Friday, March 2, 2012

It's a Mad, Mad World! Mental Health - An Ayurvedic Perspective

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 450 million people worldwide are affected by mental, neurological or behavioral problems. However, determining that someone has a mental illness, and which one it could be, is one of the greatest challenges psychiatrists and psychologists face today. To date, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the psychiatrists bible), lists over 400 disorders.

It's quite normal to sometimes feel happy or sad, anxious or fearful, forgetful or confused. These are the hills and valleys of emotion in our daily lives. But when a person's emotions, thoughts or behavior frequently trouble them, or disrupt their lives and those around them, they may be suffering from mental illness. Even though as many as one in five people are thought to suffer from a form of mental illness, it still carries with it stigma and discrimination. Because of this people are reluctant to admit they have a problem and seek help and treatment. Unfortunately, when mental illness goes untreated the result can be suicide, which claims 873,000 lives a year. The economic costs of these conditions are also enormous and growing. According to the WHO, depression is expected to account for more lost years of healthy life than any other disease by 2030, except for HIV/AIDS.

What Causes Mental Illness?

Western scientists can tell us what happens as a result of certain mental health issues, but they cannot give us the underlying cause. For instance, brain scans have directly linked depression with changes in levels of neurotransmitters - chemicals that convey messages across neurons - people suffering from depression often display lowered levels of neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin's main effects include improving mood and giving you that "satisfied" feeling from food. It's also thought to help promote sleep and relaxation. Alzheimer's disease, a major source of dementia and memory loss in the elderly, is a result of an accumulation of protein plaques, which choke neurons in the brain. Untreated HIV infection, syphilis, Lyme disease and malaria are also thought capable of triggering a variety of mental illnesses. Modern medicine does not recognize a link between the body, mind and emotions. They look at the body as a machine, working independently of the mind.

The 5,000-year-old holistic science of Ayurvedic medicine, on the other hand, views the human being as body, mind and spirit, including the emotions and psychology, on all levels. It incorporates longevity, rejuvenation and self-realization therapies utilizing herbs, diet, yoga; breathing and physical exercises and meditation, massage, aromas and mantras. Ayurveda uses the concept of three biological humors; vata (air), pitta (fire), and kapha (earth) that if become unbalanced can affect us mentally, with disturbed emotions and thoughts, this will usually be reflected on a physical level also and visa versa. Through recent scientific research Dr. Candace Pert has come to a similar conclusion in her book Molecules of Emotion. Pert refers to the mind-body connection or a network of emotions linking the mind to the body. She demonstrates that cells throughout the body secrete 'emotional' hormones; these are then picked up by nerve impulses to produce the corresponding changes in mood and behavior. The immune system is linked with the brain (pituitary gland) and the endocrine system. Endorphins are the body's natural 'opiates' or pleasure hormones and are known to be increased by pranayama (yogic breathing) and yoga asana. Stress affects the body by releasing hormones, adrenaline and corticosterone from the brain and the immune system. Once in a stressed state the body itself can continue the stress cycle by the continuous activation of corticosterone. Depressed and traumatized people have high levels of corticosterone and often have a decreased level of immunity. This physiological state can be deactivated when the trauma and stress are released. In Ayurveda this means transforming the negative emotions, like fear, pain, anger and grief into positive ones.

The Function of the Astral Body

In Ayurveda and many other natural healing methods a subtle astral or emotional body is recognized to exist simultaneously with the physical body. It is linked to the physical body by energy centers or chakras. Subtle channels known as nadis transport prana or the essence of life energy and thought to corresponding glands around the body. Disruption in the flow of these energies causes psychological disease. As mentioned yogic breathing can keep these energies circulating, as can certain herbs such as calamus, basil, turmeric, guggul, myrrh, frankincense and cedar.

There is a shield between the astral and physical bodies, which protect us from negative thoughts or energies that are within the astral atmosphere. For instance, there is so much accumulated fear within the world projected from wars, the slaughter of billions of animals, pain and suffering of women and children that exists in the astral plane that if the link becomes weak we can no longer discriminate the physical from the astral. The fear, pain and anger "out there", affects our thoughts, fantasies and emotions, and we lose control. A physical trauma such as a severe blow to the head, sexual or physical abuse, excessive alcohol and mind-altering drugs such as LSD, ecstasy, cannabis and heroine can weaken this shield. Persons who are channelers open themselves up the astral plane also. One striking example of this is schizophrenia. This is a distorted view of reality, which may include hallucinations, hearing voices, delusions, and paranoia. Ayurveda recognizes this to be a symptom of a destructive astral force or entity entering the physical body commonly known as possession. Many Hindu priests, as well as Catholic priests, are taught a certain practice through prayer and sanctified water to rid the sufferer of the negative energy. Calamus, Holy basil and Gotu kola are then administered with perhaps some time being spent in a 'sattvic' or loving monastic environment.

Allopathic Psychiatric Treatments

Psychiatric treatment for mental illness can take many forms. The patient is encouraged to recognize their problems, understand what may trigger undesirable behavior, and develop coping strategies. Mood-stabilizing aim to moderate manic episodes of bipolar disorder and may also reduce recurrences of depression. Recently, however, some experts think there has been a rush to medicate and have questioned the effectiveness of many drugs. There is also controversy about using these drugs - such as Ritalin or amphetamines to treat children.

Various Mental Disorders and Ayurvedic Treatments

Depression

Among the most common mental illnesses is clinical depression. It is described as a prolonged, debilitating sadness, and feelings of hopelessness that is often accompanied by no highs or lows, just a bland existence which will ultimately lead to thoughts of suicide. The numbers of adolescents suffering from clinical depression have risen alarmingly in the last 10 years. Statistics show that suicide is the third leading cause of death in youths between 10 and 19 years old.

Bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) is an affective disorder that causes periodic mood swings in which they cycle from depression to mania. Depression may be characterized by having a lack of motivation, difficulty doing tasks, short attention span, decreased appetite, crying spells, difficulty in getting to sleep or sleeping too much, and in the more severe cases thoughts of self harm. Mania is separated into two types: Full mania and hypomania. Mania may be characterized by a decreased need for sleep, decreased self-control, overspending, increased sexual activity, irritability, rage, risk-taking behaviors, and in the more severe cases psychotic states. Hypomania is described as having the same behaviors, to a less extreme level.

Ayurvedic Treatment

A need to arouse the sufferer's interest and enthusiasm in life is introduced to the sense of taste. Spices like ginger, cardamon and basil are used to open the heart and mind. Calamus teas are given with a little ginger and honey. Mints and sages of all types are useful. Triphala is given to alleviate constipation. Color therapy is used with warm tones of yellow and gold. Long walks are encourages in nature at her best; sunshine, river, lakes and forests. All these places are filled with pranic energy.

Cutting or Self-Injury

Self-injury involves self-inflicted bodily harm that is severe enough to either cause tissue damage or to leave marks that last several hours. Cutting is the most common form of SI, but burning, head banging and scratching are also common. Other forms include biting, skin-picking, hair pulling, hitting the body with objects or hitting objects with the body. Although suicidal feelings may accompany SI, it does not necessarily indicate a suicide attempt. Most often it is simply a mechanism for coping with emotional distress. People who select this emotional outlet may use it to express feelings, to deal with feelings of unreality or numbness, to stop flashbacks, to punish themselves, or to relieve tension. Although SI is recognized as a common problem among the teenage population, it is not limited to adolescents. People of all sexes, nationalities, socioeconomic groups and ages can be self-injurers.

Ayurvedic Treatment

Often, the sufferer feels the need to stimulate themselves by pain. Ayurveda uses nervine herbs like Trikatu, cayenne, cardamom, cloves and calamus. Warming and nourishing these feed the emotional heart. Pippali is good also, 1/4 teaspoon with honey every few hours. Avoid sleeping during the day.

Anxiety Disorders

These include post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anger disorders, hypochondria, and phobias such as agoraphobia (open spaces), claustrophobia (small places), acrophobia (heights), arachnophobia (spiders) and social phobia (being around people). These are all characterized by powerful feelings of panic and physical signs of fear, sweating, and a racing heart - due to some cue in the environment, or for no obvious reason at all. Many sufferers believe they are either going insane or going to die.

Ayurvedic Treatment

Anxiety is mainly a Vata disorder and Ashwaganda is generally given am and pm in warm milk. Aromatherapy, using rose and jasmine is used. Warm massage and gentle, slow yogic techniques. Maha Mantra and Shrim mantra should be spoken.

Eating Disorders

There are three common eating disorders; anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Each disorder has different affects on the human body. A disease that used to be associated with young women is now appearing in young men. Anorexia is characterized by a significant weight loss, which is usually resulting from excessive dieting. Sufferers see themselves to be overweight, or fat, no matter what their actual weight may be. Anorexics may also use compulsive exercise to control their weight. Anorexics commonly strive for perfection in all the things they do. They set extremely high standards for themselves, and feel that they always have to prove themselves. They may also feel that the only thing they have control over in their lives is their weight. People with bulimia engage in cycles of gorging or binging themselves on large quantities of food and then purging through vomiting or use of laxatives. This can have a disastrous effect as with repeated purging the sufferer will lose their teeth from stomach acid and the use of laxatives will eventually render the bowel muscles useless.

Ayurvedic Treatment

To begin with the patients should fast on orange juice and water for first three to five days. After the juice diet the patient may adopt an all fruit diet for a further five days, taking three meals a day of juicy fruits, such as apples, pears, grapes, oranges, pineapple, peaches at five hourly intervals. Thereafter they may adopt a restricted diet of easily digestible foods, consisting of lightly cooked vegetables, juicy fruits, and buttermilk for about ten days. During the first three to five days of the juice fast, the bowels should be cleansed with a warm water enema each day. Teas of cardamom, fennel, and fresh ginger to help regulate digestion and stop vomiting; valerian, nutmeg, herb ashwagandha. Massage with sesame oil, and sandalwood.

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ADHD

ADHD, sometimes known as ADD, is a common behavioral disorder that affects an estimated 8% to 10% of school-age children. Boys are about three times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with it, though it's not yet understood why. Children with ADHD act without thinking, are hyperactive, and have trouble focusing. They can't sit still, pay attention, or attend to details. Recent research links smoking during pregnancy to later ADHD in a child. Some studies have even suggested a link between excessive early television watching and future attention problems. It has been advised that children under 2 years old should not have any "screen time" (TV, DVDs or videotapes, computers, or video games) and that kids 2 years and older should be limited to 1 to 2 hours per day, or less, of quality television programming.

Ayurvedic Treatment

Child's diet should consist of fruit, grains and vegetables full of natural vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. Eliminate caffeine, sugar and other sweets, processed food, MSG, aspartame (NutraSweet) and other sugar substitutes, and any foods that contain preservatives, food dyes or other chemicals and eating at fast food chains. Drink water, fresh homemade vegetable and fruit juices. Eliminate sodas and caffeinated beverages. No white bread. No processed peanut butter: It contains aflatoxin, a fungus that causes cancer. Instead use almond butter from your health food store. Children need a lot of rest and should go to bed early. Proper exercise daily- outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine. Play with your children!

Note: Ritalin closely resembles an amphetamine. It is a cocaine-like drug that induces zombie-like behavior in children. The public school system's idea of ADHD treatments is prescribing Ritalin which, like all toxins, come with a long list of side effects including nervousness, nausea, dizziness, drowsiness, insomnia, joint pains, headaches, increased blood pressure, fever, rapid heartbeat, abdominal pain, and psychosis.

Knowledge is Empowering

Many people take medication to help control or manage the symptoms of their mental illness. A clear knowledge and understanding of medication and possible side effects combined with knowledge and understanding of both oneself and one's illness is often important in achieving a sense of personal control over the symptoms of the illness. Knowledge enhances your ability to self manage your medication to get the maximum benefits from it while reducing the potential for side effects and the risk of relapse. Acquiring knowledge also enhances your ability to negotiate effectively with the treating doctor about dose, frequency and the types of medication choices. Keeping up with current advances in medication research and the new drugs as they become available also increases your medication and treatment options. Remember it is your body and mind, and your decision what treatment you are going to choose.

Jennifer (Yogamaya) is a director of the Vedic Cultural Fellowship and Pecos Valley Yoga and Ayurveda Center. Born in North Africa, and raised in the UK, as child she was introduced to yoga asana and pranayama by her aunt. During the 1990's she studied homeopathy, massage, reflexology, nutrition and became a certified instructor by the British Wheel of Yoga. Naturally she was drawn to the sister science of Ayurveda and has studied under Doctors Vasant Lad and David Frawley. In 1998, she returned to the US with her husband Howard Beckman, to establish the Vedic Cultural Fellowship and in 1999 they founded New Rishikesh, in Pecos, New Mexico. In 2003, she was certified as a Planetary Gem Advisor, by the Planetary Gemologist Association in Bangkok Thailand due to her advanced working knowledge of using gemstones in accordance with Vedic astrological principles. Today she and her husband, together with Dr. David Frawley, are developing the VCF's New Rishikesh as a major teaching and retreat center.