Stress Relief in Ayurveda: 5 Secrets for lasting calmness

In my “previous” life, my days were a blur of deadlines, packed calendars, and a constant battle with stress. I was always on the run, trying to juggle long work hours, maintain a long-distance relationship, and keep up with social engagements. I felt the pressure of social FOMO (fear of missing out) intensely. To counterbalance this hectic lifestyle, I turned to hot yoga every evening, believing it would bring the much-needed balance to my life. Yet, despite my best efforts, true balance and peace of mind remained elusive – until I looked at it through the ayurvedic lense. In this post I share 5 strategies for stress relief in Ayurveda.

Stress Relief in Ayurveda through Meditation

Understanding Stress through Ayurveda

Looking back, I wish I had the tools and knowledge that I have now. Tools that don’t just temporarily relieve stress but address its root causes, promoting a deep and lasting sense of calm. Achieving balance isn’t about doing more, it’s about aligning more closely with our natural state and rhythms.

Ayurveda, the science of life, offers a profound understanding of stress that transcends the superficial. It teaches us that stress is not merely a psychological issue but a physical and energetic one that affects our entire being. According to Ayurveda, our individual constitution, or ‘Prakriti’, made up of the three doshas plays a crucial role in how we experience and process stress.

  • Vata individuals, characterized by qualities of air and space, might find themselves anxious and overwhelmed when out of balance, struggling with insomnia and a scattered mind.
  • Pitta types, embodying fire and water, may experience irritability, frustration, and a tendency towards burnout under stress.
  • Kapha, associated with earth and water, when imbalanced, can lead to feelings of lethargy, depression, and resistance to change.

Understanding the impact of stress on our doshic balance is pivotal. It’s not just about managing stress but about understanding how our unique constitution influences our response to stress and, in turn, how we can tailor our approach to stress relief. Ayurveda doesn’t offer a one-size-fits-all solution; it provides a personalized roadmap to wellness that acknowledges our individuality at its core.

Activating Your Parasympathetic Nervous System for Ultimate Stress Relief

The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are two key components of the autonomic nervous system, which regulates involuntary body functions like heartbeat, breathing, and digestion. Here’s a brief overview of each and their roles in stress management:

  • Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS): Often described as the “fight or flight” system, the SNS prepares the body to respond to perceived threats or stress. When activated, it increases heart rate, elevates blood pressure, and releases stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These changes are beneficial in acute situations requiring quick action but can lead to health issues if constantly activated due to chronic stress.
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS): Known as the “rest and digest” system, the PNS helps the body to relax and recuperate after the stress has passed. It lowers heart rate, reduces blood pressure, and promotes digestion and recovery. Activities that stimulate the PNS are crucial for stress relief because they counteract the effects of the SNS, helping to restore balance and calm to the body and mind.

Engaging in activities that promote the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system is essential for relieving stress. Practices such as deep breathing, yoga, meditation, and spending time in nature can shift the body into a parasympathetic state, encouraging relaxation and healing. Emphasizing parasympathetic activities can help mitigate the physical and emotional effects of stress, enhancing overall well-being and resilience.

Stress Relief in Ayurveda: 5 Practices to calm down

From dietary adjustments that soothe our doshic imbalances to herbal remedies that nourish and strengthen our nervous system, Ayurveda equips us with natural tools to combat stress. Practices like yoga and pranayama (breath work) are not mere physical exercises but deeply therapeutic routines that prepare our body and mind to handle stress more effectively. Moreover, Ayurveda emphasizes the importance of a consistent daily routine, or ‘Dinacharya’, to maintain doshic balance, advocating for regular sleep patterns, mindful eating, and self-care rituals that align us with the natural rhythms of the day.

Dietary Adjustments: Sattvic Foods

Ayurveda places great emphasis on diet, advocating for a sattvic diet to promote mental clarity, calmness, and overall well-being. Sattvic foods, considered the purest form of diet, are thought to bring balance to the mind and body, fostering a peaceful and meditative state. These foods are typically fresh, juicy, light, nourishing, and easily digestible. Incorporating sattvic foods into your diet can be a transformative step toward managing stress and enhancing your overall sense of peace.

Implementing Sattvic Principles

Adopting a sattvic diet doesn’t require drastic changes overnight but rather a gradual integration of more sattvic foods into your daily meals. Start by incorporating more fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet, choosing whole grains over processed ones, and opting for plant-based proteins. Paying attention to how foods affect your mood and energy levels can also guide you toward a more sattvic way of eating.

Mindfulness in eating—taking the time to appreciate the colors, textures, and flavors of your food—can enhance the sattvic quality of your meals. Eating in a calm and peaceful environment, focusing on the act of eating without distractions, and expressing gratitude for your food are all practices that align with sattvic principles, promoting not only physical nourishment but also mental and spiritual well-being.

By nurturing your body with sattvic foods, you can create a foundation of balance and calm that supports your journey towards stress relief and overall health, embodying the holistic principles of Ayurveda in every bite.

Herbal Remedies: Calming Herbs

Ayurveda celebrates the use of plants and herbs for their healing properties, especially for managing and reducing stress. Ashwagandha, known as a powerful adaptogen, helps in reducing cortisol levels and mitigating the effects of stress on the body. It can be taken as a supplement or added to warm milk before bedtime for a soothing effect. Brahmi, another revered herb, boosts cognitive functions and supports the mind’s ability to deal with stress, making it ideal for improving concentration and reducing anxiety. Tulsi, or Holy Basil, acts as a nerve tonic and has a calming effect on the nervous system, promoting mental clarity and emotional stability. Incorporating these herbs into your daily routine can significantly enhance your body’s resilience to stress.

Yoga and Pranayama

Yoga offers a holistic approach to stress relief, harmonizing the body, mind, and spirit.

Remember that I said that i tried to balance out my hectic lifestyle with Bikram Yoga? Well. Hot yoga may not be the most efficient for stress relief for some due to its intense heat and poses potentially increasing cortisol levels and activating the “fight or flight” response, which can exacerbate stress rather than alleviate it. Additionally, its one-size-fits-all approach and the potential for dehydration and overexertion may not suit everyone’s needs for relaxation and stress management.

Gentle yoga styles like Yin Yoga and poses like Balasana (Child’s Pose) and Shavasana (Corpse Pose) are particularly effective for inducing a state of deep relaxation and tranquility. Balasana helps in releasing tension in the back, shoulders, and neck, while Shavasana allows the body to enter a profound state of rest, reducing stress and anxiety.

Pranayama, or yogic breathing techniques, play a crucial role in managing stress. Nadhi Sodhan (Alternate Nostril Breathing) is a powerful technique that helps balance the left and right hemispheres of the brain, promoting mental clarity and calmness. Practicing these yoga poses and breathing exercises daily can provide a natural and effective way to manage stress levels.

Daily Routines: Dinacharya

The concept of Dinacharya, or daily routines, is central to Ayurveda’s approach to health and well-being. Establishing a routine helps to align our internal clock with the natural cycles of the sun and moon, promoting balance and reducing stress. Key components of Dinacharya include waking up early, ideally before sunrise, to embrace the serene energy of the morning; practicing yoga and meditation to set a positive tone for the day; and following a consistent meal schedule to support digestive health. Incorporating these routines into your daily life can significantly enhance your ability to manage stress.

Meditation and Mindfulness

Mindfulness meditation is a powerful tool for stress relief, inviting us to anchor ourselves in the present moment. For me, it was the key to ground myself in the morning. This practice promotes a state of calm awareness, reducing stress and anxiety. Simple techniques such as focusing on the inhalation and exhalation can be a good starting point for beginners, helping to cultivate a sense of inner peace and stability amidst the chaos of everyday life.

My personal top tips for stress relief

  1. Sip Matcha Instead of Coffee: Start your day with matcha to gently awaken your senses. Unlike coffee, matcha provides a sustained energy boost without the jitters, thanks to its unique combination of caffeine and L-theanine that promotes calmness and concentration. The caffeine in coffee activates my sympathetic nervous system immediately, giving me a boost of energy but absolutely not helping with stress hormones.
  2. Morning Meditation: Dedicate time each morning to meditation, setting a peaceful tone for the day ahead. This practice helps center your thoughts, reduce anxiety, and enhance mental clarity, equipping you to handle stress more effectively throughout the day.
  3. Digital Detox in the Morning: Reserve the first half hour of your day for a digital detox. By disconnecting from screens and notifications, you give yourself space to connect with the present moment, reducing stress and improving focus.
  4. Spend time in nature: Engage in physical activities like surfing or walking, especially in nature, to clear your mind and rejuvenate your spirit. These activities offer a dual benefit of exercise and connection with nature, both of which are potent stress relievers.
  5. Say No and Fight the FOMO: Practice setting boundaries by saying no to commitments that don’t serve your well-being. Embracing this ritual helps combat the fear of missing out (FOMO) and allows you to prioritize your mental health and personal growth.
  6. Practice Yin Yoga. Yin Yoga, with its slow-paced style, encourages holding poses for longer periods. This aids in releasing tension from the body, calming the mind, and fostering a deep sense of relaxation. This practice is particularly effective in stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, making it an excellent addition to your stress relief strategies. I love to practice Yin in the evening before going to bed. Here is one of my favourite classes with Kassandra.

Want to bring more Ayurveda into your daily life? Try these 9 powerful swaps for your everyday life.