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Balancing Mind and Emotion through Ayurveda

by Anne McIntyre(more info)

listed in ayurveda, originally published in issue 185 - August 2011

In Ayurveda the mind and heart are one and the same.  The mind is said to reside in the heart and this means the physical heart as well as the heart of our pure awareness. All 3 doshas also reside in the heart, along with Prana, Tejas and Ojas, the subtle forms of the doshas and the Gunas, Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas. This means that our mental and emotional state can be influenced by the balance of all of these and likewise the mind has the power to substantially influence our physical health. Every experience we have, each thought and feeling, has its impact on the doshas and subsequently on our health and vice versa. Mental health is a state of sensory, mental, intellectual and spiritual well being.

The 3 Doshas and the Mind

The three main subtypes of the doshas that relate to our mental and emotional state are:

Prana Vata. Connected to higher cerebral functions Prana Vata governs the movement of the mind, thoughts and feelings, and is correlated with the brain’s neuro-electrical activity. It promotes enthusiasm, inspiration, mental adaptability, the ability to communicate and coordinate ideas in the mind.  Prana Vata is considered the most important aspect of Vata and directs the other 4 sub-doshas of Vata. Since Vata leads the body as a whole, keeping Prana Vata in balance has significant ramifications on our health as a whole.

When Prana Vata is disturbed we may feel restless, anxious, ungrounded and spacey, disorganized or overwhelmed; it can cause fear and insecurity, insomnia (waking between 2 and 6am), nightmares and physical neurological problems including palpitations, tremors, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and dementia. Long term disturbance of Prana Vata can lead to exhaustion, chronic anxiety, panic attacks, and depression that can be changeable and yet intense.

Sadhaka Pitta governs biochemical substances i.e. neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin and is responsible for the blood flow through the heart and emotions connected with it. It is the aspect of Pitta that digests and metabolizes experiences, analysing our experiences and determining our emotional reaction to them. When in balance, Sadhaka Pitta promotes self-confidence, healthy desires, motivation, passion and feelings of fulfilment.

When out of balance it can cause negative emotions including self criticism, low self esteem, jealousy, mood swings, getting easily upset or angry, being overly analytical or judgmental, aggressive, over-ambitious, snappy or sharp. Pitta types are highly competitive and fear failure and can be aggravated at times of pressure, before exams and interviews. They tend to suppress their emotions until the point that their anger explodes. They may get headaches, burning sensations in head and eyes, palpitations, insomnia (lying awake between 10 and 2 am). They can be easily hurt and suffer from feelings of hopelessness and failure, which may lead to depression that can be deep and long lasting. Left untreated, it can lead to bipolar disease, suicidal tendencies or self-destructive behaviour such as drug and alcohol abuse.

Tarpaka Kapha provides nutrition, strength, protection and lubrication to the nerves, and promotes storage and recall of sensory input, ie memory. It composes the myelin sheath, the meninges and the cerebro-spinal fluid that circulates round and protects the brain and spinal cord. Tarpaka means contentment; it slows neural activity, inducing relaxation, contentment and emotional stability. Its inward movement helps us to experience the inner joy of being ourselves. In deep sleep or meditation Tarpaka Kapha becomes active, representing the awakening of the Saksi, the witness of consciousness. It protects the mind from excess heat (Sadhaka Pitta) generated by critical thinking and heated emotion, and from too much mental activity (Prana Vata). Meditation promotes its secretion 

Kapha people are generally placid and resilient, slower to react emotionally. Excess Tarpaka Kapha causes them to become lethargic, withdrawn, unmotivated, possessive, and overly attached to people or things. They might comfort eat, put on weight and are reluctant to take exercise, sitting for hours doing very little. This creates a platform for prolonged depression and letting it go further and deeper into the system. Deficiency of Tarpaka Kapha can cause nervousness and insomnia and symptoms of excess Prana Vata, including memory loss, lack of contentment and problems such as MS, and dementia.

Balancing the Doshas

Balancing the doshas in a general way will help to remedy imbalances of specific aspects of the doshas that relate to the mind and heart.

Prana Vata:

  • Walk outdoors in the early morning and breathe deeply to open the channels (srotas), stimulate digestion and clear ama;
  • Don't resist natural urges as this can imbalance Vata and contribute to anxiety and emotional imbalance;
  • Give yourself a daily abhyanga (oil massage). Follow with a warm bath to flush out the toxins;
  • Yoga Asanas calm Vata and cleanse toxins that contribute to mental ama;
  • Inhalations of oils: Jatamamsi, vetiver, calamus, frankincense, jasmine, rose and sandalwood
  • Pranayama (breathing exercises).

Herbs: Tagarah (Valeriana Wallichi), Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Rose, Vacha (Acorus calamus), Jatamamsi (Nardostachys jatamamsi), Shankapushpi (Convolvulus pluricaulis), Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus), Bringaraj (Eclipta alba), Saffron, Nutmeg, Licorice, Black cumin (Nigella sativa), Kapikacchu (Mucuna pruriens), Bala (Sida cordifolia)

Sadhaka Pitta:

  • Drink rose or chamomile tea regularly;
  • Avoid mental and physical over-exertion; 
  • Spend time outside in nature by water, in the early morning or evening;
  • Daily massage with coconut or sesame oil with essential oils of rose, chamomile, sandalwood, coriander or lemongrass;
  • Listen to soothing, relaxing music. Talk to others, perhaps a counsellor, about your feelings;
  • Go to bed before 10:00 p.m.

Herbs: Rose, Chamomile, Amalaki (Emblica off.), Shatavari, Bringaraj, Aloe vera, Manjishta (Rubia cordifolia), Sariva (Hemidesmus indicus), Guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia, Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri), Gotu kola (Centella asiatica), Jatamamsi, Shankapushpi, Sandalwood, Saffron, Licorice

Tapaka Kapha:

  • Wake early. Waking after 6:00 am causes the channels (srotas) to become clogged with ama, leading to lethargy, mental dullness and low spirits;
  • Avoid sleeping in the daytime and late into the morning;
  • Take plenty of vigorous exercise, do different things, try to be open minded;
  • Nasya – nasal administration of oils including: Eucalyptus, Nilyadi, Vacha oil;
  • Practice meditation.

Herbs: Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum), Rose, Vacha, Pippali (Piper longum), Gotu kola, Bacopa, Frankincense (Boswellia serrata), Shankapushpi, Saffron


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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


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