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Are There Herbs for Low Self Esteem?

by Anne McIntyre(more info)

listed in ayurveda, originally published in issue 145 - March 2008

Low self esteem may not be a ‘disease’ but it can certainly be crippling. It stifles creativity, self expression and the joy of simply being oneself. Associated feelings of inferiority and comparing oneself negatively with others can put sufferers at a disadvantage socially and even prevent them from socialising, for fear of not being funny enough, clever enough, pretty enough and so on. If such feelings persist or become exacerbated, they can lead to a sense of failure, despair and depression. The question is, are there herbs that can help with this problem?

The Ayurvedic system of analysing people according to their constitutions is very helpful when it comes to answering this question. From an Ayurvedic perspective low self esteem is the province of pitta. Those with a predominance of pitta in their constitution are naturally intelligent, methodical and organised. They can be quite fiery, rather obsessive about time, tidiness, cleanliness and getting things right. They tend to set themselves lofty goals; they are the campaigners for world peace, striving to make the world a better place, idealistic politicians, angry animal rights campaigners or charity workers helping the needy and they can be workaholics. Nothing short of perfection is good enough for them, and this drives them to be better, often not appreciating their positive attributes but concentrating on their shortfalls. They are highly competitive, if not with others with themselves, and their main fear is of failure. They are highly sensitive to criticism, as this confirms that they are not perfect and even worse, that their imperfection has been spotted by others.

Our emotional health is affected by a sub-dosha of pitta called sadhaka pitta, which is located in the brain and heart and functions through the nervous system. It governs mental energy, creativity, beliefs and emotions, our powers of analysis and discrimination, and is responsible for motivation, self-confidence, and feelings of fulfilment. When sadhaka pitta is out of balance we may be prone to mood swings, anger and irritability, we can be domineering, critical, self critical, intolerant and do not suffer fools gladly. We can be easily hurt and suffer from low self esteem, and feelings of hopelessness which can lead to despair and depression. Pitta-type depression is not one to be taken lightly. It can be deep, long lasting and is associated with a deep sense of failure.

Hot weather, getting overheated, hot spicy food, excess alcohol, white sugar and red meats can all increase pitta. Living or working in a violent or abusive environment or in an inflammatory situation can disturb sadhaka pitta.

To balance sadhaka pitta drink plenty of water, avoid hot temperatures, spicy foods and foods that taste pungent, sour and salty. Eat cooling foods, i.e. those that taste sweet (but not white sugar), bitter and astringent. Try to avoid emotional confrontations and go to bed before 10:00pm, pitta time of night, so that you sleep well. Massage the body regularly with cooling, relaxing oil such as Brahmi oil or coconut oil with oils of rose, chamomile or sandalwood.

There are several herbs which can help to balance sadhaka pitta. Rose and chamomile tea, a little rosewater in coconut milk drunk regularly, rose essential oil used as a perfume or in a burner and rose water sprinkled on the face can be helpful.

Arjuna (Arjuna myrobalans) is an excellent remedy for calming sadhaka pitta. It has a reputation for strengthening the physical, as well as the emotional heart. It is used for angina, heart failure, arrhythmias and high blood pressure and useful when we feel disheartened, downhearted or even heart broken.

Bringaraj (Eclipta alba) has a particular affinity for pitta in the head, calming mental agitation and alleviating insomnia. It is calming and soothing emotionally and a good remedy for headaches and anxiety.

White Sandalwood (Santalum album) is famous as a brain tonic and for its ability to balance sadhaka pitta. Its wonderful aroma can quickly calm an overactive or anxious mind, enhance concentration, lift the spirits and cool the fire of Pitta in heart and mind. It can be a great support for balancing the emotions and restoring inner strength, and is well worth using in formulae for depression and low self esteem.

The sweet cooling properties of Sariva (Hemidismus indica) are also specific to sadhaka pitta. This delicious herb calms and nourishes the nervous system and is used for irritability, anger, over ambition, feelings of inferiority and low self esteem disturbing the inner equilibrium.

Shankapushpi (Convolvulus pluricaulis) has an affinity for the nervous system and balances all 3 doshas, vata, pitta and kapha. It calms the mind, reduces inner stress and turmoil, lifts the spirits and inspires confidence.

Gotu kola (Centella/Hydrocotyl asiatica) is the most important herb for treatment of sadhaka pitta disorders. It is an excellent herb for promoting brain function, for poor concentration and for calming an angry or agitated mind. Oil prepared from coconut oil and Gotu kola can be massaged onto the soles of the feet and the head to calm the mind.

Jatamansi (Nardostachys jatamansi) or Indian Valerian is the source of the essential oil spikenard, as it is highly aromatic. It has a balancing effect on all three doshas. It is an excellent sedative and brain tonic, enhancing concentration and memory. It is one of the best herbs for stress related headaches, low self esteem and depression. It is on the CITES’ list of endangered species and hard to come by as the Indian government is not allowing export of the raw herb. It is still possible to obtain the essential oil and the formula Sarsvati, which contains Gotu kola, Jatamansi and Vacha (Acorus calamus root).

Amla or Indian gooseberry (Emblica officinalis) is another excellent herb for balancing sadhaka pitta and nurturing the physical as well as the emotional heart. It lowers cholesterol and protects the arterial system and is rich in antioxidants. It forms the main part of a famous tonic for debility and weakness called Chayawanprash. It promotes a calm and clear mind and enhances confidence and self esteem.

Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus) is another excellent herb for nourishing and calming sadhaka pitta. It acts as a brain tonic, promotes energy and vitality, eases insomnia and helps to relieve pain.

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About Anne McIntyre

Anne McIntyre FNIMH MAPA is a fellow of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists and a member of the Ayurvedic Practitioners' Association. She has been practising as a herbalist for 30 years and has also trained in remedial massage, aromatherapy, counselling, homoeopathy and Ayurvedic medicine. She is the author of several books on herbal medicine, including The Complete Woman's Herbal (Gaia), The Complete Floral Healer (Gaia), The Herbal Treatment of Children (Elsevier), The Top 100 Remedies (Duncan Baird), The Complete Herbal Tutor (Gaia) and Healing Drinks (Gaia). Anne's latest book Dispensing with Tradition: A practitioner's Guide to using Indian and Western Herbs the Ayurvedic Way has recently been published. She teaches regularly in the UK and USA and spends as much time as she can in her herb garden which she opens to the public by appointment. She practises at Artemis House, Great Rissington, Gloucestershire, (Tel: 01451 810096) and in London and Wales once a month. She may be contacted on Tel: 01451 810096  www.annemcintyre.com

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