6 Ayurvedic Truths The ‘Inside Out’ Movie Will Teach You

6 Ayurvedic Truths The ‘Inside Out’ Movie Will Teach You

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Inside Out

If you haven’t yet seen Pixar’s new flick, “Inside Out,” it’s well worth your time. This movie chronicles the culture shock an 11-year-old girl, Riley, experiences while she moves to San Francisco. What’s so brilliant in this film is how it makes the infinitely complicated machinations of the mind and emotions into a simple and relatable animated experience. They reduce it down to 5 main emotions: Joy, Anger, Sadness, Fear and Disgust. These 5 emotions become 5 animated characters that all co-control Riley’s emotional experience from “head”-quarters.

Image from Disney/Pixar

There’s a lot of depth to this film, and I want to highlight some of the ways “Inside Out” dives into Ayurvedic psychology and reveals some core truths.

Joy Is Our Natural State of Being

In the film, the main controller in headquarters is Joy. She is the emotion that Riley associates with and reaches out to the most. This is perfect because Riley is still a child, and the Ayurvedic perspective is that we all come from a place of Joy as a child. We spend the first two years of our lives communicating heart-to-heart with our parents and loved ones. No words are said, but the communication is direct. As infants, 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), which lies closest to our core self. (1)

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.

The Mind Takes Over When Joy Gets Hurt

Whenever something bad happens to Riley and Joy doesn’t know how to react, the other emotions take over like Anger or Disgust. In Ayurveda, this is equivalent to the mind sheath trying to protect our bliss sheath, our Joy.

From an innocent and natural desire to create protection, the mind and its emotions cut us off from who we really are. In the film, you’ll notice that few of the adults have Joy in the main seat anymore; they’re controlled by Anger or Sadness or Fear most of the time. Simply put, moodiness and sadness occur when a person loses access to the joyful self we started with as infants. This is also why the body begins to break down.

Personality Islands Change


The mind at this young age is forced to develop a first draft of a personality. A projection on a screen, an illusion designed to make one feel accepted, protected, loved and secure. In Riley’s case, these are her “core memories” that correlate to her personality “islands.” This is the personality that worked for her in Minnesota and kept her safe; but when she moved to such a vastly different place such as San Francisco, those personality “islands” didn’t work for her anymore and she had to rebuild a new personality to meet the emotional demands this new situation created for her.

While this process is essential early on in life, protective layers of the personality continue to build until by age ten, twenty and thirty, the projection on the screen becomes a personality that is vastly different and separate from the true Self. Now it’s time to ask, who is this person that you’ve created? Is this personality really serving me anymore, or is it time that I can get back in touch with my joyful and loving true self. 

Things Happen When We Lose Track of Our Joy

Once the mind has taken over, it strives to distract us so that we will never notice we have lost access to our true joyful selves. It diverts attention with powerful emotions like anger, shame, and jealously. And when all else fails, it calls on fear to seal shut the doors to our innermost being.

Unfortunately, the mind can do too good a job of protecting us, and over time, it creates a seemingly impenetrable barrier, doing everything it can to keep all invaders and stressors out of our delicate heart space, including the mind itself. Thus begins the ultimate mind-body disconnect. (1, 2) We see this when Joy gets lost in long-term memory and the other emotions are trying to keep up headquarters without her. Eventually, the control panel starts freezing over and becomes unresponsive – which correlates on the outside to Riley shutting down from her emotions, almost trance-like, and running away from home.In addition to affecting us psychoemotionally, the patterns of the mind impact us spiritually as well as physically. Just outside the mind sheath is the energy sheath (pranamaya kosha) where prana, or life force moves, connecting the mind and body. If the mind and its emotions take control, the flow of prana – which is needed to free the mind – can be blocked. When prana does not flow freely, protective and negative emotions can take control for a lifetime.

The energy sheath also connects the mind sheath to the body sheath (annamaya kosha), linking emotions and stress to our health. In order for the body to function properly, prana must be flowing freely. Ayurvedically speaking, this free flow of prana allows the doshas (vata, pitta and kapha) to balance, the seven dhatus (tissues) to develop, and the gross channels (srotas) of circulation, like blood and lymph, to move. It is here at the physical level that we see how these very subtle mental and emotional imbalances can affect the health of the entire body. (3)

Overcoming Fear

The only roadblocks that potentially derail positive action steps in the healing process are our fears. Our fears are the last stronghold of illusion employed by the mind. Once you confront a fear, being willing to do the things you are most afraid of doing, you can move through its illusory barriers. (1)

You might say, “Wait, Riley didn’t go through scary trials in the outside world.” But guess who did? Joy. She was the one who had to wake up the scary sleeping clown in Riley’s subconscious, she was the one who almost died in the abstract thought machine, and she was the one who dealt with the devastating blow of Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong being forgotten in the Abyss. In a way, it’s very apt that Joy experiences these trials rather than Riley, because many of the fears we need to go through are mental blocks rather than physical hardships.

We can each take on our fears. One at a time, with baby steps, tackling the small ones first, we can chip away until we find ourselves fearless and free. And then, through the fear, we gain access to our joyful self that has been waiting patiently deep in the heart.

The key, however, is action – or according to Ayurveda, your karma. Karma simply means ‘action.’ There is an old Vedic saying that goes, “To the extent that something affects you is to the extent it is your karma.” What this means is that if something, someone, or some fear is affecting you, then the move, the action, the karma is yours. Negative feelings are nothing more than an opportunity to take action; to replace the negative with a positive, loving response. Remember, we are by nature loving – so replacing negative emotions with positive actions is the path to freedom which, in time, translates to optimal health. (1, 2)

Joy took action throughout the movie to help keep Riley out of harm’s way; and while Riley and Joy had to experience some hardship along the way, it was when Joy moved through fear and Riley went through her pain that gave Riley access to her Joy once again.

Reclaiming the Director’s Chair

When your mind has the reins, you will be more concerned with what people think of your personal movie than the story your soul is trying to tell. When the mind passes the reins of control back to the heart, you become the director of your own movie and you can change the script. When your heart has the reins, the movie becomes about joy, freedom, love and the true expression of your soul’s message, your purpose.

Joy never stopped trying to get back to headquarters, and you should never stop trying to get back that joyful and loving nature again – but, of course, for Joy to do this, she had to go through fear. From an Ayurvedic perspective, we are at our core healthy, whole, happy, joyful and loving by nature, and the fears we have simply present opportunities to reconnect with our joy, our true nature.

It is important, then, to engage in habits and practices that support the emergence of this essential nature that bring balance to mind, body, and spirit. Ayurvedic medicine may prescribe yoga, breathing, meditation and other lifestyle techniques, in addition to using herbal remedies to maintain and restore balance.

A lifestyle in harmony with nature and the natural cycles of life allows the body to de-stress and heal, inspires optimal health, and creates an environment in which the mind can become still. In this stillness comes a natural state of self-awareness from which we can change the constructs of the mind. As you begin to live in harmony with your environment, you will naturally become more self-aware, and the obstacles, fears, and imbalances keeping you a prisoner of the mind become the focus of your attention. Once positive actions are taken as a result of this awareness, both the mind and its emotions, along with the body, can heal. (2)

Are you ready to let your inside out?


  1. Caraka, Caraka Samhita, ChaukhambhaOrientalia, Varanasi, India. 1981, Sarirasthanam, Ch VII, vs. 7-8
  2. Caraka, Caraka Samhita, ChaukhambhaOrientalia, Varanasi, India. 1981, SarirasthanamCh I, vs.102-108, 140-142, 129, 130-139, 99-101, 94-97,143-146, 83, 80-81.136-141.
  3. Caraka, Caraka Samhita, Chaukhambha Orientalia, Varanasi, India. 1981, Chikitisasthanam, Ch 1. vs.30-35. Ch XXVI, vs. 5-6, 7-10.

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Dr. John

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