Ayurvedic Psychology: What is the Mind?Nov 05, 2023
Have you ever found yourself asking, ‘what (the actual) is (the deal with) my mind’?
Ayurveda and Yoga views the body and mind as being inextricably linked, material coverings that house the transcendental soul.
Influenced by schools of thought from India, including Vedic teachings and the Yoga Scriptures, Ayurvedic psychology combines a philosophic approach with time-tested treatments that restore balance to the mind and body. Ayurvedic Psychology is highly useful in today’s society because it helps us to understand the primary cause of many mental health issues, illnesses, addictions, discontentment and disillusionment – and that cause is the mind.
A healthy and balanced mind results in feelings of happiness, peace, and contentment. If the mind is balanced, the individual will live a healthy and productive life; one that not only benefits the individual, but the status of society and humanity at large.
An unbalanced mind results in feelings of agitation, anxiety, and despair. If the mind is imbalanced, the individual will struggle to reach their full potential.
One of the fundamental teachings of Ayurveda is that disease is a chronic state of imbalance; created by a combination of personal choices, environmental influences, and karmic reactions. Accordingly, Ayurvedic psychology recognises that there are a variety of factors which contribute to the manifestation of mental illness, including (but not limited to):
How we engage our senses, what we eat, how we act, who we associate with, and the activities we perform as part of our daily routine.
The climate we live in, natural elements and seasons, people we are surrounded by, media we are exposed to, and our profession and workplace.
The law of “cause and effect” – the consequences of our past actions or deeds coming to fruition (which can be carried over from lifetimes).
Our inherent biological makeup and the contents of our mind; including self-talk, beliefs, attitudes, and so on.
Ayurveda teaches that all imbalance can be improved, or even healed completely, given the right circumstances. That is to say imbalance within the mind and body can be exacerbated or relieved depending upon the factors above; and healing is possible if we address these factors.
Many heavily engrained and lifelong patterns are completely unconscious – people don’t realize that change is possible, let alone necessary. We can’t fix something we aren’t aware of. As you can see, awareness is the precursor to change, and ultimately growth.
Ayurvedic psychology understands that we must cultivate our awareness before we can successfully change our behaviors. The more awareness we cultivate, and the more conscious we become, the better chance we have at engaging with life in a healthy, thoughtful manner. Through conscious living, we can make choices that are in our highest good – maintaining optimal health and wellbeing.
Many things that create disease or discomfort (both mentally and physically) are direct results of our daily choices and behaviors. We can’t control life; but we can control how we think, speak, behave and engage with the world around us. Recognizing what we can control empowers us to take responsibility for our lives and be an active participant in our healing.
Becoming the Observer
Cultivating awareness requires us to become the observer. We must recognize that we have the power to change our habits and behaviors. We must learn to see the qualities of life as it unfolds around us. As we come to understand Ayurveda in this way, we develop an awareness of the different qualities in Nature, foods, emotions, thoughts, activities, environments, and other people. From this place of awareness, we simultaneously develop our ability to consciously choose more of the qualities that bring us into balance; while avoiding those that don’t.
Which brings me to the issue of modern-day Western society, whereby our inherent awareness has become dulled by over-stimulation, heavy tech consumption, disrupted daily routines, processed foods, and a disconnection from nature. Our world, and the lives that we lead, have become very unnatural; requiring us to be “on” 24/7, with no regard to Nature’s inherent rhythm or wisdom. Generally speaking, our modern existence fails to nourish the soul.
Because of this, we live under the influence of Rajas (the mode of passion) and Tamas (the mode of ignorance). These influences, combined with a lack of spiritual wisdom, have resulted in the majority of society believing that we are the mind. That we are our thoughts, emotions, and ideas. This erroneous belief results in us being controlled by the mind, unconsciously being pulled in this direction and that – and often being misled. And so, the first lesson in cultivating awareness must be understanding who we are on a fundamental level.
Understanding the Self
We are not our mind. We are the eternal soul; the observer of the mind. Understanding this concept, that we are spirit in essence and separate from the mind and body, is imperative if we are to understand how the mind operates. It is in this way that Yoga and Ayurveda work together as complementary systems. Yoga teaches us how to develop spiritually, while Ayurveda teaches us how to live in a way that supports our spiritual journey. As we integrate the teachings from both systems, we are able to live a life that is led by the Self, making intelligent decisions that promote health and healing. Our understanding of the concepts of Ayurveda enables us to make conscious decisions which reinforce balance and harmony; rather than dogmatically following strict dietary or lifestyle regimes. These essential concepts are:
The difference between mind, body, and spirit; and the interconnectedness of all three.
Ether, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth.
The Maha Gunas
Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas.
Vata, Pitta, and Kapha
Finally, we must also understand that our mind and body are intimately connected. There is no separation between our mind and our physicality; every thought affects the body, just as the condition of the body affects the quality of the mind. This is why it’s so important to take care of ourselves physically, because it influences our mental health, and vice versa – our mental health impacts our physical health.
This is a juicy topic, and very relevant – and I’d love to dive deeper with you! There are 3 ways you can get started with Ayurvedic Psychology today.