Meditation as Medicine - An Ayurvedic Perspective
Updated: Apr 23, 2021
According to Ayurveda, meditation is one of the most important tools for healing body, mind & consciousness. Beyond the more known benefits such as reduced stress, anxiety and depression, increased focus and attention span, expanded self-awareness and improved emotional health, Ayurveda states meditation helps eradicate a wide range of ailments, due to the fact that rather than just treating the symptoms, it also helps remove the psychological roots / complications of the disease process.
In a world where many of the "cures" to the increasing number of ailments we see, simply mask or numb the symptoms, leaving us long-term dependent on some sort of external substance, meditation offers an alternative tool in helping heal the mass amount of mental & physical suffering we see in the world today.
While there are many types of mediation to choose from, I truly believe the one that’s best for you, is the one you can commit to and find joy in.
In my experience, mantra meditation was the doorway to this ever-evolving path of meditation that continues to help keep me grounded through the battles of being human, which is why I feel inspired to share. This active form of meditation was the first type of meditation that allowed my over-active mind and body to yoke to the practice, as anytime my mind would wander, it would show up in my mantra, reminding me to tune back into the present moment. With time and practice the mantra eventually began to feel as though it was pouring from my heart, bringing me overwhelming feeling of connection and love to the world around.
According to David Frawley in Ayurveda and the Mind, Mantra also known as Asana for the mind, is one of the best ways to prepare the mental field for other forms of meditation, as it removes the Rajas (turbulence & stimulation) & Tamas (dullness & ignorance) in the mind, so that meditation, which requires Sattva (quality of intelligence & goodness that provides happiness & contentment of a lasting nature) can properly occur.
So what is exactly is mantra? Mantra can be described as a word (traditionally in Sanskrit) or sound repeated to help increase the ability to focus concentration in meditation. Loaded with power and sounds capable of penetrating our body into deep levels of consciousness by the unique vibrations they create, mantra is said to have psychological & spiritual power, helping induce an altered state of consciousness.
Not only do the sounds of mantra possess specific physiological and psychological effects, but they give plasticity and adaptability to the mind, exercising the mind’s energy and giving it poise and stability.
Just as asana controls the body and pranayama controls the breath – mantra is said to control the mind, maintaining the strength and integrity of the mental field, reducing our vulnerability to external conditioning. In my experience with mantra, I have noticed a clear difference in the way I show up in both my body and the world when practicing regularly.
In order for mantra meditation to be effective there are a few guidelines to consider. First, the mantra must be properly pronounced. It also must be practiced with right intention – not simply to receive something back as reward for chanting the mantra, but chanting with pure intention, for healing for both self and collective, chanted with care as sacred ritual.
It’s also said that in order for the true potency of the mantra to be realized, the mantra must be chanted at least 100,000 times per syllable of the mantra.
Because of this, it’s important to pick a mantra and stick with it. A common mistake among newbies and a mistake I eventually made when I grew tired of the same ol' mantra, is to jump from mantra to mantra when we aren’t seeing results fast enough. While it’s important to initially consider which mantra we select, the consistency and quality of the practice is much more important than the “right” mantra. Yes, just like so many other healing modalities, much of the benefits are found in the consistency of practice.
Mantras are a great tool to be used throughout the day, silently repeated in the mind, anytime the mind begins to work too hard or as a dinacharya practice (daily ritual / routine meant to maintain physical & mental health, allowing the body to be in tune with the cycles of nature, promoting optimal wellness.) It is also said to be great to repeat the mantra silently in bed at the end of the day
Other forms of meditation recommended for all doshas by Ayurveda include pranayama & visualizations.
Not sure what type of meditation is best for you? As a great starting point, I share the following general guidelines taken from my Ayurveda coursework, describing meditation as it pertains to each dosha. Keep in mind this only outlines 3 types of meditation, and there are countless more. As mentioned above, it is key to select one that you can commit to, so if none of these sound good to you, there are plenty more.
For anyone looking to begin the path to meditation, I recommend, choosing one technique, learning a bit about it, and practicing each day for at least 5 minutes a day for at least 30 days – gradually increasing the time practiced as you go.
Meditation for Vata
Generally, Vata types benefit from meditation, to help calm their minds & nerves & help relieve their inherent tendency towards fear & anxiety. Meditation has the power to help them sleep, calm their nervous digestion, reduce hypersensitivity & strengthen their immune system. It’s important to note that meditation can also be ungrounding & space them out, causing them to get lost in thought & agitating their energy, which is why it’s important that Vata types learn the art of concentration first. Flame gazing (trakata) is a wonderful practice to begin.
Fiery, earthy or watery visualizations like the sun, ocean, or a lotus flower are great for Vata
Anti-Vata mantras including RAM (gives strength, calm, rest & peace), SHRIM (promotes general health, creativity & prosperity) HRIM (gives energy, joy & ecstasy), chanted in a soft voice keeps Vata energized, yet calm. As mentioned above, in my experience mantra was one of the easier types of mediation to yoke my active mind to.
When it comes to pranayama, it should never be forceful or too harsh & instead intensity should be increased gradually & deepening of the breath should be practiced slowly. Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) is a great grounding breath.
Meditation for Pitta
Pitta types benefit from meditation, to release anger and let go of their willful & controlling approach to life. Mantra & meditation is a good way for them to focus their strong mental energy in a positive manner. However, they should be careful to meditate calmly & not turn it into another form of achievement. A great general rule for Pitta is to exert 80% energy into whatever they do, due to their tendency to become too focused or aggressive.
Visualizations like mountains or ocean or affirmations that increase forgiveness, compassion & love are great.
Anti-Pitta mantras such as SHAM (promotes calm, detachment & contentment), SHRIM (nourishes the nerves, increases overall health & harmony) or OM (clears the mind, opens, increases Ojas & opens up all potentials of consciousness) should be repeated silently.
Pranayama that is cooling, emphasizing the lunar breath through the left nostril is great, as generally, inhaling through the mouth has a cooling nature.
Meditation for Kapha
Kapha types benefit from meditation to let go of greed, attachment & connect to the reality of consciousness - love & abundance. While they are most likely to fall asleep during meditation, they should choose nore active forms of meditation such as mantra or moving meditation.
Visualizations that increase fire, air & ether elements like the sun or wind blowing trees are also suggested.
Stimulating & clearing mantras like OM (clears the mind, opens, increases Ojas & opens up all potentials of consciousness) HUM (dissolves negative energies, best mantra for awakening agni as digestive fire or fire of the mind) or AIM (improves concentration, speech, awakens intelligence, burns up toxins – physically and psychologically) first out loud for a few minutes, then silently, are great.
Vigorous pranayama, emphasizing quick inhalation & exhalation or right nostril solar breathing is also a great way to get energy moving.
While this is only a brief outline of the various mediation methods available, I encourage anyone new to meditation wanting to begin practice, to take the time to research whichever method feels right. In my experience, I simply practiced without much research, which while helpful, increased the time taken to begin experiencing the deeper essence of the practices. While I believe through consistency of practice the deeper wisdom behind whichever practice we choose eventually reveals itself, I also see how the proper intention / practice from the start may decrease the time taken to feel these benefits.
For anyone with questions or needing support on their journey with meditation, I am here. :)