We’re all aware of the terrible side effects of stress: sleeplessness, ulcers, migraines, indigestion—the list could go on. Because less of us know how to handle these side effects, Ayurveda and yoga have the answers.
According to Ayurveda, stress involves the imbalance of all three physiological doshas (vata, pitta, and kapha), as well as the doshas of the mind (rajas and tamas). Treatment is primarily aimed toward vata, the dosha responsible for movement in the body including blood circulation, breathing, and heartbeat.
Ultimately, stress is a matter of perception—nothing is inherently stressful. Permanently reducing stress is a matter of shifting our awareness. It’s the way that we perceive our lives and circumstance that makes us feel stressed.
Nearly all yoga helps to reduce stress. Slow, rhythmic breathing let’s the body know that it’s not under threat, calming down the over stimulated sympathetic nervous system.
Fluid, mindful movements calm vata and increase prana, or life energy. Long rests in Savasana trigger the parasympathetic nervous system and give the body time to rejuvenate itself.
However, there are few types of yoga that are not so great for stress. When stress manifests as an over-thinking mind, worry, fear, heart palpitations, irritability, and emotional instability, vigorous, fast-flowing yoga is best avoided—especially if it’s paired with loud and fast music.
Yoga nidra, or yogic sleep, is a guided practice that can quickly wash away worries. Just five minutes of this practice can work wonders on the body.
Soothing pranayama practices can be instant stress-relievers. People who get bored easily can try bhramari pranayama (honeybee breathing) or ujjayi pranayama (victorious breath). Both produce a sound, making it almost impossible to hear one’s own thoughts.
Those who need grounding can try deep belly breathing, sama vritti (equal breathing), nadi shodhana or anuloma viloma (alternate nostril breathing).
Lifestyle treatment for stress is fairly obvious but often overlooked. Some people mistake being “active” for exercise, but the two don’t equate.
Regular exercise is a must and so is a regular sleep cycle. Anyone who’s suffered from insomnia knows how quickly stress can ensue.
Ayurveda teaches that it’s easiest to fall asleep before 10 p.m. due to nature’s cycles, and that this rhythm ensures the deepest sleep.
When we’re stressed, it’s easy to forget how important it is to laugh and have fun. Watching a funny movie or swimming in the ocean are medicines in themselves.
The idea is to keep the mind happy—letting go of fear, expectations, and judgement against ourselves and others. Listen to positive sounds and surround ourselves with people who uplift us.
Externally, stress can be reduced by rubbing a small amount of warm oil on the very top of the head, over the ears, and on the soles of the feet. Oil in these particular spots has a special affinity for calming vata.
A stress-less diet is a sattvic diet, elevating the mind and invoking a peaceful feeling. Fresh fruits and vegetables replenish prana. Nuts and seeds promote groundedness through their oily quality. Legumes and dairy provide nourishing protein.
Beside the obvious, such as avoiding caffeine and alcohol, meat, spicy food, and garlic should be avoided. Foods such as these tend to bring the mind down.
On the other end of the spectrum, packaged, processed, frozen, canned, and leftover food are devoid of prana and best avoided.
While all of theses guidelines are supportive measures, it’s best to work with an Ayurvedic practitioner who can customize treatment for stress and its associated symptoms.