Ayurvedic Treatment in Kerala: Ayurvedic Treatment for Depression
Perhaps you are reading this article because you or someone you know has been feeling sad, anxious or suicidal and you may be wondering if it is the kind of depression that needs medical treatment. Or perhaps you have already been told that it is a case of major depression aka clinical depression. While it is normal for us humans to temporarily feel intensely sad at the loss of a loved one or in the face of major life events like divorce, we must seek medical help if we are unable to go about our routine and instead experience a constant state of anxiousness, hopelessness or lack of interest in life for an extended period of time. With the increasing prevalence of depression in most modern societies today, it makes immense sense for us to better understand the triggers and symptoms of this debilitating disease and how the gentle, loving approach adopted in the ayurvedic treatment for depression in Kerala can help the person get back on their feet without drug dependence or side effects.
What is clinical depression?
Not all sadness is depression. You call it clinical depression when your feeling of sadness is constant, when it is a daily thing to want to be alone, to not go to your class or workplace, to contemplate death. You are not able to come out of it despite your family’s and friends’ love and support, you have a sense of doom which just doesn't leave you no matter what. This mental state that keeps you aloof from the world, feeling incompetent, unproductive and slow is what we call clinical depression or major depression. It may be triggered by an external event, it may come just once in your life or it may recur at different times in your life. This is of course very different from the blues and mood swings that you get occasionally and transiently. Because of its severity, persistent nature and fatal consequences, clinical depression needs medical attention.
What is a healthy mind ?
Ayurveda says that the mind is governed by the balance between three tendencies or gunas - sattva, rajas and tamas. Sattva is the force that brings forth a positive, creative frame of mind, rajas is the mind’s tendency that propels activity and tamas is the quality that is responsible for inactivity as in sleep and rest. However, the balance between the three tendencies is dynamic and is constantly changing - everything that we do, eat, drink or get exposed to, changes this balance. For example, if you have one small cup of morning coffee, it gently stimulates rajas and helps you get started, but if you have too much coffee it aggravates rajas and makes you restless and anxious causing even sleep disturbances. Likewise, when you have a good night’s sleep your sattva is strong, but if you sleep too much especially during the day, it increases tamas and makes you lethargic. When all these three gunas are in balance, the mind is healthy and it will be able to carry out its functions like thinking, analysis,speculation, goal setting and decision making correctly.
What are the causes of depression?
Depression is the result of the mind losing the delicate balance between the three gunas and the rajas and tamas overpowering the sattva. When does this happen? What causes rajas and tamas to grow so out of control? Ayurveda says that the balance of the mind is lost through the unhealthy lifestyle choices that we make in our daily lives ( improper diet, activity and sleep habits, substance abuse), misuse of our five senses (overconsumption of media is a pertinent example) and processes related to ageing as well as physical illnesses (chronic painful physical illnesses and diseases like thyroid imbalances). Various genetic and environmental factors ( trauma, death, unemployment, divorce, abuse) may also lead to an aggravation of the tamasic tendency of the mind in some people. When this is not brought under control soon enough, it may cause major depression. Identifying the cause is an important step in the ayurvedic treatment in Kerala for depression as it plays a major role in deciding the treatment protocol.
How are the body and mind affected in depression?
In the earlier section, we saw how various triggers cause an imbalance of rajas and tamas which causes a negative state of mind. We know that the body and mind are connected, so when these changes happen in the mind, it also causes some changes in the body. Along with tamas overpowering sattva in the mind, kapha dosha overpowers vata dosha ( the balance between the three doshas - vata, pitta and kapha - governs all the physical functions of the body ) in the body. The disturbed doshas occupy the brain and vitiate the energy channels in our body. In this state, we find that all mental abilities are negatively affected, the mind becomes clouded and the person begins to show poor judgement, feelings of worthlessness and lack of will. At the same time, there are physical problems like improper digestion, tiredness, constipation etc. All these mental and physical disturbances lead to a further depressed state. Ayurvedic treatment for depression in Kerala aims to cure the disease completely by restoring the balance of the three gunas of the mind and the three doshas of the body, thus making you ever stronger.
When should you consider ayurvedic treatment for depression in Kerala?
Taking the decision to undergo depression treatment in Kerala at the right time is very important, considering the nature of the disease. Seek ayurvedic treatment for depression when you find yourself or someone else you know experiencing extreme sadness, anxiety, lack of interest in daily life, sleep disturbances, emotional instability etc. persistently for more than 2 weeks. These could be signs of depression and the earlier you approach an ayurvedic physician, the better the outcome. If the diagnosis of depression has already been made and you are on medicines, you may still consider shifting to ayurvedic treatment for better management and results.
Ayurvedic treatment for depression
What are the objectives of ayurvedic treatment for depression?
Ayurvedic treatment in Kerala for depression in Kerala has two main goals:
(a) To address and, if possible, eliminate the trigger(s) for depression: For example, if there is a chronic, painful physical disease, treat that condition first. Or, if the trigger for depression is the pathological thinking around the loss of a loved one, correct the thought process through psychotherapy. Identifying the trigger for depression correctly and eliminating it is essential for the success of the treatment.
(b) Correct the imbalances caused in the body and mind: There is an imbalance of mental gunas (psychological tendencies) and physical doshas (bio energies) in depressive disorder. Therefore, at the psychic level, ayurvedic treatment for depression aims at overcoming the obstruction of tamas, normalizing the activity of rajas and enhancing the sattva guna of the individual. Physically, the treatment attempts to decrease the kapha dosha, pacify vata and maintain a balance between all the three doshas. As the imbalances in the body and mind get corrected gradually, the person comes back to a state of positive mental and physical health.
What are the treatment methods used in the ayurvedic treatment for depression in Kerala?
Ayurvedic treatment in Kerala for depression has three main treatment modalities today:
Pharmacological treatment: This is treatment using medicines.The medicines may be given internally in the form of liquid decoctions, powders and tablets or used externally in oil therapies. Ayurvedic medicines generally used in depression are medhya rasayanas which rejuvenate the brain cells, stress-relievers, neuroprotectants that support brain cells and symptom based formulations that do not cause undesirable side effects like drowsiness or drug dependence. The diet and lifestyle recommended as a part of ayurvedic treatment for depression also come under this category.
Psychotherapy - Here the ayurvedic physician helps the affected person regain self control of the mind through intelligently designed interactions and conversations. Using a mix of philosophy, mythological stories and various psychological techniques, mind is reassured and negative emotions and thoughts are replaced with positive thoughts, thus bringing back self awareness and a sense of competence.
Yoga, pranayama and meditation: Tenets of yoga is used in the ayurveda treatment for depression to activate the flow of prana ( life force) and enhance the sattva guna of mind that is overpowered by tamas in depression. During your stay at the ayurveda hospital in Kerala you will be trained to harness the power of your mind and withdraw its contact from situations, persons or substances that have a negative effect on your mind.
What are the stages in the ayurvedic treatment for depression in Kerala?
Each person’s depression is different with respect to its cause, severity and manifestation. So, following the same treatment protocol for all depression cases may not be possible. But the general treatment adopted can be summarised in three stages:
In the first stage of treatment the physician builds rapport with the patient to identify the real triggers of depression and begins to address them through psychotherapy. Right from this stage, continuous attempts are made to gradually correct pathological thinking and replace it with better presence of mind, orientation and self awareness. Correcting any physical illnesses that may be contributing to the depressive state as well as any digestive problems and restoring healthy metabolism is another integral part of the first stage since it is essential for the success of the overall treatment.
The second stage of ayurvedic treatment for depression uses ayurvedic therapies to eliminate the morbid doshas accumulated in the mind and body. By thus restoring balance, these therapies help in relieving symptoms like loss of interest, lack of confidence, sadness, suicidal thoughts etc. Once these therapies are completed, the influence of tamas will fade off and the person will start to demonstrate a positive outlook towards life.
The third stage pertaining to ayurvedic treatment for depression mainly aims at rejuvenating the mind and the body with rasayana preparations like medhya rasayanas. These are ayurvedic brain tonics that revitalize mental performance, intellect, retention power and memory thus strengthening the mind to carry out all its normal functions and enabling the person to lead a normal life.
What are some common therapies used in the Kerala ayurvedic treatment for depression?
Ayurvedic therapies induce self-realization, reduce stress and anxiety levels, ignite positive thoughts and help the individual get back to their normal life. The therapies adopted in ayurvedic treatment for depression vary depending on the severity and nature of the presenting symptoms in each patient
Shiroabhyanga - A highly nourishing therapy for the nervous system which has anti depressive and anxiety reducing effects on the mind. Our head being the site with the highest density of marmas (vital points), this gentle head massage in a circular fashion stimulates these points, facilitating smooth flow of prana (energy) all over the body. Hence this therapy has profound effects not only on the brain, but the entire body.
Shirodhara - In this procedure which may last about an hour, medicated oil or fluids like milk is made to continuously fall on the forehead in a gentle, stream like fashion at a certain pressure.The treatment has a powerful effect - it increases blood circulation in the brain, reduces the production of stress hormones and enhances the production of positive hormones like melatonin. As a result, the nervous system is soothened and cleansed and the mind reaches a deep state of rest thus healing it and enabling it to begin to function normally again.
Shirovasti -This therapy is very useful to reduce the symptoms associated with depression. In this treatment, warm medicated oil is pooled and retained over the head which dilates the blood vessels and replenishes the entire nervous system due to the increased blood supply. This oxygenates the entire brain, facilitating smooth movement of vital energies and aiding healthy functioning of the mind.
Thalapothichil/ Shiro lepa - A highly refreshing and rejuvenating therapy for the nervous system widely practised at ayurvedic centres in Kerala where a medicated herbal paste is applied on the head and is held in place by a wrapping with certain leaves for a specific period. The therapeutic effect of the medicated paste penetrates deep within the scalp and rejuvenates the brain cells, thus reducing the symptoms of depression and supports the healthy functioning of the mind.
Nasya - Nasya is a panchakarma therapy that has a direct effect on higher mental functions like thoughts, emotions, memory, concentration etc. In this procedure, the head is supported in a certain position and medicated oil or herbal drops are instilled into nostrils. This has the potent effect of clearing morbid doshas from energy channels in the head, bringing forth clarity of mind and significant improvement in the person's mental state.
Vamana and virechana - These are panchakarma therapies commonly done in depression. Vamana means induced vomiting and virechana means purgation. Snehapana (intake of medicated ghee for 5 to 7 days) is done prior to this as a preparatory procedure. Apart from reducing the symptoms associated with specific dosha imbalances, these purificatory therapies also help in restoring psychosomatic balance.
How beneficial is the ayurvedic treatment for depression in Kerala ?
Ayurvedic treatment for depression in Kerala is a complete body-mind healing done in a natural way. The benefits can be felt during the course of treatment itself with the severity of symptoms reducing day by day. By the time of discharge, negative thoughts, hopelessness, guilt, irritability, anger and other symptoms will have vanished almost completely and be replaced with a positive approach towards life along with more clarity of mind. These benefits are sustained long term with follow up medicines to be taken at home usually for a period of 4 to 6 months. Following the instructions and medicines as prescribed will help cure depression completely and prevent recurrence. Depending on the severity and chronicity of depression, sometimes follow up consultations and treatment may be advised in subsequent years. Complete recovery is possible in most chronic and severe cases of depression with proper ayurveda treatment.
How is psychotherapy used in the ayurvedic treatment for depression in Kerala?
Psychotherapy is considered an integral and powerful part of ayurvedic treatment for depression. The concept that a person who learns to behave with himself in turn learns to behave with the society too, is at the heart of ayurvedic psychotherapy. Providing assurance that the depressive state can be overcome and that one is not alone in this journey is the most important thing. This creates a sense of relief and faith in ayurveda and the treating physician which is essential for successful treatment. Replacing negative emotions with good ones by citing examples of loved ones, regulating and reframing the thought process through mind games, teaching the mind to avoid unnecessary negative presumptions through stories with unexpected positive outcome etc. are adopted during psychotherapy sessions. Providing self-realisation, life goals and the ideas to achieve that, proper guidance for taking correct decisions at the right time etc. are also included. Training the mind to control negative emotions like fear, jealousy, anger etc. through yoga, pranayama and meditation is also a part of psychotherapy.
What is the advantage of taking ayurvedic treatment for depression over modern medicine?
The biggest advantage is that the chances of getting completely cured of depression by ayurvedic treatment are more compared to any other system of medicine. Ayurvedic treatment starts by identifying the cause of depression and adopting measures to address it and if possible, eliminate it. Ayurvedic treatment for depression is gentle and safe. There is no need for lifelong medications and drug dependence does not arise. On the other hand, modern medicine treats depression with a cocktail of antidepressants and antipsychotics that temporarily suppress the symptoms, but in the process cause damage to other mental functions and in some cases even cause personality changes.
Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle advice
What is the role of diet in the ayurvedic treatment for depression?
Diet plays an important role in the ayurvedic treatment for depression both as a mode of treatment and as a means of preventing recurrence. Avoiding food that increases tamas and its overpowering influence on the mind is very important. Food that suppresses the digestive fire and produces a lethargic state of body and mind are considered as tamasic food. Processed, frozen, canned, deep fried foods and those with high sugar content come in this category. Alongside, it is equally important to include more satvik food items like herb based food (green leafy vegetables), fresh fruits and juices, sprouted whole grains (oats, barley, buckwheat, corn, millets etc.), low fat milk, legumes, etc. Different types of berries, avocado and nuts like walnuts that are rich in antioxidants help in reducing depressive symptoms. Also, depression being a kapha predominant condition, foods that pacify kapha dosha are beneficial. Warm and mildly spiced soup is always a good choice. You may season it with spices like pepper, dried ginger, cumin, turmeric etc. While the intake of sweet food has to be restricted, honey is a good kapha pacifier and you may have it moderately.
How does lifestyle modification influence the ayurvedic treatment for depression?
Depression is a disorder that is significantly affected by negative factors around you. It could be some persons, certain circumstances at home, work or elsewhere, some events or other stressful factors in your daily life. There are chances that you may have to face those negative factors in your life yet again after your ayurvedic treatment and discharge. The importance of lifestyle modification comes in this context. Lifestyle modifications advised as a part of ayurvedic treatment for depression prepares your mind to handle such situations effectively.
Following a systematic day routine and sleep habit is one of the most important lifestyle factors. Make sure you sleep by 10:00 p.m. wake up by 6:00 a.m. Follow regular meal times. Do not suppress natural urges like bowel and bladder movements. Exercise regularly and keep fit and active. Practise yoga, pranayama and meditation everyday. Avoid alcohol and smoking as they trigger depression symptoms. Find time to relax and engage in stuff that make you happy, be it listening to music, watching movies or being in the company of people you love.
How do yoga and pranayama help in recovery from depression?
Yoga, pranayama and meditation are often advised as a part of ayurvedic treatment for depression. Yoga helps strengthen the body-mind connection through specific poses and controlled breathing techniques. Yogasanas increase blood circulation to the brain and helps in increased production of mood elevating hormones. This is the best way to attain a sense of well-being, which is highly valuable in depression. Suryanamskara that includes 12 different postures stretches your body completely with controlled inhalation and exhalation techniques and is found to be an excellent choice for depression.
Pranayama is a part of yoga where breath regulation brings about strengthening of prana or the vital life force. It has a powerful effect on reducing depressive symptoms. Similarly, practising meditation daily for a few minutes helps in getting rid of anxiety, stress and negative thoughts associated with depression.
How can friends and relatives help in attaining a speedy recovery?
Emotional, physical and mental support from friends and family is extremely important in depression treatment. Many depressed patients find it very hard to share their feelings, so be patient and gentle with them and when they express negative thoughts, do not criticize them. If you get to know about specific triggers for their depression, help them stay away from those triggers or get over their trauma. Reassure them that it can be overcome and that you would support them through this tough time. Create circumstances for a healthy lifestyle including good diet and sleep habits. Explain how medical attention can help them come out of their depressed state and support them to access medical care. Never take suicidal thoughts lightly and get professional help if you identify suicidal tendencies. Ayurvedic treatment for depression becomes all the more effective with good support from friends and family.
Very often depression turns out to be a challenging problem for patients and their families because of its recurring nature and the unavailability of safe and effective treatment options in modern medicine. Many suffer in silence without seeking medical care because of their concerns about treatment methods, side effects and drug dependence. However the battle need not be so hard. Ayurveda offers safe and effective treatment options for depression in almost any stage. Most people with depression experience a remarkable difference and get back to the normal lives with around 4 weeks of inpatient ayurvedic treatment in Kerala. When ayurvedic treatment is taken in the early stages of the disease, there is a high chance for complete cure with no recurrence. Even in advanced cases of depression, ayurvedic treatment works extremely well but in such cases follow up courses of treatment may be required in the later years to prevent recurrence. Ayurvedic treatment for depression in Kerala is gentle in its approach and rejuvenates the brain and the mind using medicines, psychotherapy, yoga and lifestyle changes as treatment modalities.
After completing ayurvedic treatment for depression in Kerala, what are the chances of recurrence?
People once diagnosed with depression are more prone to a future attack later in life, compared to others. But undergoing ayurvedic treatment as advised, following a healthy lifestyle and following the advice obtained during psychotherapy sessions can minimise the chances of recurrence.
Does ayurvedic treatment for depression require lifelong medications?
No. You will only be on medications during your inpatient ayurvedic treatment in Kerala and for about 3 to 6 months after your discharge. One of the major goals of ayurvedic treatment for depression is to save you from drug dependence. Make sure you follow your ayurvedic physician’s advice on gradual tapering and withdrawal of medicines.
When I start my ayurvedic treatment for depression, can I completely stop the antidepressants that I have been taking for some time now?
That depends on the severity of your condition. If your condition is not so sever, you may be allowed to stop those medicines right from the beginning of the ayurvedic treatment. In other cases a sudden total withdrawal of the medicines may cause problems so the dose is gradually reduced as ayurvedic treatment progresses. As you reach a stage where it can be managed with just ayurvedic medicines you may discontinue the antidepressants.
Will I need to come with an escort when I come for panchakarma treatment for depression in Kerala?
Ideally, yes. It is good to have a close family member or a friend by your side during treatment because it is necessary that they are also well informed about your condition and how to take care of you in difficult situations. Besides, they may be able to provide more information to the physician about your condition as someone who has seen your life much closer.
Will I be able to lead a normal life after taking ayurvedic treatment for depression?
Certainly, yes. Ayurvedic treatment for depression enables you to face life with more confidence than ever before. A normal personal, social and professional life is definitely possible after completing ayurvedic depression treatment in Kerala as advised.