Ayurveda and the Mind- An Overview

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Ayurveda  is inherently a psychological as much as it is a physical system of medicine.  Its scope of practice includes both physical (sharirika) and mental (manasika)  diseases. Therefore, we cannot really understand Ayurveda without looking at  its view of the mind and consciousness.

The  examination of the mind and psychological diseases in Ayurveda is potentially  as complex as its examination of the body and physical diseases. It is not just  a sidelight to be looked at in passing. It requires its own expertise,  attention and application, just as any other branch of Ayurveda and its  therapeutic methods. While one doesn’t have to be a trained psychologist in  order to deal with the psychological aspect of Ayurveda, any more than one has  to be a medical doctor to deal with its physical aspects, one does have to do  some study of the mind and how it works.

I  have always tried to bring the psychological aspect of Ayurveda into my various  books and course material, including the book Ayurveda and the Mind. We cannot  do justice to Ayurveda without it. In this short article, I will try to provide  an overview of the subject, to encourage the student to go deeper into this  subject.

Traditional  Ayurveda recognizes three main causes of disease.

  1. Doshic imbalances, either by constitution  or by external factors.
  2. Excess of rajas and tamas in the mind.
  3. Karmic factors or results of previous  actions.

These  three factors are generally related to some degree, though one is usually  dominant. Doshic imbalances usually rest upon an excess of rajas or tamas,  which in turn reflect deeper karmic disharmonies. Ayurvedic treatment is  threefold in order to counter these.

  1. Rational therapy to counter the doshas,  as in the application of appropriate foods, herbs and clinical therapies of opposite  energies to the doshic disharmonies.
 2. Yoga therapy and sattvic therapy to  counter rajas and tamas, as in the use of asana, pranayama, mantra and  meditation.
  3. Spiritual methods to reduce karma, as in  the use of rituals, mantras and the use of deities.

These  three treatment methods usually crossover and aspects of each may be used  relative to the same client or condition. The mind as a factor and psychological/emotional  issues is present on all these levels.

The  doshas as they accumulate as toxins have negative emotional components like  Vata as fear, Pitta as anger and Kapha as attachment as all Ayurvedic students  are well aware of. Vata dosha in particular has strong psychological  ramifications because the mind is part of the sphere of Vata and also composed mainly  of the same air and ether elements. Vata problems usually include psychological  problems, starting with fear, insecurity and anxiety. Management of Vata always  must include a lot of psychology.

Pain  of any type first imbalances Vata, so pain management of any type will involve  a strong component of anti-Vata considerations. Stress also tends to first  imbalance Vata; so much of stress relief is anti-Vata in scope and orientation.

Yet  the other two doshas have their own key psychological components and  considerations as well. Each patient will have a particularly psychological as  well as physical energetic that we must be able to understand in order to  arrive at an effective treatment plan.

The  three gunas are mainly psychological factors with rajas as ego-driven impulses and  tamas as deeper emotional blockages, insensitivity or addictions. These make  the doshas hard to deal with as they may create attitudes that resist the  treatment even on an outer level of diet and herbs.

Yet  doshas and gunas should always be cross-referenced and treated together. For  example, deep-seated doshic imbalances will always involve some degree of  tamas, which often translates as deep-seated trauma, pain or debility. A good  Ayurvedic practitioner should be able to discriminate the different conditions  of each dosha in its sattvic, rajasic and tamasic modes, such as I outlined in  my book Ayurvedic Healing. This is a good foundation on which to approach an  Ayurvedic psychology.

Negative  karma arises mainly from wrong judgment (Prajnaparadha or Buddhi dosha), which  includes the wrong use of the senses, prana, emotions and mind. It represents  the effect of long term doshic and gunic distortions as they become lodged in  the psyche. Such wrong judgment begins with rajas, as it involves a factor of  willfulness. Yet it also reflects tamas over time as it indicates tendencies  the person is unable to see, recognize or change. Ayurveda not just about  removing the doshas and increasing sattva guna but also eliminating the negative  karmas and karmic patterns (samskaras) which sustain them in our own behavior.  Vedic astrology is an important tool in helping us understand these karmas.

When  we think of Ayurvedic practice, therefore, we must recognize the psychology of  doshas, gunas and karmas. In this scheme, the mind has the main role, the body  is just the place where these imbalances get lodged, manifest or cause  diseases.