Ayurveda for Anxiety and Depression
John Douillard has been teaching Ayurvedic medicine, natural health, fitness, and nutrition for 19 years and has trained more than 2, 000 Western doctors in Ayurvedic medicine. In this article, he discusses depression and anxiety from an Ayurvedic perspective, with a focus on the koshas (which translates from Sanskrit as "sheaths"), described in the Vedic tradition as the layers of human consciousness that exist around the Self, like lampshades around a lightbulb.
In the beginning…
We spend the first two years of our lives communicating heart-to-heart with our parents and loved ones. No words are said; the communication is direct. We live in a heart-centered world, where we are safe, full, complete, and content. The heart is the home of the "bliss sheath" (anandamaya kosha), which lies closest to our core self.
Then, one day in preschool, we get our feelings hurt—someone takes our seat or makes fun of us on the playground, and we are crushed. We quickly realize that this is not a safe world and that we have to protect our feelings. So we begin to employ our minds, the manomaya kosha, to protect ourselves. Unfortunately, the mind does too good a job at protecting us and, over time, it creates a seemingly impenetrable barrier, doing everything it can to keep all invaders out of our delicate heart space, including ourselves. From an innocent and natural desire to create protection from hurt emerges an overlay of self-protection that cuts us off from who we truly are.
What Is Depression?
Simply put, depression occurs when a person loses access to the essential self as a result of this barrier. For a sensitive person, who by definition has more innate access to the heart and soul than most people, to lose this deep access is quite tragic. Fatigue is the first physiological response to a mind that has driven the body into exhaustion in the name of control and self-protection. Anxiety is a result of this exhaustion because the body and mind need energy and reserves to calm themselves down, stabilize moods, and initiate sleep. As the exhaustion persists, the body and mind ultimately become depressed or physiologically exhausted.
The good news is that healing the cause of anxiety and depression is not a painful process of endurance and strain; it is a joyful discovery of your true, abiding nature.
Who’s in Charge Here?
Once the mind has taken over, it works to ensure that we will never notice that we have lost access to the self. It diverts attention with powerful emotions like anger, shame, and jealousy. It seduces through the sensory worlds, drawing attention outward, away from the self, toward the worlds of money, achievement, fame, food, and sex. And when all else fails, it calls on fear to seal shut the doors to our innermost being.
The mind does a great job at maintaining this ironclad protective shield, building and adjusting a personality to serve as a cover. This personality becomes our show to the world, a projected illusion we create to protect the delicate feelings of the heart. Safely hidden within, we respond not to our own true nature but to the needs and whims of Mom and Dad, siblings, employers, and friends. Soon we spend most of our time disconnected from our own happiness and juggling responsibilities to make everyone else happy and okay with us. We become prisoners, sentenced to illusion and guarded by fear. We become actors playing in a bad movie, required to stay to the lines of the script.
As adults, we do not need or want this kind of protection. We yearn to have access to our true self, to discover our passion and who we really are. This is the process of truly "coming to our senses." Instead of being distracted by our senses, basing our happiness on the outcome of a World Series game or newly released movie, we want to feel—deeply. Then the senses can become avenues of consciousness that transport awareness from the mind to the heart, opening the gates of perception and letting out a glimpse of who we really are.