The Flame of Intelligence
From an ayurvedic perspective, all that we take in through the five senses is processed into a meaningful experience by sadhaka agni, the flame on intelligence in the mind. Pitta dosha, the bodily humor made up primarily of fire and water, has 5 subtypes relating to various sites and functions of the body. Sadhaka pitta is one these subtypes relating to the brain and higher mind function. Pitta is the container of agni, (fire) and this specialized sadhaka agni is responsible for good comprehension, discrimination, learning, and wisdom.
Just as food and water are processed by the gastric fire (jathara agni), the agni that governs mental and high mind functions transforms the “food of the senses” into a meaningful life experience. When an experience is not fully processed, it can cause mental residue, similar to the toxins that accumulate in the GI tract as a result of poor digestion of food. These unresolved thoughts feelings and emotions are often referred to as psychic or mental ama.
For example, if we experience a trauma from abuse or an accident, or we are involved in an unhealthy relationship that is causing us emotional pain, these experiences are not only felt in the mind, but also within every cell of our being. If we don’t come to terms with these thoughts, feelings and emotions, they can tend to linger, and in a sense crystalize within the tissues of our body. My teacher, Dr. Vasant Lad often says, “the issues reside in the tissues.” I have seen in my own life and with those I have had the honor to work with clinically, that deep healing comes when unresolved psychic ama is release into the light of pure awareness. Again Dr. Lad says,“when we observe our thoughts and emotions, they eventually blossoms into pure love.” This can come like rays of sunshine, bliss, tears, the surfacing of old memories, desires and tendencies. When we become conscious in this way, rather than causing further impressions of pain and suffering, they are transformed into a deeper self-knowledge and wisdom that further nourishes our soul.
These unresolved experiences are frequently being brought into the light through our daily life experience and practices, especially if we are sensitive to what life is constantly sharing with us. We can also utilize tools such as herbal treatments, Panchakarma (cleansing and rejuvenation therapy), meditation, mantra, yogic exercises, psychotherapy, prayer, and energy work.
In the ayurvedic theory of body constitution, an imbalance in the dosha can also cause emotional imbalances to manifest. For instance, pitta imbalances can cause feelings of anger, this could be from inappropriate diet, lifestyle or seasonal factors. Likewise for vata imbalances causing emotions such as anxiety, or kapha imbalances creating grief, and attachment. Here we might treat the dosha as another way of addressing the emotional state. Often Ayurveda takes everything into consideration and comes at it in a multi-faceted way.
Herbs for the Mind
Here I would like to talk specifically about how herbal medicine can help with healing the mind. The channel of the mind is known as manovaha srotas. It’s marga, or pathway, runs though the entire body, to every cell. In yoga philosophy this is referred to as the manomaya kosha, the sheath of the mind.
There are many herbs that have profound effect on the manovaha srotas that are classified as medhya rasayanas. In Western herbology they fall under the category of Nervines. Medhya herbs help to rejuvenate the mind, and senses, increase memory, relax and replenish the nervous system and help to free the flow of prana (vital energy) within the mind. It is often hard to determine why a plant has a specific affinity to certain organs and tissues with biochemistry alone, but we do know through the time-tested wisdom of Ayurvedic energetics, that herbs can dramatically shift our consciousness.
Herbs like brahmi (gotu kola & bacopa), skullcap, and bhringaraj (eclipta alba) help to clearing excess pitta, in the form of heat from the liver and blood, thus calming volatile emotions of anger and generalized irritability. Some herbs affect the heart, like Hawthorne berry, elecampane or arjuna. They work to support healthy heart function, but can also help to open the heart in an emotional and spiritual way. When I see clients that have a lot of emotional pain, but they are not aware of why they hurt emotionally, or how to get in touch with that part of themselves. Here I might use herbs that open the heart like arjuna, along with herbs that increase conscious awareness, like calamus, tulsi, or gotu kola. This is an entirely different way of looking at the use of herbs.
For instance, we might use an herb that acts directly on the lungs, like osha root, which is decongesting, and helps fight viruses and infection, but it can also help to open the emotional body through its potent aromatic energy. Osha is a very spiritually cleansing herb. Some Native Americans used it in sweat lodges while praying and offering to purify physically and emotionally.
Herbs and Emotions
Ayurveda also see a relationship that certain emotions have a tendency to affect certain organs. For instance, vata related emotions such as anxiety and worry tend to become lodged in the colon; fear in the kidneys; and Pitta types of emotions like anger and irritability to the liver; and hatred to the gallbladder. Deep-seated grief and sadness get lodged in the heart and lungs.
This is not to say that emotions and their effects are limited to only these ideas, but if we look closely at the body and how it responds to how we are feeling, we can see for ourselves. Emotions circulate in the system, and can migrate from one area to another, until it is brought out into the light of our awareness and fully assimilated. Our body is designed to first assimilate, before it can release what is not useful to our life energy.
Examples of Medhya Rasayanas (nervines) herbs: Gotu Kola & Bacopa monnieri, jatamansi, skullcap, avena, shankapushpi, calamus, ashwagandha, chamomile, st. john’s wort.
Herb specific to organs:
Heart herbs: Elecampane (pushkarmula), arjuna, hawthorne berry, cardamom, rose, ashwagandha.
Lungs herbs: Pippali, osha root, licorice, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, calamus root, mullein.
Kidneys/Adrenals: Gokshura, brahmi (gotu kola & bacopa monnieri), licorice.
Liver: Brahmi, bhringraj (eclipta alba), milk thistle, kutki, shankapushpi, rose.
Spleen: (See liver herbs).
Pancreas: Turmeric, shardunika, neem, bayberry, barberry, tulsi.
Colon: Triphala, haritaki, sesame oil (enema).
Vata: Ashwagandha, bala, vidari- kandha, calamus, dashamula compound, saraswati churna, haritaki.
Pitta: Shatavari, guduchi, burdock root, brahmi, rose, bhringraj, amalaki.
Kapha: Gokshura, calamus, trikatu, punarnava, bibhitaki.
Choosing the Right Herbs
Herbs can be selected to address dosha imbalances, specific conditions, and the organs and relating channels and tissues that are affected. If we are not aware of any emotional imbalances, we can just make note if any emotions that surface during the normal course of treatment of any condition. Sometimes emotional content will come up and pass, leaving one feeling more refreshed than before. If there is a psychosomatic aspect to a condition, herbs used to treat at the physical level also act on the emotional and mental body level. The separation of the physical, mental, and emotional bodies is only a mental construct, in realty all koshas (sheaths) exist as an integral whole.