5 ways to manage anxiety with Ayurveda

Anxiety, by definition, is the result of spending too much mental energy on a future with an unknown outcome. 

The reality is, some amount of worry and stress is normal, but what isn’t? 

When your anxiety begins taking over your life, that’s not normal. If your actions and emotions are causing suffering and creating dysfunction, that’s not normal either. If your anxiety keeps you from connecting to your life and your relationships in any way, then we have an imbalance. 

. : How Ayurveda views anxiety : .

From Ayurveda's perspective, anxiety is a dosha imbalance where excess vata has accumulated in the nervous system.

Vata is the mobile element in Ayurveda. It has the same qualities of the Fall season; dry, light, rough, mobile. 

Anxiety is an expression of excess vata in Mano vaha srota, the channel of the mind. 

To put it plainly, it means you have a windy mind. 

When it comes to bringing back to balance a dosha that is in excess, we follow the Ayurvedic principle of “like increases like, and the opposite balances.”

With anxiety we are working with having too much of vata dosha, this means we need to incorporate opposite qualities to bring the mind back to a place of balance. We need the qualities of Earth, the qualities of Kapha Dosha; juicy, heavy, sweet, soft, and static.

This is the first Ayurveda key to using the qualities we see in nature as vital healing tools.

5 ways to manage anxiety with Ayurveda:

1. Keep an "impressions" journal

Often, we only attribute the process of digestion to our physical body. However, the mind too must process and digest everything it takes in through the senses. Conversations, tv shows, music, podcasts - anything we take in through our 5 senses must be sorted and assimilated or removed as waste from the mind. 

Similar to how you would keep a food journal, I invite you to begin keeping an "impressions" journal. This is a daily record of what you are taking in consciously through the senses.

The word, "impression" has so many meanings - sense, view, imprint, mold, imitation - to name a few. At the end of the day, impressions are the food your senses are taking in, and when you think about it your eyes, ears, nose, mouth and hands are almost always feeding. 

While you may not be able to control everything about your anxiety, you can begin to elevate your awareness around what elements provoke it. Consciously keeping track of your symptoms over time gives you insight into possible triggers. 

Include everything in your journal from what you ate/drank, where you were, who you were with, the time of day, what you heard and any of your physical symptoms. 

2. Ritualize your eating schedule

“Breakfast is the spiritual meal. Lunch is the joyful meal. Dinner is the gentle meal.” 

Imagine this: Your digestive system is like a wood burning stove that needs tending in order to properly heat your whole body and support all of its internal functions. Keeping digestion strong throughout the day means feeding your fire with not only good food but also good timing. We know that the brain and the gut are physiologically connected, thus, taking the time to eat at regular intervals throughout the day is a simple tool for managing anxiety. 

  • Set a goal to eat breakfast between 7-9a. Eat something warm, well spiced and easily digestible.
  • Eat your largest meal of the day at lunchtime between 11a-1p, when Agni (the digestive fire) is strongest.
  • For dinner eat a light, smaller portioned meal between 4-6p to optimize metabolic functions. 

3. Focus on your breath

Sama Vritti (balanced breath) is a basic breathing technique for beginners that you can do anytime, anywhere. Practicing Sama Vritti will calm your body and focus your mind.

How to do it: Sit in a comfortable, cross-legged position with your back straight, or lie down for a more restorative practice. Close your eyes and bring your awareness to your natural breath. Just observe, and do not change anything at first. When you’re ready, begin to inhale on a count of 4, and exhale on a count of 4, matching the length of your inhale and exhale. As you practice more, experiment with counting to higher numbers—just make sure your inhale and exhale stay the same length. Continue breathing this way for several minutes, or until you feel your mind and body relax.

4. Shirodhara

As a holistic medical science, Ayurveda acknowledges regular body work as part of a healthy lifestyle. 

The term shirodhara comes from the Sanskrit words shiro (head) and dhara (flow). It is a traditional Ayurvedic body therapy where a steady, gentle stream of warm oil is continuously poured over the forehead to help soothe and heal a frayed nervous system.  

According to Ayurvedic teachings, the gentle but constant application of oil stimulates healthy blood circulation to the brain and pituitary gland, while certain added herbs and essences can provide relief from symptoms of anxiety, migraines, insomnia and neuralgia. 

Shirodhara works primarily on the mental sheath or “manomaya kosha,” as it is referred to in Ayurveda. It is designed to cultivate a sense of deep mind/body relaxation from head to toe, giving your nervous system the opportunity to begin repairing itself organically. Studies show that Shirodhara leads to a state of alert calmness similar to the relaxation response observed in meditation. 

5. Try Ashwagandha

Long hailed in both India and Africa as a rasayana (rejuvenating) herb, Ashwagandha has recently gained popularity in Western herbalism for it's adaptogenic qualities. 

According to ancient Ayurvedic texts one who regularly takes Ashwagandha "obtains longevity, regains youthfulness, maintains a sharp memory, stays free of disease, has a lustrous complexion and strength of a horse." 

Typically you will find Ashwagandha in powder form, made of the dried plant root. The leaves and berries are also used in some cases, but this is far less common. 

Combining Ashwagandha with pungent spices and ghee (clarified butter) is a traditional Ayurvedic remedy for those who suffer with anxiety. The spices increase the absorption of the ashwagandha, while the ghee is good source of healthy fat. 

Try our Ashwagandha Spiced Ghee recipe!

Other ways to use Ashwagandha include: adding a scoop of powder into your smoothie, taking it in capsule form, adding it to a glass of warm milk or infusing it in alcohol to create a tincture.