Author: Indu Sandhu, Yoga and Ayurveda Practitioner
“Meditation is a continuous flow of perception or thought, like the flow of water in a river.” Swami Vishnu Dayanand
Ayurveda is a 5,000-year-old system of natural medicine from India. The interface of Yoga and Ayurveda is the basis of both Vedic medicine and the Vedic science of consciousness, which have always gone together.
According to the ancient Ayurvedic texts, one of the eight major branches of Ayurveda is Mental Health.
Stress is now known to be one of the main root causes of many mental health issues. In addition to stress, poor diet, lack of exercise, unhealthy habits and lack of sufficient rest are additional risk factors for the development (or exacerbation) of mental health issues. Modern healthcare systems lack effective methodologies for reducing stress and finding ways to motivate patients to improve their diet, get more exercise and rest, and to reduce unhealthy habits. Because unhealthy habits are often attempts to cope with stress, stress reduction often calls for the ability to make healthier life choices.
Consciously or unconsciously we are all seeking the peace of mind that meditation brings. All of us have our own methods of finding this peace, our own meditative habits – from the old lady knitting by the fire to the boatman whiling away an afternoon by the river, oblivious to the passing of time. For when our attention is fully engaged the mind becomes silent; when we succeed in restricting our thoughts to one object, the incessant internal chattering stops. The contentment one feels when the mind is absorbed often comes less from the activity itself than from the fact that in concentrating, our worries and problems are forgotten.
But these activities can only bring a short interlude of peace. Once the mind is again distracted it returns to its normal routine of aimless wanderings – wasting its energy on thoughts of the past or dreams of the future, continually sidestepping the matter at hand.
Meditation is the practice by which there is constant observation of the mind. It means focusing the mind on one point, stilling the mind. By stopping the waves of thoughts one can discover the tranquility that lies within. Because of the intimate connection between mind and body, when our mind transcends the field of activity, our body becomes very relaxed. Research demonstrates that during this deep level of rest our metabolic rate drops to levels much deeper than is typically seen during sleep. It is this profound level of rest, to both the mind and body, that enables deep-rooted stress and fatigue to be released. For this reason, meditation, along with the other Ayurvedic practices, greatly enhances the self-repair mechanisms of the mind-body system. Scientific research indicates that this self-repair even occurs at the level of our DNA, and this may explain the holistic benefits in the arena of mental health.
Modern psychiatry addresses the mental, behavioral, and biochemical levels of individual imbalance, providing a mechanism to address imbalance. However, from the perspective of Ayurveda, to be a truly healthy individual one must also regularly experience the deep silence found at the source of thought, by “transcending” thought. What we experience, what we identify with, we reflect in our own self- awareness. Modern treatments do not have a systematic technique for experiencing this subtle and essential state of awareness, and as such may be limited in their ability to achieve their goals. The deepest level of our consciousness — known as pure consciousness in the ancient Vedic texts —is a state of restful alertness. This unique state, when regularly experienced, enables the self-repair mechanisms of our body to function most efficiently.