Ayurveda's Edge Over Western Psychology

Western Psychology has largely been Euro-American centric and has become limited to describing behaviour or unconscious mind in relation with pathology

Psychology, the art, and science to understand human psyche, has taken a centre stage with more and more concerns of mental health have emerged. However, mental health is not a positive construct; mental health is seen as illness or diseases within the mind. One can goggle the term Mental Health and verify this for self.

Western Psychology has largely been Euro-American centric and has become limited to describing behaviour or unconscious mind in relation with pathology. Also, the understanding of Being Human as a holistic individual, with body-mind continuum has been lacking. Even when Psychology field is expanded to Health Psychology or Peace Psychology, Health is seen in relation with illness, and peace as lack of war and conflict. American Psychologist Association (APA) establishes Health Psychology as a formal field within Psychology in 1978. In 2016, while celebrating the 38th Anniversary, the editorial clearly states, “With due respect to holistic conceptions of human health, the field of health psychology is fundamentally concerned with physical health, not with mental health.” Body-mind split is evident here. In 1998, as President of APA, Martin Seligman introduced a shift from pathology and began the Era of Positive Psychology. Initially the theme was Authentic Happiness, now is replaced with ‘Flourishing’. Well-being takes the stage front and centre for human existence with Positive Emotions Engagement Relationship Meaning and Accomplishment-PERMA. (2011)

Ayurveda does not have a separate section of psychology. However, only two examples here are enough to show the edge Ayurveda has over modern Psychology. One is the definition of Ayu or Life. Another is definition of a healthy person.

Ayurveda, one of the oldest sciences of Living Life, is Upaveda- coming from- Rigveda and Atharva Veda. Ayu means life and Veda is knowledge. Ayurveda not only describes Life as longevity but has detailed understanding of Meaningful life. Ayu is defined as one which is combination of body, mind, indriya- senses, and Atma- consciousness. Ayurveda was one of the oldest sciences to calibrate body-mind-consciousness continuum. Also 4 constricts are synonymous with Ayu or Life- Dhari, Jeevit, Nityag, Anubandha and Chetana Vritti. Dhari means that which upholds, prevents the body from decay. Dhari comes from Dhru- to sustain. Sustainable lifestyle is foundation of life or Ayu. Jeevit means one that has Life. Having vitality is critical for engagement and meaningful life. Nityag is movement as well as that which keeps the consciousness, mind, and body intact, integrated. Anubandha is binding, connection, attachment, uninterrupted succession in the constant flux of change. Every moment cells are dying, and yet regeneration is happening within. Chetna is consciousness, without which the body and mind are unable to function. This is the depth and height of understanding of what is life in Ayurveda. This inclusiveness cuts across physiology, psychology, psychoneuroimmunology, and philosophy.

Ayurveda has defined who is a healthy person much before WHO definition of health. World Health Organization (1948) defined health as “a complete state of physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. We do not have any definition or guide to what this complete state of well-being is and how to achieve the same. While Ayurveda, millennia ago, in Sushrut Samhita. Ayurveda has definition of healthy person as one whose bodily processes, constitution, metabolism, and gut health are balanced, resulting in happiness and well-being of mind, senses, and consciousness.

The definition is so complete that no paradigm shift is possible. One can compare this to the biopsychosocial model and WHO’s definition of well-being as prerequisite of health. This definition of health is not only holistic and inclusive; it also is aligned with recent research in gut health, nutrition, positive psychology- happiness and flourishing. The science of Ayurveda reveals deep insights into the continuum of body-metabolism-use of senses and functioning of mind on gut health and well-being. The aim of Ayurveda is to protect the health of healthy first and foremost. Hence these insights are detailed into the ways to retain the balance and be in optimal health. This section is known as swasthya Vrutta- manual to remain healthy. There are virtuous cycles of health promoting behaviours and lifestyle guidance. PNI or Psychoneuroimmunology reconnects this wisdom of body-mind continuum when Candace Pert writes her work- Molecules of Emotions. Her work reveals the insights of Ayurveda in scientific evidence how mind and body are One. Modern Psychology has not been even able to integrate these insights into their current literature.

Relationship is emphasised in PERMA model of Martin Seligman in Flourishing. Importance of social integration for positive health is critical. Maslow has discussed Self Transcendence as one of the needs to achieve complete Humanness. Atharva Veda, from where many insights of Ayurveda have emerged, has profound insights into how to create harmony at social level, as well as with Nature at Cosmic level. Atharva Veda has hymns to describe the importance of mind in physical, emotional, and social health. These are not new paradigms as we see them in the modern psychology.

Human Flourishing is an integrated result of deep understanding of Cosmos and individual. Ecology and Ethics are integral part of our health. Mental and psychological health are continuity. May we begin to see this far sightedness of our Sages who have created Ayurveda, to create healthy and happy individuals and society.

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