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Ayurveda, Yoga and You - Ancient Wisdom for Bipolar Disorder

Interest in the more subtle Yoga practices related to mental health has expanded. The other side of the Yoga coin, ayurveda (AH-yur-vey-dah), offers 5,000 year old tips on lifestyle and stress management, diet, herbs and cleansing and other complementary healing modalities which can help us to balance symptoms of bipolar disorder. Ayurveda, meaning "the science of life," and Yoga practices reflect to us how we move through the world, thereby addressing our responsibility for managing our wellness and our root dysfunction triggers.

Basic concepts of ayurveda may seem somewhat complex at the outset but become familiar: The five elements (ether, air, fire, water, earth) combine and segregate into three doshas or energies (vata, pitta and kapha) which make up the principle constitutions of our bodies and mental states, both when well and when imbalanced.  Vata (ether + air), pitta (fire + water) and kapha (earth + water) qualities determine physical and mental balance or imbalance. The five elements influence our individual constitution, the seasons and our internal and external environment, including diet. We all express a combination of these five elements and doshas at any given time - sometimes balanced, sometimes imbalanced.
You can find online quizzes to determine your dosha - answering for both your lifelong tendencies (prakruti) and for your acute symptoms (vikruti). There is an online quiz link below.

Ayurveda suggests that like increases like and that a remedy of opposites is beneficial: If you’re cold, get warm. If you are hungry, don’t starve yourself - eat! If you’re stressed out, avoid more stressors.

Vata dosha imbalance (ether & air) rules bipolar disorder, depression and mania. Though there are recognizable elements of pitta in mania (I always say that I am “running hot” - fire - when I feel hypo-manic) and of kapha in depression (I tend to move really slowly and feel heavy - earth -  when depressed), all mental health issues express at least some vata-aggravation.

Vata dosha manifests as movement, expansion, changeability, instability, coldness, subtlety, dryness, roughness and lightness.
Vata imbalances can manifest as insomnia, fear, changing thoughts and feelings, restlessness, weight loss, tremors, hopelessness and over-stimulation. All these symptoms are ruled by the qualities of air and ether: unstable, ungrounded...  with one's head in the clouds... spaced out... jumping out of one's skin... high as a kite...

Doshas also rule the seasons and certain times of the day. Vata dosha happens to rule late summer and early autumn - which is happening right now! Staying grounded at this time of year is especially important to remedy vata-aggravation and to minimize like increasing like.

Seasonal, ayurvedic, vata-pacifying remedies, appropriate for mental health balance, include things like:

  • Following a daily routine, including regular, light exercise, rest and bedtime.
  • Avoid stimulants as much as possible, including but not limited to loud music, recreational drugs, caffeine and cigarettes. Stay "grounded" (bring in kapha, earthy qualities). 
  • Take the time to express gratitude before each meal. Sit for five minutes after every meal to integrate your experience(s).
  •  Avoid cold, including beverages and ice. Sip warm water.
  • Avoid travel and change in general during vata-aggravation. Excitability may affect bipolar symptoms, especially at this time of year. If change cannot be avoided, practice other vata-pacifying techniques to compensate.
  • Make sure not to skip meals during autumn to pacify vata dosha. Avoid fasting until the season changes to winter.
  • Food pacifies vata and diet should emphasize whole grains, cooked vegetables, mung beans, meats, fresh dairy, nuts and oils in order to ground one’s energy. Generally, sweet, sour and salty tastes should be emphasized, as well as the qualities of warm, moist and heavy foods, like stews, soups and Crock pot meals. Use sesame oil or ghee liberally.
  • Color therapies and aromatherapies may affect mental states throughout the year. These remedies are subtle but influential. Yellow, green, white, brown, purple and gold are the new black! Rose, frankincense and basil essential oils are balancing for every dosha.
  • Meditation, silence, deep breathing, Yoga postures and spending time in nature are balancing remedies for all doshas.

Abhyanga, or ayurvedic self-massage with warmed oil, is especially grounding, soothing and nourishing in autumn and for nourishing the spirit when managing bipolar disorder. Which oils to choose depend on your constitution and current symptoms. Find the links below for more information.

Condensing 5,000 years into a 500 word essay leaves so much information by the wayside! This blog is by no means all-inclusive. Keep in touch with questions and comments, stay curious, and keep your greatest quality of life at the forefront of your mind.

Consider incorporating Yoga and ayurveda practices into your lifestyle for increased wellness!


See more at: - dosha, abhyanga, diet information - abhyanga self-massage, link to dosha quiz




Nice article! Thanks a lot

very much helpful, I have trust in Yoga and Ayurveda, hope for more articles on bipolar.

I'm working at an Ayurvedic company and I love what you've written here. I am currently tapering slowly off some medications (ativan) to be specific and I'm wondering if you have any recommendations for helping with this tapering process. My biggest symptom is mouth pain, which is horrible and I've seen a dentist within the last week, with a A+ check up, so no drama there.

Very nice

Priviledged to have found as a German my wife in India (Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Puducherry) we live now in Spain. My wife Gauri (now 65 years old) got bipolar disturbance (BD) about six years ago starting very slowly with a growing depression. There was a recovery in 20013 leading to a maniac episode of 12 months. Now she is for about 1 + 1/2 years again in the depression mood. Her doctor, Dr. Ruiz in Madrid uses latest American medicine. I liked to know how in the past ayurvedic medicine was used to heal this curious BD
Thanks a lot
Johann Georg Blomyer

Please try Shiro dhara which cleanses the entire nervous system and gives clarity to mind

I have a bipolar spouse and the biggest challenge I face is to simply talk or reason with her. When she is depressed, she doesn't get out of bed- speaking to her or making suggestions makes her aggressive. When she is going through mania, it's hard to contain her hyperactivity- where she shops, works tirelessly, talks without a pause.
We have confirmed that she suffers BPD with clinical psychologists. She knows it. She tried meds from psychiatrists too. She can't stand the side effects - hair fall and dry skin, cos she is very conscious of herself in public. Also she has a problem working with therapists- we have already tried 3.
So we re stuck. Having a daughter, makes the situation delicate and I have to exercise ironist caution.
I am not sure what to do- was exploring the possibility of Ayurveda. Is there any medication ?

i hear you Naveen. i am bi-polar and have tried every medicine on the market. some have worked for a short time; some have had difficult side effects and presently i am taking nothing. My experience is best when i live a low key, low stress daily lifestyle. i have lowered my expectations of life and instead have focused on maintaining a healthy diet, exercise, meditation, yoga, and brief engagement with other people of my community. i changed to a low stress job and i do not try to do too much in one day. i set short term goals. i limit my list of things to do to a few each day. this approach to living has been the most successful. the extreme symptoms have lessened considerably. i hope things get better for you Naveen and i encourage you to limit your life and your stressors. it has made such a positive difference

IBPF does not employ physicians, please contact your personal doctor with any medical questions you may have. Check out our Healthy Living with Bipolar Disorder book for several treatment options along with practical tips on living well with bipolar disorder. 

I found this article very helpful and relevant. I've been living in ashrams since I was 18 and as the only black female in mostly white communities there have been many times in which I've felt conflicted on how my cultural and small self intermingle with my spiritual quest for Liberation. I was also just recently diagnosed with BPD and am currently trying to see how mental illness intermingle with this incredibly fascinating equation as well. My therapist is also a practicing yogi and is very enthusiastic about me taking meds which I am very weary of. Though I am curious how this will all play out as she thinks I have racial trauma/ptsd, accompanied by hereditary mood disorders and so forth. I'm curious if I can simply approach this holistically or if I should trust Western meds.

Only treatment existing as of now for BD is in Allopathic and not in Ayurveda or Homeopathy . These can be used paralleley.

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