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In Ayurveda, the inability to process emotions in a timely manner is seen as the main cause of emotional imbalances. Occasional low moods affect more than 19 million American adults yearly, and can take many different forms. This list includes, but is not limited to: frequent feelings of anxiousness or emptiness; a loss of interest and pleasure in activities; fatigue; irritability; social withdrawal, acting-out behaviors, family conflict; occasionally feeling blue, down, sad or simply emotionally bogged down. The seasons, and any major life changes, such as a divorce, major financial problems, an illness, or death of a loved one are all common triggers for emotional imbalance.
Emotional balance: The Ayurvedic approach
Ayurvedic experts have long understood the importance of emotional health. This science of natural health offers a variety of strategies and specific recommendations to keep emotions in balance throughout life.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, emotional ill-health is caused by lack of coordination between an individual's senses, emotions and thoughts. In the Ayurvedic view, the heart and mind are intimately connected. When that connection is weakened, problems arise. Interestingly, in Ayurveda the heart is considered the "seat" of consciousness. The master Ayurvedic source text, the Charaka Samhita states, "hridaye chetana sthanam." Translated it means, "the seat of consciousness is in the heart."
The Ayurvedic texts also describe the heart as "Hrdaya." This Sanskrit word consists of three parts — each with its own meaning: Hr means to receive, Da to give, and Ya to move. The essential qualities of the heart are contained within this Sanskrit name – receiving, giving and moving. It is further described as Mahata – great, and Artha – serving all purposes, meaning in Ayurveda that it is an organ with a variety of important functions. The texts of Charaka go on to describe the heart as, "indispensable for all mental and physical activities," because the entire sense perception, in total, depends on the heart. It is further described as Pranayatana — the seat of consciousness and the mind. So important is the heart in Ayurveda that it is considered like the main support beam in a house; without that support, the house collapses.
In Ayurveda, it's about processing emotions
In the Ayurvedic view, the lack of ability to process emotions in a timely way is the main cause of emotional imbalances.
Some people are able to process an emotion quickly, which means they are able to let go and move on with their lives. For others, the processing or "cooking" of thoughts is slower, so the negative impression remains with them for a very long time and impacts their current thoughts and emotions, resulting in a negative mood.
Ayurveda & emotional balance - agni's role
The digestive fire, called agni, is responsible for digesting food. But there is actually an agni, or metabolic mechanism, in every cell of your body, and with each subdosha. Think of doshas and subdoshas as Ayurvedic managing systems that govern various functions of the physiology and mind, according to the ancient texts. Subdoshas are like assistant managers.
To understand how "emotional processing" works, let's look at the functioning of Sadhaka Pitta, one of the subdoshas of Pitta associated with the heart and the processing of emotions.
The agni associated with Sadhaka Pitta is responsible for processing emotions. This agni is called Sadhaka Agni. Sadhaka Agni influences the neurohormones. A neurohormone is any hormone produced and released by neurons. These are cells in the brain and spinal cord, as well as the heart. The neurohormones — located in the heart — send signals to the brain to register a low mood or happiness, depending on how the individual processes the experience.
So, a person with low (imbalanced) Sadhaka Agni may remember a negative situation that happened years ago. If the emotion hasn't yet been processed (digested/metabolized) and is still lodged in the heart and mind, the memory stirs the emotion felt years ago and results in a low mood. This reaction happens because Sadhaka Agni is weak, and the person has not been able to properly "metabolize" or process that experience.
A person who has balanced Sadhaka Agni will process negative emotions appropriately, in a manner that does not leave a painful impression. This person may have a memory of a negative situation from years ago, but is not affected by the memory because Sadhaka Agni is stronger. Even right after a traumatic event, that person is able to think, "Whatever has happened has happened, and I'm going to be alright." They process the experience quickly and are able to let it go, although each experience, depending on the level of trauma to each unique individual, has its own time frame for being metabolized by the heart, body and mind.
What causes low Sadhaka Agni in the first place?
Ayurveda identifies a number of causes and solutions for low Sadhaka Agni. The causes include eating the wrong foods, weak digestion, a buildup of ama (toxins), engaging in Sadhaka Agni-aggravating behaviors, living in an emotionally negative environment, being continually exposed to environmental toxins, harsh unnatural environments, or being surrounded by people who are not supportive.
Additionally, genetics plays a role. Some people are born with low, imbalanced Sadhaka agni; others are born with very balanced Sadhaka Agni; and others start life with variable agni, which means it vacillates between high and low.
How balanced is your Sadhaka Agni?
If a person has trouble making a major decision, or takes a long time just to make simple decisions, this can be a sign of having low Sadhaka Agni. In this situation, if ama (toxins) has built up, blocking the body’s micro-communication channels, it can lead to low moods.
Another symptom is loss of the ability to judge the positive and negative merits of a situation. For instance, let's say you need to decide whether another person will make a good friend. If Sadhaka Agni is low and the channels (shrotas) are clogged, you might think, "Oh, this person is very bad for me," and completely ignore the person's positive characteristics. Or conversely, you might blindly believe he is all good, and totally disregard any negative qualities. When Sadhaka Agni is low, your precise ability to judge anything can suffer — whether you're buying a car, buying a house or choosing a friend. This problem can also affect children, who cannot answer questions correctly in school if they have lost their power of discrimination due to a slow Sadhaka Agni.
The inability to sit quietly without feeling extremely restless is another symptom. Nearly everyone feels restless sometimes, but if that difficulty persists, it indicates there is a problem with digesting thoughts quickly enough.
Lack of perseverance is another indicator of low Sadhaka Agni. If a person has trouble keeping commitments or performing his or her day-to-day tasks, and is unable to achieve their goals, this also can be a result of slow Sadhaka Agni. One example of this is people who procrastinate, never completing their work and therefore not being successful.
Another symptom that is caused by low Sadhaka Agni is the inability to enjoy normal pleasures. A person may feel that he or she can't go to a social event because they are not funny enough, not outgoing enough, or are somehow inferior to others. For such a person, even activities that used to bring pleasure now are painful.
If imbalanced Sadhaka Agni goes unaddressed, over time the coordination between dhi, dhriti and smriti (learning, retention, and recall) can break down, and the person no longer feels normal happiness, or joy, day to day with the small and large pleasures of life. While they may pursue more and more pleasurable activities, they feel less and less joy. If left unaddressed, this lack of coordination between heart and mind can lead to a type of moodiness where the person loses control of their emotions, thoughts and actions.
The solutions, from Ayurveda
Whether a person was born with a low Sadhaka Agni or whether they acquired it through poor diet, lifestyle or behavior, the solution is the same: to restore balance through techniques that nourish wellness. This is done by adopting an Ayurvedic diet, using Ayurvedic herbal formulas, transcendence (meditation), adjustments to routines and lifestyle, and more.
The organizing principle is Sattva Vijaya. This is a Sanskrit term that means literally "triumphing with Sattva." "Sattva" means the positive, pure qualities of the transcendental Self. This experience is nourished and unfolded using a variety of Ayurvedic techniques. The more one is in connection (union) with this powerful, silent field of consciousness, the more they feel uplifted, blissful and emotionally stable. That is because the nature of this transcendental field is balance, bliss, evenness and happiness.
Ayurvedic therapies help restore the connection between heart, mind and self. They include dietary, herbal, behavioral and environmental tactics that allow one to become more established in Sattva – a state of stable, enduring balance and happiness – sometimes described as a field of bliss.
Continue to part two of this article to learn about a variety of Ayurvedic modalities, specialized herbals, lifestyle changes, spices, and other choices that help support long-term emotional balance.