. Lastly, it improves mental clarity and sleep to reduce stress and tiredness.
In Ayurvedic medicine, this plant is harvested and prepared with ghee (clarified butter), and other Indian plants, so as to make a medicinal preparation called ‘Brahmi Gritham.’
2- Ashwagandha (Withania Smonifera)
This plant improves the rejuvenation of the body and increases immunity (ojas). It is used in various rasayana plant based formulas such as the famous ayurvedic jam ‘Chyavanaprash,’ or in the medicinal paste ‘Ashwagandha Lehyam‘. It renews all the body parts related to the vata dosha, such as our nervous system, and our bone marrow (majja dhatu), which can be weakened when subjected to general and nervous weakness, or intense forms of stress. Its powerful anti-stress properties are effective on stress as well as on mental and physical exhaustion. Lastly, it is a very sattvic plant which renews nerves and brain tissues, thus increasing memory and learning capacities.
3- Jatamansi (Nardostachys Jatamansi)
Its Sanskrit name means, ‘the one which destroys the flesh eating spirits,’ or ‘the one which relieves the subconscious from stress and confusion.’ It belongs to the same family as the valerian, but contrary to the European valerian which has got heating properties (virya), the Indian variety is cooling, which helps soothing an overheated mind and inflamed nerves. Jatamansi cures emotional agitation, subconscious traumas and improves intellectual capacities, memory and concentration. It is a very powerful nervine and sedative plant, used to treat the nervous system, tonify brain tissues, boost stress resistance and soothe nervous tensions by regulating heart functions (high blood pressure, and heart and nervous troubles).
→ To take it, boil a teaspoon of grounded jatamansi in 250ml of raw milk for 5 minutes, and drink it on an empty stomach in the morning.
4- Shanka Pushpi (Convolvulus pluricaulis)
Shanka pushpi is one of the most important nervine plant with brahmi and jatamansi to treat nervous pains. It boosts memory, concentration, and rejuvenation of the mind while improving the blood circulation irrigating the brain so as to stimulate superior brain functions.
How can we take these plants?
In ayurvedic medicine, plants are macerated, cooked and prepared with a conductive ingredient (anupana), so that they are better assimilated by our body and can quickly be effective on the targeted tissue or organ. This also helps to preserve the plants and formulas longer. Among these preparations, there are water based decoctions (kashayam or kwatham), milk based decoctions (ksheera paka), alcohol based decoctions (arishtam and asavam), pastes made from honey and/or jaggery sugar and ghee (lehyam or gulam), ghee based pastes (gritham), and tablets (ghan vati and gulika).
In order to cure cases of stress, the best anupana is ghee (clarified butter) because it nurtures nervous tissues and bone marrow. It is an important rejuvenating tonic (rasayana) for the mind, the brain and the nervous system (majja vaha srota). Besides, it increases the digestive fire (jatharagni) as well as all the digestive energies and enzymes of the body, et this without congesting the liver, as other other fats are prone to do. Finally, ghee boosts our immunity (ojas), which is the subtle essence of all tissues (dhatus). By building up ojas, it therefore boosts tejas (mental fire) which improves the flame of intelligence and perception (madhagni).
→ Plants which are macerated and cooked this way with ghee are part of a medicine called gritham. But another fitting method is to mix ½ a tsp of ground powder with a tsp of pure ghee and to take it on an empty stomach in the morning.
Lastly, we would like to remind you that these pieces of advice in phytotherapy can in no way make up for a proper medical follow up, so please check with your GP first before attempting self-medication.