– with 10 tips for living a happier and healthier life
Mental health is essential for living a fulfilled, happy, healthy life. So how can we best support our mental health?
Dr Robert Schneider (USA) shared with us some time ago his “7 secrets for a long and healthy life” and we are now exploring with him how the age-old ayurvedic knowledge about (long) life can help us achieve and maintain really good mental health. We put the following questions to him:
- How does Maharishi Ayurveda® define mental health?
- How can stress, anxiety, anger and depression develop?
- How can we best support and stabilise our mental health?
His answers give us an exciting insight into an original, holistic approach to mental health based on Maharishi Ayurveda®.
Dr Robert Schneider
The esteemed American scientist, preventive medicine specialist and Ayurveda physician Robert Schneider, MD, FACC, has been conducting research for many years in the areas of mind-body medicine, ageing and cardiovascular disease.
He has worked as a consultant for the National Institutes of Health, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy and the US Congressional Prevention Coalition. Dr Schneider is Dean of the College of Integrative Medicine, MIU, USA.
The four domains of mental health
When we talk about mental health, most people think first of all of our mind, our cognitive skills. Maharishi Ayurveda®, based on its far-reaching holistic understanding of mental health, takes this idea much further. It distinguishes between four areas:
- The innermost Self
The transcendental Self or spiritual level of the Self, the innermost level
- Our mind,
that which thinks, feels, decides and is intuitive.
- Our body, our physiology
Modern medicine has described how our physical body or our physiology influences our state of mind. What we eat and breathe also effects our physiology and our psychology.
- Our environment
Our social, physical, and geographical environment.
Each of these four areas influences our mental health: our connection with our inner Self, whether we are balanced and have a harmonious connection with our mind and our social environment, whether there is balance in our relationships, our body and our environment.
Based on these four domains, we could therefore consider a four-dimensional perspective on total mental health which is offered by Ayurveda.
When we lose connection ... – Isolation during the pandemic
The Coronavirus pandemic has clearly shown us what happens when we lose our connection with one or more of these four areas: most of us were extremely isolated as a result of the precautionary measures in place. This physical isolation has caused social isolation and contributed to psychological isolation and has contributed to an epidemic that has come out of a pandemic. Modern medical authorities are talking about an epidemic of isolation, stress, depression and despair during this time. One of the leading medical journals even referred to an ‘Age of Despair’ during this phase of the pandemic.
This situation has been caused by isolation and a loss of connection between several of the four levels referred to above. We have lost connection with our social environment, our relationships with friends, family, colleagues, larger communities and in some cases even our natural environment.
We can lose connection at even deeper levels, but the ones above are the most obvious ones during the pandemic that illustrate this principle.
10 steps towards a happy, balanced, fulfilled life
The Charaka Samhita, the oldest Ayurveda textbook, describes 10 holistic steps for reversal of ageing and creation of ideal mental health and ideal health overall.
In contrast to many other approaches which focus only on the mind, such as talk-therapy, Maharishi Ayurveda® offers a very expanded, holistic approach to restoring and nurturing mental health based on its repertoire of knowledge and applications with these ten steps.
The 10 steps cover all four areas: Managing of our physical, physiological environment - our body, our mental environment –, our mind, and managing the connection of our spiritual environment, the innermost Self. They start with very concrete, material aspects and then move on to more subtle and finally the subtlest levels.
Based on their holistic effect, each of these steps automatically has a positive impact on the other areas.
1. Maintaining balance between rest and activity
The first two steps involve dealing with our body, our physiology.
We need to maintain a balance between rest and activity to make sure that we do not become tired or exhausted. If activity becomes too dominant, we become stressed and exhausted. Our strength is depleted as a result, and as we overexert ourselves, we begin to isolate ourselves from the source of our energy, overusing the resources that we have. We can counter this by maintaining a good work-life balance and getting sufficient sleep.
Sleep as a source of regeneration
Good, restorative sleep is extremely important for our physical and mental health. Studies show that a lack of sleep, insufficient sleep (< 6 h), insomnia and poor sleep quality are linked to depression, other mental health disorders and even with dementia in later life. People who sleep too short or have low quality of sleep are more frequently affected by mental health issues and long-term damage to the brain. Modern medicine thus confirms the importance of maintaining balance between rest and activity.
When tea and coffee disturb the balance
Anyone who regularly consumes stimulants such as coffee, black tea or Coca Cola should be aware that these can disrupt the natural desire for restorative sleep. A healthy ayurvedic alternative to coffee is Raja’s Cup – full flavour without the caffeine.
2. Diet as the basis for a healthy psyche
Despite its age-old tradition, Ayurveda is still very up-to-date. In terms of diet, for example, research in recent years has confirmed many of Ayurveda’s recommendations. Modern medicine recommends a wholesome diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, pulses, and nuts. Mediterranean and vegetarian diets which are highly praised nowadays are very much in tune with the general principles of a wholesome diet recommended by Maharishi Ayurveda®. In Maharishi Ayurveda®, a healthy, predominantly vegetarian diet consists mainly of fresh, wholesome organic foods.
In addition to its composition and quality, the digestion and utilisation of food play an important role in Maharishi Ayurveda®. Alongside the general tips on nutrition, Ayurveda also offers recommendations based on individual Dosha types.
3. Making sure that anxiety does not take hold
Anxiety is the first of three disturbances that affect the mind: anxiety, anger, and inactivity / depression. In Ayurveda, all three are closely linked to a disturbed Dosha balance. According to ayurvedic understanding, anxiety is typically caused by Vata-aggravation on the mental level.
What can be done? Ayurveda gives us very precise recommendations about how we can balance the Doshas and their effects on the mind. Just by being aware that anxiety, anger, and inactivity / depression are an expression of an imbalance created by our current mental and emotional state allows us to take some distance from the situation. This distance can help us recognise that this is not really our true inner Self, but that we are actually only experiencing anger or anxiety. We know that our inner Self, which we can access for example during Transcendental Meditation, is a state of balance, peace, calmness, and fulfilment. This inner distance in itself creates a certain balance.
It is also good to know that we can make use of any of the other principles to balance one of the three disturbances that affect the mind. It does not matter whether the focus is on balance, the principle of giving, compassion, respect, empathy or understanding. This applies not only to our relationships with fellow human beings but also to the way we treat ourselves.
4. Countering fiery anger
According to Ayurveda, anger is linked to Pitta or the fire principle. If fire is too active and overactive, this can lead to anger on the mental level. Once again, it is a matter of restoring the Dosha balance in order to balance the effects of excess Pitta on the mind.
Tips for a successful Dosha balance
Anger, anxiety, and depression are mental states which are linked to an imbalance in the fundamental mind-body principles, the three Doshas Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Ayurveda offers different approaches for restoring balance in the Doshas, and thus in the mind and emotions.
At a physical level, we can try to strike the right balance between rest and activity, nourish our doshas accordingly and take food supplements with dosha balancing herbs. Examples include:
- Ayurvedic herbal teas and churnas tailored to the three Dosha types or to the dominant Dosha,
- Dosha harmonising food supplements such as
Vata-Balance or Ashwagandha for excess Vata,
Pitta-Balance for excess Pitta and
Kapha-Balance for excess Kapha,
Dosha-balancing massage and aroma oils.
People who practice ayurvedic pulse diagnosis can also feel their own pulse and obtain information on the status of the three Doshas. When we feel where a certain imbalance exists in our mind and body, our attention focuses on that area. This attention alone has a calming influence. Knowledge plays a part in this process.
5. Loss of drive – dealing with inactivity
The third principle in this series is to manage levels of inactivity and put this in a positive way to be persevering, active, disciplined – because the opposite of this is in ayurvedic terms a Kapha aggravation which is associated with slowness, dullness, inactivity, and depression. Dosha balancing measures can help with this.
6. Nurturing social relationships
The Coronavirus pandemic has shown us how physical isolation and loss of connection with our social environment, family, friends, etc. impacts us. Video conferences can somewhat alleviate social isolation and the feeling of being cut off but cannot replace personal contact.
For total mental health, it is important that we restore our social relationships and connections with our fellow humans in very real, concrete, human ways both on an emotional and physical level. We can achieve this through kindness, compassion, emotional and physical touch.
7. Giving to others is like giving a gift to ourselves
The seventh step, like the sixth, relates to interaction with our social environment and how we act: Not just in a receiving way, but in a giving way. Ayurveda talks about giving charity. This does not just mean support charities - which is of course wonderful. Supporting or giving to others not only supports the receiver but supports the giver.
By giving to others in an altruistic, charitable way, we change our own psychology. We get out of our self in a way, out of our head.
Whenever we give something to another person, even if we simply give our partner or friends time and space, we are doing more than simply offering the recipient something good. We benefit just as much.
We extend our awareness, activities, intentions, and concerns to the outer world, all this is expanding. This includes all kinds of giving: to give love, respect, encouragement, and happiness. All these things give us inner peace.
And that is a technique for mental health.
8. Enriching life with spiritual knowledge
The eighth and ninth steps take us to the next level, namely our innermost or spiritual Self. Every major tradition in all parts of the world describes such a spiritual level. Ayurveda calls it the ‘level of the innermost Self’. In Sanskrit it is called Atma, the universal, immortal Self that exists beyond the physical and mental levels. It is the long-lasting, unbounded Self.
One first needs to understand that this level is there - and textbooks of every major tradition talk about this level, especially Ayurveda. Ayurveda contains the science of Yoga. Yoga in turn contains Ayurveda: they are both part of each other. The goal of Yoga is union with the innermost Self. We understand that this is even possible, we could have this as a goal and what the impacts are: The union with our innermost Self create on the physical level changes in our brainwaves and changes in neurochemicals, neurotransmitters. This union can be achieved by meditation, particularly Transcendental Meditation and Yoga Asanas, prescribed and recommended by Maharishi Ayurveda and Maharishi Yoga Asana Programmes.
People who pursue a higher goal in life live longer, healthier, and happier lives. Involvement in something that is greater than ourselves creates increased stability, adaptability, and optimism – and therefore increased resilience.
9. Transcendental Meditation – much more than simple relaxation
So, first we need to know that this all exists and need to know the benefits. This inspires us for the next step, which is acting to practice these technologies. This gives the experience of our big Self, the expanded Self, our quiet, serene, calm, stable core. And this experience is the deepest experience one can have, because we experience that our core is also the basis of the rest of the universe, that the laws of nature which governs the universe are the same laws that govern our physiology, our mind. This experience changes the brain and our outlook in life, gives us perspective and wisdom, which complements and work with all the other eight levels.
10. Manage your time - establish personal priorities
The ayurvedic texts advise that we should manage time and space wisely. This means that – in the end – that is what we can manage the most: Our time… And what we do with our time. So we should manage our time to our highest values and priorities.
The nine approaches described above offer valuable guidance for determining our personal priorities. Modern science and the ancient ayurvedic texts agree: if we organise our time well and obtain a balance between rest and activity, we have the best chance of being happy and fulfilled, enjoying a long life and perfect mental health which go hand in hand with perfect physical and social health and a healthy environment.
We hope from the bottom of our hearts that you will achieve this goal.
Your Maharishi Ayurveda team
Thank you to our experts Dr. Richa Shrivastava and Dr. Robert Schneider for your expert support!
Dr Robert Schneider
Back in 1984, Dr. Robert Schneider, the American preventive medicine physician and scientist, was one of the first medical doctors in the USA to have practiced, taught and scientifically investigated Ayurveda. The US government supported his clinical research in the fields of mind-body medicine, aging and cardiovascular disease to the tune of more than twenty-five million dollars.
The results of these studies were written up in 150 prestigious professional journal articles, more than 1,000 articles in the press, and in numerous radio and television broadcasts.
Dr. Schneider was an advisor to the National Institutes of Health, many healthcare facilities and commissions, and the US Congress. He has lectured at teaching hospitals, specialist societies and public forums on four continents, and is author of the book “Total Heart Health”.
He is a professor and the director of the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention, and the dean of the College of Integrative Medicine at Maharishi University of Management in the USA.
Dr Richa Shrivastava
is a well-known researcher. She studied and wrote her dissertation at India’s leading Ayurveda Medical College. She has a Master of Science degree in the field of medicinal plant research. At the renowned Maharishi Ayurveda Products Research Center in India, Dr. Shrivastava heads a group of experienced scientists and specialists, who work in the areas of product development and standardisation. Dr. Shrivastava oversees the renowned research programme and teaches in the fields of Ayurveda and Ayurvedic plants. Her special interests include quality control and identifying the appropriate herbs.