Many people when diagnosed with an illness or disease think only of the physical aspects and look for a quick fix to relieve their pain and suffering without a thought as to why and how they became ill. Many other factors are relevant in any type of illness or disease and we often miss the most important messages which have resulted in our illness, we overlook and fail to associate things like how we feel, quality of sleep, our emotional states and relationships with others both before and during our illness. Ignoring these important road signs often manifests in stress and anxiety. often the root cause of illness and disease.
Ayurveda remedies focus on the combination of spiritual and the physical aspects of any disease or ailment. Some doctors, most notably neurologist Dr. David Simon of the Chopra Center, believes that Ayurveda might be a legitimate alternative to anxiety medications and treatments.
Stress and anxiety, in the context of Ayurveda, is rooted in the movements of things within a person’s perception of what he is and what is in his domain. In theory, things that enter into a person’s sphere of influence by force, such as a critical comment or pressures from work, can cause an imbalance in the mind and body. In a similar manner, a person would also need anxiety medication if something that was within their sphere of influence was forcibly taken from it, such as their sense of security or ability to perform certain tasks. These unwanted gains and losses can create imbalances in the harmony of the body that will persist until properly treated. Ultimately, the pain caused by this violation of one’s sphere of influence causes pain that we must deal with. However, denying it, ignoring it, bottling it up inside, or not dealing with it, can result in further imbalance. Such imbalances, in the context of Ayurveda, can cause problems like depression, mood disorders, stress and anxiety.
An Ayurveda approach to stress and anxiety
Like Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda is about restoring balance to the body. Problems that create the need for medical intervention, whether it comes in the form of antidepressants, anti psychotics or other anxiety medication often create imbalances and reliance on pharmaceuticals which carry undesirable side effects. Imbalances in the body can be corrected using a variety of means, some include herbal tinctures, special massage techniques, meditation, and even the appropriate dietary adjustments. However, anxiety is a problem firmly rooted in things like emotions and thoughts, factors that Western medicine views as being controlled by the chemical balance of the brain. The average person, is unlikely to have much knowledge of Ayurveda or how it works and may be under the impression that alternative medical systems can do little to alleviate psychiatric or psychological conditions, not so.
Ayurveda’s philosophy when dealing with stress and anxiety:
- Ayurveda look for the triggers which may have resulted in the illness
- Explores the root cause of stress and anxiety
- recommends strategies and ways in which you can reduce your anxiety
Ayurvedic practitioners believe that pain caused by violations of a person’s sphere of self can cause anxiety – among other mental and mood conditions. This build-up of pain and emotions causes more than just cognitive effects; it also touches upon a person’s physical well-being. Ayurveda practitioners help their patients locate this physical manifestation and proceed to attempt to correct it. They also promote finding ways to physically release that pain, but are not specific on how. It could be taking a walk or hitting a pillow, so long as it allows the patient to acknowledge, accept, and release the emotional build-up inside them.
Holy Basil (tulsi) used in Ayurveda medicine for stress and anxiety
Holy basil, also known as Tulsi is cultivated for medicinal and religious uses. There are varies varieties of holy basil, each with its own distinctive smell such as cloves, licorice, peppermint and lemon and produces aromatic essential oils. It is well known across South Asia as a medicinal plant and herbal tea, it is commonly used in Ayurveda, and has an important role within the Vaishnavite tradition of Hinduism, in which devotees perform worship involving tulsi plants or leaves.
Holy Basil – (Ocimum sanctum)
- Ehances the body’s natural response to physical and emotional stress
- Functions as an adaptogenic (enhances the ability to handle stress)
- Is not mind altering, but rather, helps the body function optimally during times of stress
Several scientific studies examining the properties of holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) have found that supplementation with various extracts of holy basil decrease stress hormone levels, corticosterone in particular. Lower levels of corticosterone are associated with improved mental clarity and memory, and in the longer term, can reduce the risk of age-related mental disorders.
Holy basil leaves are a natural source of many important compounds that provide a wide variety of health benefits. Eugenol and caryophyllene are aromatic compounds, so named because of their pleasing fragrance or “aroma”. These compounds are present in many plants, including holy basil, and have long been used in essential oils because their fragrant scent is said to elevate both mood and spirit. Scientific studies have shown that Eugenol, in particular, helps to combat stress and enhance mental clarity. Research has also shown that the Triterpenoic acids isolated from holy basil effectively improve the body’s response to stress.
There are several studies which examine the anti-stress effects of different components of holy basil. An herbal preparation, which combined a standardized holy basil extract along with three other Ayurvedic herbs, has been shown to improve the body’s ability to adapt to stress. The subjects were continually subjected to stress leading to elevated levels of stress hormones. Administration of the combination of herbs brought the hormone levels back to normal.
Further testing revealed the combination also exhibited preventative effects against stress. When taken on an on-going basis, the combination reduced the level to which the hormones were raised following exposure to stressful situations. Several studies have shown that certain alcohol extractions of holy basil combat the effects of stress. Supplementation aromatically reduced the corticosterone level, helping the body cope with stress, elevating mood, and improving mental clarity. Eugenol has been shown to possess similar effects.
These key components of holy basil help the body respond to both physical and mental stressors, reducing the damaging effects that on-going stress can have on other aspects of health.
Because multiple constituents of holy basil have been shown to combat stress, an effective supplement must provide each of these key active components at therapeutic dosages. In particular, the supplement should be standardized for Eugenol, Caryophyllene and Triterpenoic acids, such as Ursolic and Oleanolic acids. As these constituents differ significantly in their chemical structure, alternate extraction methods are needed to obtain beneficial levels. It is important to look for a dietary supplement which utilizes multiple extracts of holy basil, such as alcohol extracts, super critical (or CO2) extracts (select oils, oleoresins and total extracts) from organically grown natural spices and herbs, to provide the most complete supplement.