How to Reduce Stress with Ayurveda
In the modern life, it can seem like we are constantly dealing with stress, and moments of true calm are few and far between. On some level, stress is unavoidable. And sometimes this is a good thing! When we are out of our comfort zone, adrenaline can keep us on our toes and help us perform more optimally, like in a job interview or a performance. However, the problem is the chronic stress that doesn’t turn off when the interview is over or when we have finished public speaking. Chronic stress is becoming more and more common, and can compromise our mental and physical health.
What Happens When We’re Stressed?
Dr. Joe Dispenza explains that when our bodies experience physical, chemical or emotional stress, it sets the brain and body out of balance and activates the Sympathetic Nervous System. This is the “fight or flight” mechanism that helps us deal with perceived threats in our external environment. When this is activated, other processes in the body are negatively affected, including the immune system. While this was once an adaptive, survival response (when we were facing a real threat, like meeting a bear in the woods), it is now maladaptive. When we turn on the stress response but can’t turn it off, we are headed for imbalance. According to Dr. Bruce Lipton, “Over 90% of disease and illness today is based on lifestyle and stress, not genetics.”
Using Ayurveda to Reduce Stress
Ayurveda addresses stress from a holistic approach. Using a combination of modalities, Ayurvedic methods can help you prevent stress from occurring and help you handle it better when it strikes. Ayurvedic philosophy embraces the concept that coming back to balance must be addressed at many levels: physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual
Meditation may be the single best method for helping reduce stress. There have been countless studies conducted on the benefits of meditation, with research showing a reduction in cortisol levels; lactic acid, an indicator of stress; and anxiety. At the same time, serotonin, which is a sign of happiness and relaxation, is shown to increase dramatically.
Not sure how to start meditating? Begin by following these steps:
Sit comfortably on the floor, a cushion or a chair.
Close your eyes.
Make no effort to control the breath; simply breathe naturally.
Focus your attention on the breath and on how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation. Simply focus your attention on your breath without trying to exert any control. If your mind wanders (and it will), continually return your focus back to your breath.
2. Adaptogenic Herbs
Adaptogens are herbs that help expand your body's capacity to handle mental, physical and emotional stress.These herbs have been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine, but are recently becoming more common in Western culture.
Ashwagandha has been steadily gaining popularity as an herb for stress management. In fact, it is one of the most widely used and widely studied Ayurvedic herbs. It is beneficial for many factors in the body—from stress, energy, and sleep, to muscle strength and joint health. Ashwagandha helps to maximize the body's ability to resist stress, enabling the body to reserve and sustain energy throughout the day while promoting sound, restful sleep at night. While Ashwagandha is very effective for many people, it is important to note that it is contraindicated for people with high pitta dosha, since it is a very heating herb. (Not sure what this means? Check out my blog on the doshas: https://www.thriveayurveda.com/blog/2018/6/18/what-are-doshas).
Gotu kola is an Ayurvedic herb also known as Brahmi. Gotu kola is also a recognized adaptogen, allowing the body to handle stress by helping to relax the nervous system and calm the emotions. In addition to being adaptogenic, studies have also found Gotu Kola to be anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-carcinogenic, mildly antibacterial, anxiolytic (treats anxiety), and to contain many other benefits. In a scientific study, gotu kola was shown to prevent adrenal enlargement in stressful conditions, while also limiting excessive corticosteroid production. (Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Volume 48, Issue 1, 11th of August 1995, pg. 53-57).
As a tridoshic herb, gotu kola can bring support to all the doshas by grounding vata, tonifying pitta, and reducing kapha. It also helps with overall healthy circulation and the movement of lymph.
Holy basil or tulsi leaves come from one of the most sacred plants in India. During stressful times, tulsi can help to provide a sense of calm and wellbeing to an overactive mind. Tulsi also promotes healthy circulation in the body and is beneficial for the respiratory system. Tulsi can easily be made into a tea to drink before bed or throughout the day.
When used regularly, these adaptogenic herbs can actually help prevent the release of stress hormones even when faced with a potentially stressful situation.
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body, and it just so happens to be something that most people are deficient in.
Along with being a mineral, magnesium is also an electrolyte. It is hard to overstate the importance of electrolytes. They are responsible for all electrical activity (and thus brain conductivity) in the body. Without electrolytes like magnesium, muscles can’t fire, your heart cannot beat, and your brain doesn’t receive any signals.
So why are most people deficient in magnesium? First, stress hormone production requires high levels of magnesium and stressful experiences lead to depletion of magnesium stores. Since we are increasingly stressed out, our magnesium levels are lower than ever. Second, people are eating more sugar than ever. For every molecule of sugar our bodies use 54 molecules of magnesium to process it. Third, over time, our soils have become depleted of magnesium through modern farming. And fourth, magnesium in the body is depleted by many pharmaceutical drugs and estrogen compounds such as oral contraceptives, antibiotics, cortisone, prednisone and blood pressure medications.
When the body is deficient in magnesium, it is unable to properly regulate stress hormone levels. Anything that makes you tense and tight could potentially be due to magnesium deficiency.
Magnesium helps to regulate cortisol levels, allowing for more balanced hormone production. MIT researchers found that magnesium plays a pivotal role in regulating brain receptors needed for learning and memory function, and that supplementing with magnesium helped clear “brain fog.”
How to get more magnesium?
Eat magnesium rich foods like:
Soak in epsom salt baths
Take magnesium orally. I recommend Natural CALM from the brand Natural Vitality, available on Amazon, at Whole Foods or your local health food store.