Using Your Dosha to Heal Depression

Vata, pitta, kapha, what?! A psychological resource for learning more.

Posted Jun 27, 2016

It can be challenging sometimes as a psychologist to explain Eastern principles to a Western client population.  Having completed a yoga teacher certification a few years ago, naturally many of clients know of my interest in mind-body interventions.  Now more than ever clients are drawn to mindfulness, and are open to learning new breathing techniques and bringing the body back into balance.  They come to therapy often seeking these very practices. 

A challenge arises however when we try to extract more than the superficial aspects of the Ayurvedic origins of such teachings.  We may teach alternate nostril breathing and leave it at that.  And frankly, for that matter most mental health practitioners themselves are often at a loss of what the jargon of such teachings mean.  Dosha? Mudra?  It can all sound very alien.  As a result, translating these results for the public is rendered nearly impossible.

In an attempt to further my own knowledge, I recently stumbled upon (read: Amazon suggestion problems) Healing Depression the Mind-Body Way: Creating Happiness with Meditation, Yoga, and Ayurveda by Nancy Liebler and Sandra Moss.  In the book, they do a phenomenal job of not only demystifying these practices, but also seamlessly blending them with current Western research and knowledge.  Drawing upon countless fields including psychoneuroimmunology, psychology and Ayurvedic science, the authors beautifully describe how an understanding of Eastern principles can enhance modern day psychotherapy and treatment significantly. 

In the book they describe the three doshas (bioelements in the body), Vata, Pitta, and Kapha and corresponding depressive manifestations.  Through numerous vignettes and questionnaires, the authors empower the reader to determine their approximate dominant dosha and what it looks like when the body is out of balance.  The rationale they provide is actually quite logical as well. 

Why is it for example that according the DSM 5, the symptom of “sleep disturbance” can in some individuals lead to hypersomnia (excess sleep) while in others it leads to insomnia (which all too many of us are aware of when lying in bed wide awake)?  Furthermore, for some the symptom of appetite disturbance can lead to weight loss, while for others it can lead to weight gain.  How then do we treat two individuals exactly the same if they have opposite symptoms?  Exactly the point!  The authors describe how paying attention to doshas (which impact body type, composition, mood, energy level, temperature, skin, appetite) can lead to a more comprehensive treatment. 

Think about this scenario:  a client walks in and describes being so depressed he can hardly move.  He has gained weight, has low energy despite sleeping 14 hours a night and feels completely worthless about himself.  Would you immediately push him to go attend a cardio class?  Of course not!  The authors describe paying attention to nutrition, re-establishing a normal circadian rhythm, establishing a meditation practice, and learning breathing techniques.  Further, the introduction to exercise is more slow and steady.  The goal is not the making of CrossFit champions. 

What about the client with depressive symptoms who is an active runner and eats salads all day long?  Their doshic composition might suggest slowing down, going for walks, eating heavier (but still healthy) foods.  Furthermore, the practice of meditation (which we hear about all the time) is likened to brushing one’s teeth.  You wouldn’t skip that, would you?

Through listing very approachable and yet also some “reach” prescriptives (I’m not quite ready to try the oiling techniques described in the book), the essence of Ayurveda and its complement to psychology is well-established.  Between aromatherapy suggestions, a few recipes, easy to implement sleep enhancing skills and exercise ideas, the book is approachable for clients and therapists alike.  While I’m certainly no sudden sage on the topic, it certainly enables the reader to further their learning in these areas.

Book review does not reflect the opinions of Psychology Today and was written independently by Goal Auzeen Saedi, Ph.D.

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