Ayurvedic Definition for Bipolar Disorder
According to the classical Ayurvedic texts, traditional Ayurveda has no specific equivalent disease for the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. But fitting a set of symptoms into the diagnosis of a certain disease is not a requirement to treating it using Ayurvedic methods. Bipolar disorder manifests due to imbalances in the three fundamental biological qualities that govern the body and mind; vata, pitta and kapha; and the mental principles of sattva, rajas and tamas, which are the “qualities of consciousness.”
The California College for Ayurveda offers more details regarding traditional Ayurveda as it relates to bipolar disorder treatment.
Main Tools for Ayurvedic Treatment:
In treating bipolar disorder with herbal therapies, nervine tonics are the most important element in building stability and mental ojas. Nervine sedatives are useful for elated or manic episodes and nervine stimulants are useful for depressive states. However, the intention is not to force the brain out of a manic or depressive episode by providing herbal uppers or downers. Ayurvedic herbs used for bipolar disorder are adaptogenic, meaning that they are equally valuable for mania or depression. The intent is to balance the doshas and to normalize the production of neurotransmitters.
Some good herb choices for tonics are ashwagandha, brahmi, shatavari, ginseng, shanka pushpi, nutmeg, skull cap, kappikacchu, haritaki and bhringaraj. Also, jyotishmati, ginkgo, jatamamsi, oat straw, valerian root, St. John’s wort and Gotu Kola may be useful for some people. Brahmi is a great choice for any mood state as it can act as a mild stimulant or a sedative depending on what mood state needs to be balanced. Ashwagandha is very useful for building ojas and pacifying vata in the nervous system and mind.
5 Sense Therapies
The five sense therapies (vision, sound, taste, touch and smell) can be used to place a person in balancing and restorative surroundings. Color therapy may be useful for the visual sense. Music that the patient finds enjoyable or mantra therapy may be beneficial sound therapy. Since vata is rough, dry cold and sharp, touch therapy should have the opposite qualities, such as soft clothing or bedding. Gentle and steady massage with lots of oil is also an excellent therapy for the touch sense. Rose, basil and lavender may add balance to bipolar disorder.
Exercise can also be an important factor in managing the doshas, as well as helping one relax and sleep well. When a person is experiencing more pitta manic symptoms, slow and cooling exercises are best like a cool walk or swimming. When a person is in a more depressive state, mild running, team sports or Bikram Yoga may be of use.
Panchakarma (The Five Actions)
Panchakarma (“the five actions”) is the main Ayurvedic method for purification. “Owing to the subtle nature of its processes, it penetrates deep into the nervous system. It is useful for psychological problems caused by excess of the three doshas. Yet it can also be helpful for psychological problems caused by internal factors, emotions and karma.”
Since the primary problem of bipolar disorder is vata imbalance, a program with an emphasis on bastis (therapeutic enemas) should be adopted. If a person is in a manic phase, virechana (therapeutic purgation) may be used and if a person is in a depressed state, vamana (therapeutic emesis) may be an option. Oleation with medicated oils through abhyanga (Ayurvedic massage) is also a key therapy in alleviating bipolar systems, as well as for managing vata. Shirodhara (flowing oil on the forehead) and shirobasti (oil in a crown on the head) are also recommended for their direct action on the brain, mind and energy fields.
In Ayurveda, sleep is considered one of the great pillars of health. Sleep builds ojas and pacifies vata. In terms of treatment for bipolar disorder, the critical importance of sleep cannot be understated, as it allows the body and mind to rest and heal.
Meditation, breath, pranayama, as well as other yogic practices, are also of great importance in managing bipolar disorder. They have the ability to cultivate a clear, calm and creative mind, as well as to teach a person how to manage their internal channels of energy.
Eating a diet rich in Ojas-increasing foods is a great way to promote healthy Ojas in the body. Here is a list of some powerful Ojas building food choices:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Healthy oils such as coconut, olive, sesame and almond
- Coconut meat, coconut water, coconut milk
Eating a diet rich in sattvic foods is a great way to Increase Sattva Guna. Light foods such as fresh vegetables, milk, fruits, most grains, split or whole mung dhal and almonds increase calmness, clarity and creativity of the mind.
Favoring the sweet, sour and salty tastes and avoiding bitter, pungent and astringent foods is important in order to keep Vata in balance.
- Eat larger quantities, but don’t overeat. This helps to balance the lightness of Vata.
- Take sweeteners in moderation. They all help to pacify Vata.
- Fats and oils are beneficial in the digestive system and help reduce Vata. Use up to three teaspoons daily of ghee or extra virgin olive oil.
- All low-fat dairy products are recommended. Milk is easier to digest when warm or heated.
- Use spices that pacify Vata including cardamom, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, salt, cloves, mustard seed, basil, asafetida, cilantro, fennel, oregano, sage, tarragon, thyme, and black pepper.
- Rice and wheat are the best grains for balancing Vata. Reduce the amount of barley, corn, white flour, and rye that you consume.
- Favor sweet, heavy fruits such as bananas, avocados, mangoes, apricots, plums, berries, coconut, figs, grapefruit, oranges, lemons, melons, papaya, peaches, pineapples, kiwi, dates, nectarines, and dried fruits.
- Cooked vegetables are best. Raw vegetables should be minimized. Favor Asparagus, beets, and carrots. Other vegetables may be taken in moderation if cooked in ghee or sesame oil, including peas, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, and sweet potatoes. Sprouts and cabbage tend to produce gas and should be minimized.
- Dairy products pacify Vata. For optimal digestion, boil milk before drinking it and consume it while warm.
- All varieties of nuts are recommended.
- Beans can aggravate Vata. Minimize your consumption of beans, with the exception of mung bean dahl.
- For non-vegetarians, use fresh, organic chicken, turkey, seafood, and eggs.
Resources for Ayurvedic Treatment for Bipolar Disorder
Rajah Ayurveda offers a 5 week stay at their hospital to treat bipolar disorder. Rajah Ayurveda was established in 1996 by The Rajah Group to propagate the natural healing science of life to people all over the world.
The International Bipolar Foundation offers tips and resources on their website for people interested in using Ayurveda as a treatment for bipolar.
Vasavi Kumar is the creative author of The Way of Ayurveda: Stop Dieting Start Living and the free quiz “What’s Your Dosha.” Here is a great interview with him in which he discusses bipolar disorder and ayurveda.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh’s Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic have determined that the Ayurvedic herb Ashwagandha can significantly treat elements of bipolar disorder. Here is an article that describes their findings.