Ayurvedic Support for Anxiety

Image by Amy Treasure

Image by Amy Treasure

No doubt we live in trying times. More individuals are reporting that they feel anxious, nervous, or fearful in their day-to-day lives as the unpredictability and uncertainty of life feels more apparent. I can even admit to coping with these feelings more often now than I ever have before! From an Ayurvedic perspective, these feelings are rooted in a Vata (air + ether) imbalance, meaning, that the individual is experiencing an excess of these qualities in mind and body. Anxiety often points toward a root issue (fear, instability, insecurity, etc.) we are experiencing and goes deeper than just the anxiety itself. This article will be highlighting ways you can support your biology and physiology but the goal is always to get to the root of the symptoms, which in the case of mental disruptions means self exploration and awareness.

We gotta treat the whole being …

Most folks when I have sat with them in session or in class talk about the anxiousness in their mind. The thoughts that won’t stop, the worries that overwhelm them, and the perception that the world is too much. But anxiety is a state of being that stems in the mind and then ripples throughout the entire body. Anxiety can cause symptoms such as …

  • shortness of breath

  • heart palpitation

  • sweating or chill

  • tightness in chest, shoulders, and neck

  • tension headaches

  • loose stool and digestive discomfort

  • inability to sleep or stay asleep

This is because your body responds and co-creates with your mind and one will always follow the other. In Ayurveda, we look at treating the entire body. We also believe that by treating the body the mind will calm and vice versa.

Using the Qualities of Vata are our guides

If you truly want to build a strong relationship with the Doshas then their qualities are your gateway. We use the qualities of the doshas to identify them in nature and within ourselves. The qualities of Vata are dry, rough, mobile, light, and subtle. These qualities are the exact gateways that we will walk through in the recommendations below to experience less anxiety in life. We will do this by practicing the golden rule of Ayurveda that like attracts like and we treat in opposites. As we travel through each of the qualities you will see how we can apply their opposites to encourage balance & healing.

Practices for Reducing Anxiety

DRY | MOISTVata dosha is aggravated by an excess of dryness because it is already dry in nature. The sense organ of Vata is touch/skin, and one of the fastest ways to nurture ourselves in times of high anxiety is through soothing touch. Think about the qualities of anxiety: it can feel tense, reactive, and electric to our nervous system. To soothe these sensations through touch try warm oil massage, or abhyanga. You can find full directions on how-to here. When it comes to anxious feelings, using warmed Sesame oil as it is a dense, deeply soothing, and cocooning type oil is best. As you cover your skin the oil re-hydrates while also soothing the nervous system. Many are able to relax into the parasympathetic system which moves us beyond the fight, flight, or freeze state where anxiety resides. Do this practice daily before showering or oil up before going to bed and allow the oil to swaddle you through the night.

ROUGH | SOFT • Rough can be a tangible feeling but it can also be a sensed feeling. Rough can be wearing clothing of scratchy fiber but it can also be the jostling movement and loud noises of a large crowd. When you feel anxious, reflect on what kind of roughness may be present in your life. Do you need to stay in and read a book while cuddled in a soft blanket instead of a night out with friends? Do you need to wear more natural and soft fibrous clothing to reduce agitation? Perhaps there is a person, group, or even a TV show that feels like sandpaper against your mind. Perhaps you work in an environment with harsh lighting- these are all things that can increase Vata and therefore anxiety. Find quiet spaces, soft moments, and natural lighting to support you.

MOBILE | STILLVata is air and air is always on the go, just look at the leaves waving outside your window and you will see this in action. Anxiety can feel like a whirlwind that sucks the air right out of you and as though you can’t stop what is going on around you and within you. This may be how your mind perceives it, but you can invite the mind to slow down by slowing or stopping the body. The practice of pranayama, or breath exercise, is a powerful way to use the body as a means to calming the mind. Sitting still, sensing your grounded connection to the seat or floor beneath you, begin to deepen your breath. Begin with whatever count of breath feels good for you- this may start with a 3 or 4 count on inhale and exhale but as you continue with the breath try extending those inhales and exhales for upwards of 6 or 7 counts. Once you feel complete with the counted breathes sit still for as long as you can, and should the mind wander bring it back to the sensation of your inhale and exhale. After pranayama is the perfect time to sit for a few minutes in meditation!

LIGHT | HEAVY • The quality of light pertains to weight. Air + ether are weightless and so when we have excess Vata we feel ungrounded. Many folks who experience anxiety report that during times of high anxiety or what is referred to as an anxiety attack, they feel they don’t have a touchstone to help bring them back. The breath exercise that is shared above to invite stillness can be used in the moment to bring you back to center but what can you do in the long term? If anxiety is common for you, it is recommended to invite more heaviness into your day-to-day. There are a couple of ways to do this …

  • Sleep with a weighted blanket especially if falling asleep or staying asleep with anxiety is challenging

  • Eat heavier foods like root vegetables, warming soups, and steamed or gently cooked foods. Raw foods are lighter in quality than cooked as are colder foods.

  • Take regular salt baths

  • Use essential oils that are grounding in nature: Vetiver, Frankincense, Lavender, Cedarwood. Diffuse or wear in a carrier oil on the body.

SUBTLE | DENSE • Subtle is a quality that again highlights the weightlessness of air + ether but it also has an energetic quality to it. It is through the subtleness of Vata that we can connect with the divine or have spiritual experiences but it also is the furthest removed from the densest element of earth, or our own humanness. There are two ways I love to recommend for cultivating more dense quality in your life and they both involve the element of Earth.

  • Earthing: You can’t get denser than earth herself. If you can’t get outside barefoot in the soil or sit under a tree then at least get 20 minutes of time outdoors connecting with the tangibility of the world around us. Nature soothes frazzled nerves like none other and her trees, soil, and waterways awaken within us these heavier elements.

  • Embracing: Our bodies exist because of the earth element. Hugging heart-to-heart is proven to recalibrate our electro-magnetic waves (that directly affect our nervous system) and the connection of touching another human or a furry companion calms us through the sense of touch! I count a real good 30 second hug, cuddling, holding hands, coming in contact consensually with another being in any positive way, reminds us that we are here on earth and draws us into the present moment. Sadly, most folks aren’t getting enough touch in their daily lives and this leads to feelings of separation which is a trigger for many when it comes to anxious feelings.

Bringing it all together

Of course, I don’t expect you to use all of these. However, maybe there were one or two practices that immediately struck you as a comforting action you could begin taking to curb daily anxieties and worries. Take these practices that spoke to you and try implementing them regularly- as in at least once a day and do it for a minimum of 14 days and see how you feel in mind and body. If you find something doesn’t stick then try another practice until you find the ones that support you where you are today.

** If you are experiencing anxiety, panic, or nervousness regularly seeking professional support is never a bad idea. Using the recommendations above are lifestyle adjustments to support you but finding the root source of your anxiety with the help of a professional will support your overall mental health and quality of life.