October 2, 2019 | 51 minutes, 11 seconds
In This Article
Podcast Show Notes
In the last couple of years, I, along with Yoga Journal and Kripalu’s Larissa Hall Carlson, have produced two video courses on Ayurveda.
The first, Ayurveda 101, is about practicing yoga and Ayurveda in harmony with the daily and seasonal rhythms of nature—such an important concept that it won the Nobel prize in 2017 in the name of circadian science.1
The second course, Ayurveda 201, was recently released is all about Ayurvedic Psychology. It is logical that Ayurveda 101 would teach lifestyle medicine, including diet, exercise, yoga, and routines in sync with nature. Some may question why Ayurveda 201 would be about the mind, rather than seeing the body as a more urgent priority.
The reality is that, according to Ayurveda, the cause of disease is when the mind begins to see itself as separate from the whole.
This is called prajna paradh or the mistake of the intellect. I think it is safe to say that we all have experienced the power of mental stress and how it can impact our health and wellbeing. According to Ayurveda, the mind plays a fundamental role in maintaining optimal health and longevity, as well as a causative role in what ails us.
In this article, I dive into some important concepts of Ayurvedic psychology.
You may also be interested in these articles on the importance of Ayurveda 101: practicing yoga and Ayurveda in sync with nature’s circadian rhythms.
Ayurveda 201: Ayurvedic Psychology
Needing Approval, Attention + Reward
At a young age, the mind learns very quickly that it can be rewarded with attention, approval, sweets, toys, cartoons, video games, and more—all part of a survival response.
Children are also hardwired to desire and seek approval of parents in order to insure they are watched over. In ancient times, if a child wandered into the jungle and no one was watching, they could be lost or eaten.
The parent’s instinct is to watch over a child and a child’s instinct is to get attention from their parents—this relationship is part of our species’ survival. Such a codependency, however, must be broken in order to allow the child to become an emotionally strong and independent adult. Rites of passage or coming-of-age rituals were in part designed to break the pattern of needing love, attention, and approval from parents, replacing it with the ability to give love, attention, and approval to others.
We see this in nature when a mother leopard, in no uncertain terms, tells her young leopard that she will no longer be watching over them. It’s time to be free from the watchful eye or approval of a parent.
Today, our culture trolls young children and young adults with an endless supply of overstimulating, approval-based, addictive reward stimuli that lock us into a lifetime of needing love and attention from the outside world, as opposed to being content from within.
Sattva, Rajas + Tamas: 3 States of Mind
Being content from within is a state of mind call sattva in Ayurveda. Finding joy and satisfaction from stimulation of the outside world is called rajas. Sadly, we often become overstimulated, leading to the same stimulation no longer delivering the same reward or satisfaction. Then the individual becomes unsatisfied, dull, or withdrawn, called tamas in Ayurveda.
In Ayurveda 201, we use yoga, breathing, meditation, and Ayurvedic psychology tools, such as critical analysis or self-inquiry, to guide us into being more sattvic. The journey starts by going back through protective tamasic depressive behavior patterns to and then through overstimulated rajasic anxious mindsets to a place where we are able to be satisfied once again from within, a sattvic mindset.
Purifying the Koshas
To accomplish this, each week of the six-week Ayurveda 201 journey is designed to purify the koshas or energetic sheaths of the body described in Ayurveda. Week one starts with purifying and detoxing the body or annamaya kosha, followed by weekly techniques to purify the prana, mind, and intellectual discernment sheaths (in that order) and then finally freeing the bliss sheath or the anandamaya kosha to pervade all five koshas—allowing contentment in body, mind, and emotions.
It is common in our culture for the mind to become addicted and dependent on approval. The mind can become very skilled at manipulating its environment to achieve satisfaction from the outside world. Such a state can render being satisfied from inner experience into a forgotten part of ourselves—waiting patiently deep inside us all. This is the mistake of the intellect or, as Ayurveda suggests, the cause of all disease.
Stress + Self-Awareness
Reversing this mistake of the intellect is a fundamental premise of yoga and Ayurveda. It is now well-studied that stress can drive the nervous system to alter the microbiome (gut bacteria) and how the altered microbiome can alter the central nervous system, causing a host of physiological, psychological, and neurological imbalances and diseases.2
Bringing the body and mind into balance is step one, according to Ayurveda, in severing the relationship of stress on the mind and body. Once the body and mind are calm, stilled, and balanced, a state of enhanced self-awareness naturally ensues.
The key to making transformational change in the mind is giving the mind heightened awareness so we can choose sattvic behaviors over repetitive rajasic or tamasic behaviors. Sattvic behaviors are engineered to satisfy us from within—leaving us happy for no reason!
Sadly, due to our addiction to reward chemistry, repetitive behaviors aimed at eliciting reward, in the form of dopamine, breed subsequent behaviors aimed at getting a quicker or more potent dopamine response. Today, we call this instant gratification, which can leave us addicted to finding shortcuts in life, avoiding challenges or emotional situations with others.
This is elucidated by the Vedic saying: the extent to which something affects you is the extent to which it is your karma, i.e. your opportunity to take karma-breaking transformational action.
Or, you could say it the way my mother encouraged me to live as I was growing up: Do the thing you hate and fear to do.
Over the years, I added the following to my mom’s quote: If you don’t do the thing you hate and fear to do, you may, in time, begin to hate others and fear the world.
After 32 years of full-time Ayurveda practice with 26 years of that administering panchakarma detox and rejuvenation retreats, there is no doubt in my mind that Ayurveda and all Vedic sciences, for that matter, are aimed at changing our minds and helping us become conscious, allowing us to be more giving, loving, kind, and content every day!
This podcast is all about my two Ayurvedic video courses created with Larissa Hall Carlson + Yoga Journal: