The Gerson Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine

Scott Gerson, M.D., Ph.D. (Ayurveda) Medical Director, Jupiter Medical Center Dept. of Integrative Medicine Division of Education and Research

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The Ayurvedic Approach to Mental Health

A woman married for nineteen years with three teenage children had endured and done her best to cope with her husband‘s on and off gambling addiction. After now discovering her youngest daughter had a substance abuse problem and behavior issues at school she became depressed and saw her family doctor who prescribed Prozac for her and Ritalin for her struggling daughter.

As absurd as it sounds, modern doctors are prescribing drugs to treat unhappiness.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control analyzed 2.4 billion drugs prescribed in visits to doctors and hospitals in 2005. Of those, 118 million were for antidepressants. Antidepressants have become the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States. Adult use of antidepressants almost tripled between the periods 1988-1990 and 1998-2000, the most recent period for which statistics are available,

Also, approximately 40 million American adults age 18 and older or about 18.1% of people in this age group, have received medications for an anxiety disorder.1 According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2005 5.7% of all American adults were prescribed an anti-anxiety pill. In 2001 the WHO estimated that there were approximately 450 million individuals with psychiatric conditions worldwide who were given medications. More recent statistics are not yet available but, given the current global economic downturn since 2008 and other world events, it would not be surprising if all these number have increased.

The main goals of Western medicine in the treatment of mental disease is the suppression of the negative (as well as positive) thought patterns produced by the illness, while maintaining the individual‘s cognitive abilities and ―functional‖ quality of life. They seek to do this by suppressing or augmenting specific neurochemicals in the brain with chemicals.

The problem is actually being exacerbated by current neurophysiologic research which has been identifying the brain areas implicated in different psychological states. For example, anxiety has been shown to involve two brain regions known as the amygdala and the hippocampus. The amygdala is involved in the processing of emotions such as fear, anger, pleasure and memories; the hippocampus is involved with inhibition, long-term memory, and spacial orientation. The primary neurotransmitters believed to be involved are GABA and serotonin. But these are merely the physical manifestations of an energetic imbalance. Suppressing them with drugs would be like giving antacids for an ulcer or β-blockers for hypertension. The root of the problem is not addressed.

The Ayurvedic Concept of Mind

In contrast, the Ayurvedic approach to mental disease rests on the premise that most mental illness is caused by gunic and doshic imbalance leading to clouding of the perception and loss of understanding. We lose the ability to understand the meaning of our lives and events around us. The root problem is not a chemical imbalance in the brain; that is merely another consequence of the disease. Rather, we do not understand the true meaning of, say, the illness or even premature death of a family member, losing our job, or the ending (or start) of an important relationship. And what causes this loss of understanding? Well, ignorance (avidya) of course. And what is at the root of ignorance? Mistakes of Intellect. Ignorance and consequent mental illness is caused by mistakes of Intellect (prajnāparada).
1 Kessler RC. Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of twelvemonth DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2005;62(6):617-627

The most indolent and fundamental mistake of the Intellect is our forgetting the true nature of existence. It may sound ―too spiritual to have relevance to modern mental disease but it indeed is the main problem. It is the conjoining of our mere banal thoughts, emotions and desires with the magnificent and ineffable Self--and not knowing that they are separate—which is our fundamental mistake causing our ignorance, bondage and suffering. We mistake our identity with small parts of our own personality instead of our true universal Self. We then compound the ignorance by mistakenly assigning permanence to what is impermanent; truth to what is false; importance to what is trivial. But prior to those many avidyas it is that fundamental misconception of reality which ―infects‖ our minds which is the root cause and the key to curing all mental disease.

The mind contains an organ of Intellect--it is called buddhi. Buddhi helps us understand immediately and clearly the true significance of things, thoughts and emotions; it allows us to know, judge and discriminate. Depending on its state, Buddhi forms real or unreal images of our husbands, wives, environment, ourselves and the entire world.

Manas, the outer mind, is the receptacle of sensory impressions from our sense organs, organizes them into categories, yet it has doubt about their true nature. Buddhi defines and judges them and brings about definite and determinate cognition. Thus while Manas simply assimilates sense-impressions and Buddhi defines them, Ahaṃkara, the Ego, self-appropriates the perceived impressions for its own agenda. Buddhi determines their nature, differentiates them and crystallizes them into concepts. Its function, then, is to bring about certainty and distinctiveness in knowledge. Certainty of knowledge might spur action. Thus normally it is buddhi which resolves to act and then guides the ensuing action. However when buddhi is veiled, ahaṃkara can and will direct the actions, according to its idiosyncratic wants and needs.

When buddhi is clean, our intellect is clear and true and actions are useful and toward liberation. But when buddhi is covered with residues of past experiences, traumas, judgments, and ideas our perceptions of things will be distorted. This includes our perception of ourselves too. If due to an early experience we are carrying around the idea: "I am terrible at math", that false idea will create a lifelong subconscious effect. If you recall the only times your father was kind to you was when he drank scotch whiskey after dinner, you might develop the idea that it is a healthy behavior. We carry these false ideas like waves or coloring on a mirror, which distorts our understanding of ourselves and the world. They can become part of our apparent self-identity along with many other false identifications (e.g. ―I am a Hindu‖, ―I am a mother‖, ―I‘m a scotch drinker‖, ―I am terrible at math‖) if they become part of ahaṃkara.

Modern psychology dominating our medical paradigm today has driven people into analyzing their suffering and placing responsibility on outside circumstances or others for it. True healing is, by contrast, learning how to catalyze suffering into something higher. Through sadhana (spiritual practices) one learns not to dwell on past emotional hurts and traumas; instead we must in every present moment transform our personal psychology by separating our true self from our past afflicted impressions; by correcting and purifying our buddhi, embracing life events with gratitude, transcending them, and shifting their energy to higher planes of consciousness.

The Three Doshas

Most people get caught up every day in their own thoughts, concerns, perceptions, opinion, and emotions – becoming so identified with a thought that the mind creates its own interpretation of the world which can sometimes exist only in our mind. Our innate doshic constitution (deha prakriti) certainly influences the type of mental impressions which arise.

Consider this common scenario: You pick up a message on the answering machine the manager at your bank asking you to please call her back. Your next thought will be determined by your unique
constitutional make-up. If you‘re predominantly Vata, you may immediately become anxious and think, ―Oh no…is my account overdrawn? I haven‘t been balancing my checkbook so well lately. How will I pay the medical insurance bill due next week? I hope the check I wrote for the electric bill didn‘t bounce!‖ Your anxiety builds and you fear the worst has happened as you return the call.

Alternatively if your predominant dosha is Pitta, the message may make you annoyed or angry, thinking, ―What are they bothering me about? What additional fee have they dreamed up now? They‘re always making mistakes; I really should change banks.‖ You call back braced for a confrontation.

The Kapha-predominant person tends not to see the world through the filter of fear or anger and might interpret the banker‘s call as something positive—perhaps a reward for being a loyal customer or some good news about her investments.

Vata-type mental disorders cause mental instability and agitation, which invariably creates fear, unrestrained thinking, anxiety, and typically an unrealistic pessimistic anticipation and perception of life events. The Vata mind is hyper-sensitive, hyper-reactive, agitated and lacking in endurance. The mind is excessive porous and affected by the manifestations of others and can launch prematurely into impulsive actions that are seen as mistakes a short time later.

Pitta-type mental disorders commonly occur due the tendency to be self-important, even narcissistic. Pitta dosha when excessive in the mind often creates a fiercely focused but narrow, fanatic and confrontational mind. Excess aggression, hostility, blaming and criticism of others are the outer manifestations but misdirected desires and insecurity are root causes behind most pitta mental disorders.

Kapha-type mental disorders dosha arise when the heavy, cloudy, and dull qualities of this dosha cause clouding of the perceptual apparatus and consequent misapprehension of reality. Excess Kapha within the mind causes srotorodha (channel obstruction) leading to global slowing of mental processes, attraction to vices, excessive sleep, aversion to bathing, emotional insensitivity, depression and inertia.

Partly based on the way we‘re doshically wired, we react to life events with fear or anger and the thoughts and emotions in our mind create physical and mental substances and stress. Our blood pressure rises, our pulse rate increases, our muscles tense, our exhalations become shortened, and our adrenal glands produce surges of stress hormones including adrenalin and cortisol. Our brain function changes and so can even our pattern of neurotransmitters. It can also influence our choices of music, movies and lifestyle. But in addition to the three doshas, the mind is affected by another set of even more primordial energies.

The Three Gunas

No one would say that the body has three legs, or that stomach pumps blood and brain digests food. The reason for this is that the body is easy to observe. We can easily list the main systems of the physical body, but we find it difficult to do so for mind. The mind appears as an amorphous or structure-less entity, rather than a structured instrument like the body. Ayurveda initially understands mind through the qualities exhibited by its component elements. For convenience of comprehension, we usually group the five elements into three doshas (psychobiologic forces), but it is essential that we deepen our insight into the actions of the panchamahabhutas (five gross elements) especially as they relate to mind.

Though air is the main element relating to mind (manas) other elements too have their place here by the law of ‗vyapdeshastu bhuyasa‘ i.e., ―though one element is prominent other elements too pervade it in less quantity‖. The mind‘s air element is reflected in its endless thinking and the movements of ideas and feelings, coordinating the senses, gathering information and reacting to the environment [negative: circling thoughts, inner conversations, fear, anxiety], Space element gives it its expansive quality [negative: dissociation, loss of focus, spaciness]; Mind displays fire or quality through its perception and capacity to understanding [negative: anger, criticism, egoism, conflict]. Fire is the endless procession of transformation in life, the Divine Knowledge within all humans. It has a Watery quality of emotion, empathy and feeling [negative: sentimentality, over-sensitivity, co-dependency]. Water is the ground substance of all existence, Divine Love in mankind. Finally it carries a certain weight of Earth, memory and attachment [negative: dullness, indecision, inertia].

But there is another set of energies which condition our perceptions, emotions and behaviors known as the Triguna, or the three gunas. The Sanskrit word guna means quality. Whereas the doshas influence both mind and body, the gunas relate only to the mind.

Like with the doshas, the mind of every human being is predominated by one of the three gunas. These three gunas (qualities) can describe the mind of an individual in general, as well as a specific thought.

Rajas, or active, stirring, desiring, passionate, moving; impelled towards action, which may be a negative if excessive or uncontrolled; it is positive when it overcomes inertia.

Tamas, static, stable, inert; Negative aspects include heaviness, stubbornness, vice, ignorance, dullness, stagnation, or stupor. Positive aspects include stability and reliability.

Sattva, pure, lucid, serene, illumined, equipoised, spiritual; As the veil of the other two is gradually lifted, there arises sattvic qualities of virtue, higher wisdom, peace, desirelessness, and expansiveness.

The transformation of consciousness into matter in the Universe and in the individual is the same process and Ayurveda borrows from an old philosophical school called Samkya to describe it. Ayurveda recognizes the existence of Purusha, Pure Consciousness, without form or qualities; it is eternal and beyond comprehension. Consciousness interacts with Prakriti, Primordial Matter which contains within it the three gunas in latent form: Rajas (activating energy), Tamas (inertia), and Sattva (purity, lucidity).Through the interaction of Consciousness and Matter, these basic energies latent in Matter (Prakriti) are able to find expression in the subtle aspect of human beings—which is the Mind. Mind is created and expresses itself through three qualities: sattva, rajas, and tamas. Ayurveda considers the proportion of both the gunas and doshas in understanding the nature of a person‘s mind and to evaluate any mental imbalance present.
Ayurveda describes manorogas (mental diseases) of two general categories of causation:

Endogenous (Nija)

 Due to imbalances of one or more doshas, due to the mind being repeatedly afflicted by passion, greed, wrath, rage, envy, excitement, attachment to temporary pleasures, fear, faithlessness, deceit, dishonesty, laziness, ingratitude, association with evil, attachment, exertion, moral indifference, hypocrisy, and grief.                                                                                                                                                          Indulgence in unsuitable (unhealthy) foods and drinks, foods which are poor quality, unfamiliar, containing debris (contaminated) and using foods, and drinks in improper manner.                                                                                                                                                  Due to a mind which feels dejected (due to worry, grief, etc.), a weak mind, the effect of sudden increase of disease incidence, secondary to other physical disease (e.g. syphilis, emphysema, thyroid disease, multiple sclerosis, Lyme disease), becoming and remaining emaciated, indulging in dangerous or improper activities.
 Inherited disease.

Exogenous (Agantu)

 Includes cittāghātaja roga (profound or sudden mental shock), i.e., unexpected sudden loss of money (Bernie Madoff victims), spouse, child, home, livelihood; witnessing the atrocities of war, fire, or other traumatic acts (PTST), visaja roga (exposure to certain poisons), i.e., elemental mercury, venoms, exotoxins, exposure to harmful medicines (e.g. chemotherapies, antibiotics, steroids, β-blockers) and unhealthy environmental factors.
 Effects of sinful activities in a past life (Charaka classifies this as exogenous).

Cittāghātaja roga include shock, trauma, and disharmony which occurs at conception, in-utero and during parturition. Shock during this vulnerable time causes disruption of Prana and a loss of Ojas, both which can have profound lasting consequences. Although the fetal heart doesn‘t begin beating until around 5 weeks and can't be heard until 7-8 weeks, the heart begins to form at conception. This is why pregnant women are called dauhṛda, ―two hearts‖. The fetal and maternal hearts are strongly connected via the rasavaha srota and manovaha srota. The fetus expresses her desires springing from experiences in the previous life through the mother‘s conscious desires. Therefore the mother‘s desires must be completely fulfilled or Vata dosha and Rajoguna in the fetal mind will become aggravated and produce future psychological imbalances.

With regard to environmental factors, what chance do we have really today to cultivate a healthy mind? We are living in more stressful, polluted, and unnatural environments than ever before. Over-worked and under-rested adults and adolescents often eat unsatisfactory meals in a rushed manner, get insufficient exercise, consume alcohol and other substances, sit at sedentary jobs or classrooms under artificial light, breath stale oxygen-depleted air, and then watch hours of mind-numbing television or computer games, take synthetic medicines, and live surrounded by noise, electromagnetic fields, and harmful radiation far removed from nature.

The unavoidable consequence of this lifestyle is the formation and bioaccumulation of toxic energies and residues in the mind and body. They can take a myriad of forms including: senescent (dead) cells, mucous secretions, bacterial and fungal overgrowths, excessive fats and fatty acids, and many forms of toxins which are so unique that they defy classification in modern terms. Panchakarma detoxification is perhaps the "missing link" to restoring optimum function of our minds, cells and tissues. Whether undertaken to prevent or treat disease, most individuals who avail themselves of authentic panchakarma will feel physically and mentally revitalized with a decrease in symptoms of toxicity. Not enough is taught in Ayurvedic curriculums about the mental benefits of panchakarma.

We must learn, ourselves or with the help of an experienced therapist, to turn the attention inward and bravely come face to face with our fears, anger, depression or whatever is causing pain and observe it in all its glory. If we do this we discover that we ourselves co-create these impressions; they come from within not without. It is not just your social issues or job that is creating depression, not just your husband who is making you angry, but you also are creating this. Your emotional reaction to Life is just that—a reaction. Though we can‘t control our spouse‘s behavior or world events, that reaction is the one thing which we can learn to control. Therefore we must learn to become aware not only of the external circumstances which upset us, but more importantly the internal filter in our mind. Normally, like the foods we eat, our emotions, frustrations, and stresses are processed and normally evolve into intelligence. When this does not occur, the residue of these experiences deposits itself first in chitta then in buddhi, creating misperception and ignorance. There can even be random experiences of psychic sensitivities but these will be uncontrollable. The key to curing mental illness is finding a way of purifying the buddhi of the residues flowing from chitta. Patanjali in the first lines of his Yoga Sutras says: Yogah Chitta Vritti Nirodhah, ―"The goal of Yoga is to restrain the thought patterns of the Mind Field (chitta)."

For purifying buddhi, Ayurveda recommends we first cultivate our capacity for self-observation. It then prescribes a series of further refinements culminating in meditation as the preeminent method.


Mental disorders are fundamentally not personal behavioral or cognitive problems, but rather doshic and gunic energetic distortions of the mind-body continuum leading to perversion of intellect. They are not a personal inability to cope with life but rather a loss of harmony amongst the forces within and around us. Therefore the approach to mental disorders, and to any disease, begins by first understanding the prakriti (constitution) of the patient, his general strength, along with the digestive strength, immune status, age, diet, habits, and other elements.

We also take a similar approach with the disease, determining what stage the disease has reached, its strength, its duration, its doshic components, and any involved tissues, channels, or toxins. Depending on the relative strengths of the individual and the disease, we can plan either radical or gentle detoxification and rebalancing treatments.
It is imperative to understand all of this before advising even a sip of water and for that a physician must be very well-trained, have a full understanding of Ayurvedic principles, and be experienced and intuitive.

Then treatments can be initiated which aim to correct Vikriti and reestablish balance to the doshas and also to cultivate sattva. Rather than avoidance of rajasic and tamasic activities, there is greater emphasis on simply incorporating more sattvic activities that bring peace and stability into one‘s life. Sattvic activities can include any of the following: spending more time in nature, consumption of a sattvic diet, singing, painting, being kind and tolerant to others; the company of people who have knowledge of the truth; always speaking the truth with kindness and compassion; maintaining personal integrity; keeping yourself and your environment clean and organized; practicing moderation in everything (especially work, diet, sleep, speech and exercise); going to bed before 10:00 pm; avoiding excess stimulation from mass media entertainment; following your own dharma (spiritual path), allowing time for spiritual practices; regular gentle exercise such as yoga, tai chi, or qigong.

Generally, there are three aspects to treatment in Ayurveda:
-Samshamana or pacification (which over time—months to years-- re-balances the doshas and gunas) -Samshodhana or deep cleansing (which over a shorter time –weeks to months-- removes excess doshas and gunas) -Rasayana or revitalization (which over one‘s lifetime strengthens specific weaknesses, prevents the recurrence of the disease and promotes sattvoguna)

Samshamana therapies subsume two vital components which enhance the return of the vitiated humor(s) to equilibrium without disturbing of the other non-vitiated doshas. They are:

a) Nidana Parivarjana. This is the knowledge of how to avoid the known disease-causing causative factors with regard to a specific individual and a specific disease. There are foods, emotions, thoughts, behaviors, habits, environments, and sensory inputs which can precipitate or aggravate various prakritis and diseases.
b) Pathya Vyavastha. This in encompasses what is advisable and inadvisable with regard to diet, exercise, sleep, sensory exposures, lifestyle choices, and mental habits in order to enhance the therapeutic measures of samshamana chikitsa (therapy).

In Ayurveda, there is a useful method for promoting positive thinking known as Pratipaksha Bhavana. The literal meaning of this term is ―moving to the other side of the mansion‖ and it references the ability of the human mind to completely move its awareness from a negative object and replace it with another more positive one (prati-other, opposing; paksha-wing, half; bhavana-dwelling, home, mansion, being). Pratipaksha Bhavana is considered an aspect of Nidana Parivarjana. Click here for a more complete description of the technique of Pratipaksha Bhavana.

Panchakarma therapies or radical purification procedures, famous for their efficacy and spa-like procedures, are part of the samshodhana phase. Ayurveda has such a logical and natural approach which takes advantage of the healing energies inherent in the individual.

Actually there are three aspects to mental healing and Charaka guides us to them with this sloka:

| Sharirendriyasatvaatmasamyog dhari jivitam || ―The combination of physical body, sense organs, mind, and atman is the substrate (container) of Life.‖

It follows that the three lines of Ayurvedic treatment to restore mental health are:

1) Physical - Samdosha Chikitsa (Balancing the Doshas)
Incorporates various treatments for balancing mental and physical doshas; can be samshamana or samshodhana.
See any good introductory text for this information (diet, exercise, herbal medicines, lifestyle, etc.)

2) Mental - Satmyendriyartha Samyoga (Associating Senses with Proper Sensory Impressions; Increasing Sattva)

The 5 senses are our main gateways to the external world through which we receive mental and emotional influences, or impressions. Proper use of the senses makes us happy and healthy. Improper impressions make us disturbed and unhappy.

Impressions are a subtle form of food. We absorb ―subtle energies‖ from external objects. If we spend the day caught in traffic, our minds feel agitated, congested and polluted (rajasic/tamasic); if we spend time hiking in Nature, we feel clean, expansive and peaceful (sattvic). We do NOT automatically assimilate every sensory influence. We use Buddhi (discrimination) to reject those that are not truthful and nourishing. We can also create our own positive (sattvic) impressions thru Nature, art, literature, music, mantra, visualization, and the good company of family and true friends.

3) Pranic - Witnessing, Yoga, Pranayama, Meditation (Creating Conditions for Consciousness)

Learning the art of witnessing your thoughts is indisputably the most important initial Ayurvedic approach to mental health. Witnessing the thought process (saksina, kshi- dwell, remain quiet, abide)
means to be able to observe the natural flow of the mind, while not being disturbed or distracted by its content. This itself brings a peaceful state of mind, and also allows the deeper aspects of emotional healing to unfold.

Witnessing of thoughts can be performed with or without labeling. In its use as a therapeutic tool, witnessing one‘s thoughts is most useful when we learn to label our thoughts as either:
1) Positive or Useful or
2) Negative or Not Useful

The witnessing and labeling of thoughts is part of a process which Ayurveda has laid out for eventually releasing the hold that certain negative thoughts may have on us. We eventually become aware of our center of consciousness--the abode of profound calm and happiness, beyond thought. The practice of consciously witnessing and labeling the thought patterns is an extremely useful aspect of anyone‘s spiritual practice and is also a specific treatment for manoroga.

Why is it impossible to ever still the mind for longer than brief periods? It is because the mind is constantly fed new activating energy from the immense stores of subconscious impressions. The subconscious is a dark and largely unknowable world stocked with residues of the past experiences of countless past lives. What‘s more, it is being continuously replenished in each current life. This lower region of the mind is a storehouse of latent energies from past experiences. There is a continuous movement from below, upward. A never-ending procession of memories, thoughts, images, desires, aversions and ideas emerging randomly into the light of the conscious mind. The subconscious is normally beyond our control—yet influences the way we think and behave. It is these subliminal activators that are called samskaras.

How do we rid the mind of these deep-rooted almost instinctual habits? Ayurveda points to several particular areas to investigate (such as one‘s desires, aversions, self-identity, etc) but its true praxis for transcending one‘s samskaras is by eliminating avidya, or ignorance, of the true nature of existence. In our ignorance we assign permanence to what is impermanent; truth to what is false; importance to what is trivial. It is a fundamental misconception of reality which ―infects‖ our minds and it is the object of the above three therapeutic approaches (physical, mental, pranic) and the key to curing all mental disease. Ultimately, for the aspirant truly intent on knowing his true nature and becoming liberated in this lifetime (jivan-mukta), one is initiated into a formal practice of meditation, dhyana. However, in Ayurvedic medicine it is never ―prescribed‖ as a specific medical therapeutic intervention.

People use the term meditation very widely these days. In Ayurveda we regard meditation as a technique to quiet the appropriately prepared mind and turn the attention inward. It also involves withdrawing the sense organs from their sense objects and becoming absolutely passive. Any technique which accomplishes these simple goals could be considered meditation. However strictly speaking Ayurveda follows the Yogic tradition of meditation, which is actually a series of subtler and subtler variations of one basic technique. That technique begins with the use of a support or object upon which the mind rests (samprajnata). The support is typically a mantra chosen for each individual in the traditional manner and transmitted in an initiation ritual. There are different stages of samprajnata meditation which can lead for some aspirants to meditation without a support (asamprajnata). Meditation can allow us to get a glimpse of what is stored deep in our own buddhi, and by becoming conscious of this blemish, remove it. This will change the way we see ourselves and the world. Meditation not only can help cure emotional imbalances but can help us realize our true nature. Every human being is sat-chit-ananda: truth, divine knowledge, and eternal bliss. Meditation can lead one to experience this truth and transform your view of life.

Depending on the capacity of the individual these approaches can be incorporated in series or parallel. If patients are aggressive, hostile or non-functional the treatment cannot be conducted at home. In these cases, we admit patients to an Ayurvedic hospital for physician-supervised treatments. For these individuals, barring medical contraindications, special treatments such as nasya (errhine administration of herbal preparations), sarvābhyanga (full body oil massage), shirobasti (head oil bath), virechana (purgative therapy) and shirodhara are administered. If the condition is in its acute stage, counseling will be initially ineffective and counter-productive. Therefore we generally use these specialized methods to sedate the doshas in the initial stage. If the disease becomes ciraroga (chronic disease) it is often incurable but can still be controlled over the lifetime.

Medhya Rasayanas: Herbal Component of Therapy

As noted previously, rasayana chikitsa is a branch of Ayurveda treatment which strengthens specific weaknesses in an individual and prevents the recurrence of the disease. Its purpose is, after the acute disease has been cured or brought under control, to promote longevity. Medhya Rasayana can be considered a branch of General Rasayana and specifically addresses the promotion and maintenance of mental health and intelligence. Acharya rasayana, the guidelines for proper behaviors and lifestyle, are another branch of Rasayana Chikitsa.
Basically, Medhya Rasayana Chikitsa consists of a prior period of detoxification and purification (achieved through a comprehensive panchakarma protocol) followed by the administration of special medhya rasayana herbal medicines, or mental rejuvenative medicines. Although there are certainly indications for the use of herbal medications during the samshamana and samshodhana phases of treatment, these medhya rasayana herbal preparations are most effective when reserved for the rasayana phase of treatment. Adopting a sattvic diet at this time is an essential piece of the puzzle.

The more commonly used medhya rasayana herbs are listed. Click below to read short profile on each.

Medhya Rasayana

(1) Brahmi (Bacopa monniera)  (2) Jatamansi (Nardostachys jatamansii)  (3) Sarpagandha (Rauwolfia serpentina)  (4) Mandukaparni (Centella asiatica)  (5) Shankpushpi (Evolvulus alsinoides)  (6) Tagara (Valeriana jatamansi)
(7) Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)   (8) Bala (Sida cordifolia)


Mental disease has been recognized throughout history in every civilization of the world though its significance is understood and its treatment has evolved in significantly different directions. The Western paradigm of mental illness mirrors modern scientific quest to solve the mystery of life by finally discovering the smallest, most fundamental particle of matter (i.e. reductionism). In the same vein, modern psychiatry too is principally concerned with the complex, reductionist details of brain neurochemistry in its pursuit to understand the physical basis of mental disease. This bio-reductionist paradigm focuses on specific aspects of sensory impressions and brain areas and the effect of various neurotransmitters and other chemical substances within the body.

In contrast, Ayurveda regards mental illness as a consequence of doshic and gunic imbalances, which results in mistakes of the Intellect (prajnaparada) which is the true root cause of all mental disorders. The true root of mental illness has no physical basis and its treatment is not aimed at correcting chemical imbalances but rather on learning to discriminate the True Universal Self from the acquired impressions which create our false identity. Those experiencing a form of medically recognized and labeled ―mental illness‖ are no different than the rest of us afflicted with our own version of mental illness—avidya or ignorance of our true nature—which just happens not to be given a name by modern psychiatric pundits. For all of us, Ayurveda understands avidya to be a physical manifestation of our karma that allows for the possibility of learning spiritual lessons needed for further evolution toward final liberation.

Charaka makes the goal of mental health simply understood and easily recognizable:

प्रसादश्चेन्द्रियाथथनाां बुद्ध्यात्ममनसाां तथा | धातूनाां प्रकृततस्थत्वां ववगतोरमादलक्षणम् ||९७||
Prasādashcendriyārthanām buddhyātmamanasām tathā | dhātunām prakṛutisthatvam vigatonmāda lakshanam ||97||

“Clarity of the sense organs, intellect, soul and mind and normalcy of the tissues of the body are the signs of the person cured of mental imbalance.” CS Ch 9/97.