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Writers International Edition

The Concept of Manas in Ayurveda: A Holistic Approach to Mental Wellbeing

Abstract

Ayurveda, the traditional Indian system of medicine, offers a unique perspective on mental health. This article explores the concept of Manas (mind) in Ayurveda, examining its characteristics, functions, and its role in maintaining overall health. Drawing from classical Ayurvedic texts and Indian philosophical schools, the article highlights the interconnectedness of mind, body, and spirit in achieving well-being.

Keywords: Ayurveda, Manas, Mind-Body Connection, Mental Health, Sāṃkhya, Yoga, Upanishads

Introduction

समदोषः समाग्निश्च समधातु मलक्रियाः। प्रसन्नात्मेन्द्रियमनाः स्वस्थः इत्यभिधीयते ॥
“Sama Dosha Sama Agnischa Sama Dhatu Mala Kriyaaha|
Prasanna Atma Indriya Manaha Swastha Iti Abhidheeyate” – Sushruta Samhita

One is in perfect health when the three Doshas, digestive fire (digestion, assimilation and metabolism) all the body tissues & components (Dhatus) (the entire physical body) all the excretory functions (the physiological functions of urination and defecation) are in perfect order with a pleasantly disposed and contented mind, senses and spirit.

The ancient Indian system of medicine, Ayurveda, emphasises a holistic approach to health, encompassing the interconnectedness of mind, body, and spirit. Unlike the reductionist approach of modern medicine, which often treats the mind and body as separate entities, Ayurveda views them as functioning in a complex and interdependent relationship. This article delves into the concept of Manas (mind) in Ayurveda, exploring its characteristics, functions, and its role in maintaining health.

The Centrality of Manas

The term “Manas” refers to the mind in Ayurveda. Unlike the Western concept of mind as a physical organ located in the brain, Manas is considered a subtle and invisible entity. However, its presence is evident in all sensory and motor functions. Charaka Samhita, a foundational Ayurvedic text, defines Manas as the “controller of the senses” (indriyapati) [1]. It acts as the bridge between the external and internal environment, processing information received through the senses (jnanendriya) and directing motor responses (karmendriya) [2]. Without Manas, perception wouldn’t be possible.

Manas: The Seat of Pleasure and Pain

Ayurveda recognizes Manas as the source of both positive and negative emotions. It is the seat of Sukha (pleasure) and Dukkha (misery) [3]. Understanding the state of Manas is crucial because a balanced Manas is considered the ultimate source of health. An imbalanced Manas, on the other hand, can contribute to both physical and mental disorders. Sushruta Samhita states, “Prasanna Atma Indriya Manaha Swastha Iti Abhidheeyate” (a content mind is indicative of good health) [4]. This highlights the importance of a balanced Manas for overall well-being.

Philosophical Underpinnings of Manas

The concept of Manas in Ayurveda draws from various Indian philosophical schools, offering a deeper understanding of its nature and function:

  • Sāṃkhya Philosophy: This philosophy posits two ultimate realities: Purusha (self) and Prakriti (primordial nature). Prakriti consists of three Gunas (attributes): Sattva (purity), Rajas (activity), and Tamas (inertia). The mind (Manas) evolves from the Sattva aspect of these Gunas and interacts with the senses to create experiences [5]. The balance of Gunas within Manas determines its state. An imbalance can lead to mental disharmony.
  • Yoga Philosophy: Yoga emphasizes the control of thought waves in the mind. It identifies Manas as a component of the citta (mind apparatus) along with Buddhi (intellect) and Ahankara (ego) [6]. Manas receives impressions from the external world, while Buddhi interprets them and Ahankara creates a sense of ownership. Yoga practices aim to control the fluctuations of Manas and achieve a state of mental clarity. Patanjali Yoga Sutra defines Yoga as “cittavṛtti nirodhaḥ” (cessation of mental fluctuations) [7]. By calming Manas, Yoga promotes mental well-being.
  • Upanishads: These ancient texts differentiate between Manas and the true Self (Atman). While Manas is an instrument of perception, the Atman is the unchanging and eternal observer. The ultimate goal, as outlined in the Chāndogya Upanishad, is to realize the Atman and transcend the limitations of the mind [8].

Maintaining a Balanced Manas

Ayurveda emphasises the importance of maintaining a balanced Manas for overall health. This can be achieved through various practices:

  • Diet and lifestyle: Following Ayurvedic principles of diet and lifestyle that promote balance of the Doshas (Vata, Pitta, Kapha) can positively impact the mind. Each Dosha has a corresponding mental state. For example, imbalanced Vata can lead to anxiety and restlessness, while imbalanced Pitta can lead to anger and irritability. Following a diet and lifestyle that pacifies the dominant Dosha can help promote mental well-being.
  • Yoga and pranayama: Yoga practices and pranayama (breath control techniques) can help calm the mind and reduce stress. Yoga postures (asanas) can release physical tension, while pranayama can regulate the nervous system and promote mental clarity.
  • Meditation: Meditation helps train the mind to focus and achieve inner peace. By cultivating mindfulness and observing thought patterns without judgment, meditation can help regulate emotions and promote mental well-being.
  • Self-awareness: Developing self-awareness is crucial for understanding how your thoughts, emotions, and actions impact your mental state. Through practices like journaling or reflection, individuals can identify patterns and triggers that contribute to an imbalanced Manas.

Treatment of Manas Imbalances through Graha Chikitsa

Ayurveda recognizes the mind-body connection and emphasises mental well-being for overall health. Graha Chikitsa, also known as Manasa Roga, is a specialised branch of Ayurveda specifically dedicated to treating mental health conditions. It offers a comprehensive approach that addresses the root causes of mental imbalances and promotes holistic healing.

Understanding the Cause: Doshic Imbalances and Manas

Ayurveda posits that mental illnesses arise from imbalances in the three Doshas: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. These Doshas govern various physiological and psychological functions.

  • Vata Dosha, associated with air and space elements, governs alertness, creativity, and movement. When imbalanced, it can manifest as anxiety, restlessness, and fear.
  • Pitta Dosha, associated with fire and water elements, governs digestion, metabolism, and emotions. Imbalances can lead to anger, irritability, and aggression.
  • Kapha Dosha, associated with earth and water elements, governs stability, structure, and growth. Imbalances can manifest as depression, lethargy, and attachment.

Graha Chikitsa practitioners diagnose mental health conditions by evaluating a patient’s physical and mental state. This holistic assessment helps identify the specific Doshic imbalances contributing to the mental distress.

Treatment Approaches in Graha Chikitsa

Graha Chikitsa offers a diverse range of treatment modalities to address mental health concerns. These approaches aim to restore balance within the mind and body, promoting overall well-being. Here are some key treatment methods:

  • Meditation and Yoga: These practices form the cornerstone of Ayurvedic psychiatry. Meditation helps calm the mind, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve focus. Yoga postures (asanas) promote physical and mental relaxation, enhancing emotional well-being.
  • Ayurvedic Massage Therapy: These massages, using medicated oils, balance the Doshas and promote relaxation. They are particularly beneficial for conditions like anxiety and depression.
  • Shirodhara: This therapy involves pouring a stream of warm oil onto the forehead. It has a calming effect on the mind, alleviating stress and anxiety.
  • Panchakarma: This detoxification process helps eliminate toxins from the body, which can contribute to mental health issues. Panchakarma can be beneficial for treating depression, anxiety, and other conditions.
  • Herbal Medicines: Graha Chikitsa utilizes specific herbal formulations based on the identified Doshic imbalance. These natural remedies can help manage symptoms and promote mental clarity.

Graha Chikitsa, with its focus on natural therapies and lifestyle modifications, offers a valuable approach to mental healthcare. By addressing the root causes of mental imbalances and promoting a holistic approach to well-being, Graha Chikitsa can significantly contribute to mental health and emotional well-being. Further research exploring the efficacy of these interventions alongside controlled clinical trials would be beneficial for integrating Graha Chikitsa into mainstream mental healthcare.

Psychosomatic Disorders: Insights and Management through Ayurveda and Yoga

In the contemporary age of rapid modernization, the prevalence of psychosomatic disorders has become increasingly evident. Modern lifestyles, characterized by relentless schedules and incessant demands, have led to a surge in stress-related ailments that afflict both the mind and body. This phenomenon underscores the profound interconnection between mental well-being and physical health, as elucidated by ancient Ayurvedic wisdom.

According to Ayurveda, the mind (Mana) and body (Sharir) are intricately linked, with disturbances in one invariably affecting the other. The revered sage Acharya Charaka expounded on this symbiotic relationship, asserting that prolonged physical ailments can precipitate mental disorders, and vice versa. This holistic perspective underscores the holistic nature of health, wherein equilibrium between the doshas (biological energies), agni (digestive fire), dhatus (tissues), and malas (waste products) is indispensable for overall well-being.

In the modern context, stress emerges as a predominant factor contributing to psychosomatic disorders. The relentless pursuit of success, coupled with the pressures of daily life, has fueled an epidemic of stress-related ailments worldwide. Ayurveda identifies stress, alongside emotions like anxiety, fear, anger, and depression, as potent catalysts for psychosomatic disorders. The erosion of mental equilibrium, exacerbated by the frenetic pace of modern life, precipitates a cascade of physiological responses that manifest as physical illness.

Acharya Sushruta elucidates the profound impact of mental factors on health, highlighting the pivotal role of Satvabala (mental strength) in mitigating stress-induced disorders. Ayurveda posits that when the equilibrium of Sharirika (physical) and Mansika (mental) doshas is disrupted, disease ensues. Stress, being a potent disruptor of this equilibrium, precipitates psychosomatic disorders by deranging the delicate balance between body and mind.

The management of psychosomatic disorders in Ayurveda encompasses a multifaceted approach aimed at restoring harmony between body and mind. Therapeutic modalities such as Yoga, Meditation, Pranayama, and Sadvritta (code of conduct) play pivotal roles in this endeavor. Yoga, with its emphasis on asanas (physical postures), pranayama (breath control), and meditation, offers profound benefits for both mental and physical well-being. By harnessing the power of breath and mindfulness, individuals can cultivate resilience and alleviate the burden of stress-induced disorders.

The holistic principles of Ayurveda underscore the importance of addressing the root causes of psychosomatic disorders, rather than merely treating symptoms. By harmonizing the body, mind, and spirit, individuals can embark on a journey towards lasting health and vitality. Through the integration of ancient wisdom and modern science, the management of psychosomatic disorders offers a paradigm of holistic healing that transcends conventional approaches.

The Integration of Ayurveda and Modern Science in Mental Health Research

The increasing influence of Western medicine in India has led to a growing emphasis on scientific validation for traditional healthcare systems like Ayurveda. While standardised approaches offered by modern science are crucial, it’s important to acknowledge the value of cultural perspectives on health and well-being.

The Challenge of Cultural Bias

Every culture possesses its own unique understanding of various aspects of life, including relationships, food, and health. The concept of Manas (mind) in Ayurveda is a prime example. Understanding Manas necessitates viewing the mind through an “Indian” lens, considering its historical and philosophical context. However, the dominance of Western scientific thought can lead to the dismissal of Ayurvedic concepts as “unscientific” or simply “irrational.”

This bias is particularly evident in the Indian medical field, where some modern doctors criticise Ayurveda for its lack of standardised clinical trials and mechanistic explanations. This can discourage students from exploring the potential benefits of Ayurveda, hindering its integration into mainstream healthcare.

Moving Forward: A Bridge Between Two Worlds

The criticism of Ayurveda need not be a roadblock to progress. Instead, it can be a catalyst for collaboration and integration. Here’s how we can bridge the gap:

  • Cross-cultural research: Studies investigating the effectiveness of Ayurvedic interventions for mental health conditions, alongside mechanistic research exploring the physiological correlates of Ayurvedic practices, can provide valuable evidence for integration.
  • Clinical trials: Well-designed clinical trials comparing Ayurvedic treatments with conventional therapies or placebos can establish the efficacy of Ayurvedic approaches for specific mental health conditions.
  • Open-mindedness: Encouraging open-mindedness within the medical field is crucial. Modern medical professionals can benefit from understanding the philosophical underpinnings and holistic approach of Ayurveda. Similarly, Ayurvedic practitioners can incorporate evidence-based practices from modern medicine.

By fostering collaboration and open-mindedness, we can create a space where both Ayurveda and modern science can contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of mental health and well-being. This integrated approach can lead to the development of more effective and culturally-sensitive treatment options for a wider range of patients.

Conclusion

The concept of Manas in Ayurveda offers a unique and valuable perspective on mental health. It emphasises the interconnectedness of mind, body, and spirit, highlighting the importance of a holistic approach to well-being. Understanding the Ayurvedic perspective on Manas can contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the mind and its role in mental health.

Treatment and Integration

Graha Chikitsa, a specialised branch of Ayurveda, offers a diverse range of treatment modalities for mental health concerns. These natural therapies and lifestyle modifications, including meditation, yoga, massage, and herbal remedies, aim to address the root causes of mental imbalances and promote overall well-being. Further research exploring the efficacy of these interventions and investigating the physiological mechanisms underlying Ayurvedic practices is needed for a more robust integration with modern mental healthcare.

The dominance of Western scientific thought can lead to a dismissal of Ayurvedic concepts. However, this should not be a barrier to progress. By fostering collaboration and open-mindedness, modern science and Ayurveda can complement each other. Cross-cultural research, well-designed clinical trials, and a willingness to understand each other’s philosophical underpinnings can pave the way for a more integrated approach to mental health. This integration holds the potential to develop more effective and culturally-sensitive treatment options for a wider range of patients.

The Future of Manas

The concept of Manas in Ayurveda holds promise for the future of mental health research. By delving deeper into this ancient wisdom and integrating it with the advancements of modern science, we can create a more holistic and effective approach to promoting mental well-being for all.

References

  1. Charaka Samhita
  2. Sushruta Samhita
  3. Ayurvedic concept of Manas (mind) in perception of knowledge https://www.researchgate.net/publication/349281713_MANAS_MIND_AND_MANOVIKARA_MENTAL_DISORDER_IN_AYURVEDA_A_REVIEW
  4. Concept of Manas (Psyche) in Ayurveda https://nimhans.ac.in/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/8.-Concept-of-Manas-Psyche-in-Ayurveda_125-131.pdf
  5. Yoga Darshana
  6. Patanjali Yoga Sutra I.2
  7. Chāndogya Upanishad X.2, XI.1.
  8. Advanced Center for Ayurveda in Mental Health & Neurosciences, Bengaluru – CCRAS http://ccras.nic.in/content/advanced-center-ayurveda-mental-health-neurosciences-bengaluru
    Role of Ayurveda in Mental Health : An appraisal of CCRAS Research contribution(Background papers) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3705701/

About the Author

Preeth Nambiar (born 1978) is a multifaceted Indian figure: poet, journalist, educator, and humanitarian. His work exemplifies a unique blend of Eastern and Western thought. Rooted in Indian philosophy from his studies at Sringeri Math, one of the prominent centres of philosophy in India to promote the doctrine of non-dualism, Nambiar embarked on Ayurvedic studies, ultimately seeking a more holistic approach to well-being. This holistic perspective permeates his mystical and contemplative poetry collections which explore the depths of nature, life, and humanity. Nambiar’s dedication extends beyond the written word. He served as a teacher & Department Head (University of Cambridge, Maps International, Maldives) and founded the Writers Capital International Foundation, a prestigious organization fostering cultural understanding through literature (reaching over 87 countries). His influence extends further through educational endeavors and international diplomacy. Nambiar’s unwavering commitment to a holistic approach to life is evident throughout his career, inspiring others through his writing and leadership.

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Irene Doura
Irene Doura
16 days ago

Openmindedness is the key to all progress, especially in research and any scientific domain. In every culture, ancient-long practices have been of significant help and alleviation of ailments until the appearance of modern medicine, thus they are certain to have contributed greatly to societies for centuries and therefore should not be dismissed altogether as outdated or even irrational. Similarly to Ayurvedic teachings and practices, we can meke mention of ancient Greek medicine, as seen in the works and deeds of Hippocrates and Galen, whose practices propelled humanity forward for millennia.This ancient wisdom surely has to be taken seriously into consideration, especially in our era when mental disorders and diseases are on the rise, with the aim to help humanity restore the connection of man to nature and to himself. Congratulations to the author, expert on those ancient practices and techniques, Professor Preeth Nambiar for this awesomely-penned article offering us ample information on this important issue as well as food for thought!

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