An Ayurvedic Perspective.
Anxiety seems a normal response to Covid-19. We know the Coronavirus is not a hoax and is a serious threat to life. We don’t believe it will “simply disappear” or that household disinfectants will protect us. We know that social distancing is necessary and testing is important. Americans and Brazilians are additionally justified in being concerned at the criminal lack of national leadership in this crisis. Why would we not feel anxious in the face of such a pandemic? Because anxiety will not help us.
Even before the emergence of the Coronavirus last year, anxiety affected around 40 million Americans. Since then anxiety itself has become an emotional pandemic. I believe that while anxiety is normal and commonplace, it is a useless emotion.
Anxiety is an emotion and should not be confused with worry. Worry is a mental activity in which we think of future difficulties and the consequences that might result. Anxiety is the emotional response to worry. For example we may worry that the virus will harm our loved ones, or that it may cost us future employment and financial security. Anxiety is the emotion we feel as a result of these thoughts. Anxiety robs us of confidence and it can inhibit decisive action. It doesn’t feel good and it is unnecessary.
Ayurveda, the world’s oldest healthcare system, links anxiety to an imbalance in Vata dosha, one of the three biological forces upon which all life depends. The term Vata is Sanskrit for “what moves,” denoting that movement is the primary function of this biological force.
Breathing, heart rhythm, swallowing, peristalsis, and elimination are some of the “movements” governed by Vata. Relevant to our discussion about anxiety, Vata governs the mechanical movement of motor and sensory nerve impulses. If Vata becomes excessive, the movement of nerve impulses accelerates and the intellect becomes hyperactive. In this state, thinking gravitates to the future, to worry over what might go wrong, and this causes an increase in the emotion of….anxiety. Chronic anxiety is an almost certain sign that Vata is elevated.
The cause of this imbalance in Vata is not always easy to determine but Ayurveda offers some simple and practical means for restoring balance in Vata. Here follows a few of these.
Diet. Certain foods tend to increase Vata and thus increase anxiety. Beans, cruciform vegetables, salad greens, apples and a host of other foods can increase Vata’s element (Air). Removing these and other Vata aggravating foods can often quickly produce a decrease in anxiety.
Herbs. Nature’s pharmacy includes a number of herbs that help to calm runaway Vata. In Ayurvedic medicine, these Vata calming herbs are normally prepared as a formula in order to enhance their synergistic effect.
Yoga can help us to slow down and thus reduce anxiety. Backward bend, knee to chest, plough and corpse are a few of the postures helpful to restore balance and calm the nervous system.
For quick relief from feeling anxious, try this easiest of all meditations; become aware of your breathing. Be “mindful” of each inbreath and each outbreath. This pranayam (breathing technique) automatically brings the mind to the present and anxiety about the future will disappear. A more advanced meditation can be chosen as a daily practice that will gradually strengthen the nervous system to be more emotionally resilient.
Anxiety is almost always associated with a disturbance in the biological force of Vata. Vata is the most easily unbalanced of the three forces and this is even more true after menopause/andropause. An Ayurvedic consultation can provide direction through diet, herbs, yoga and other lifestyle changes for restoring this vital force of “movement” to its correct level.
Be safe and be at peace.