Bipolar disorder affects as many as 5.7 million American adults, which is about 2.6 percent of the population over the age of eighteen.
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day routine.
There are four basic types of bipolar disorder; all of them involve clear changes in mood, energy, and activity levels.
- Less severe manic periods are known as hypo manic episodes.
- Bipolar I disorder involves one or more manic episodes in easy terms.
- Bipolar II disorder defines no manic episodes, but one or more hypo manic episodes and one or more major depressive episode.
- Cyclothymic disorder describes a history of hypo manic episodes with periods of depression that do not meet criteria for major depressive episodes.
When the episodes do not fall into the previous three subcategories, the term Bipolar Disorder NOS (Not Otherwise Specified) is used and defined as: “A catchall category, diagnosed when the disorder does not fall within a specific sub type.”
Traditional Ayurveda has no specific equivalent disease for the diagnosis of bipolar disorder written in the classical Ayurvedic texts of Charaka and Sushruta. Charaka uses the term “Unmada” as a very general term for insanity.
According to modern practitioners of Ayurveda, bipolar disorder is described as a lack of stability or ojas, which leads to difficulty sustaining emotional responses, low sattva Guna (peaceful quality of mind), and high Vata.
Ojas is supposed to “maintain immunity, strength, integrity, and vitality.”
High Vata in the mind manifests as fear, alienation, anxiety and possible nervous breakdown. There is insomnia, tremors, palpitations, unrest and rapid shifts in mood.
Insanity, of the manic depressive type or schizophrenia, is an extreme Vata imbalance.
Triggers of Bipolar According to Ayurveda
Changes in the underlying emotions are brought on by vata-provoking qualities in the individual’s lifestyle, habits, foods and activities.
Some specific etiologies include:
- Eating while anxious, sad and angry
- Eating while performing other activities
- Taking in stimulants such as coffee or cigarettes
- Using intoxicants such as alcohol or recreational drugs
- Following irregular routines with no stability
- Traveling frequently
- Going to bed late
- Excessive loud music or noise
- Engaging in excessive physical or sexual activity
- Failing to change with the seasons (especially autumn)
- Over dependency on TV, mass media, social media
- Suppressing inner creativity and emotional sensitivity
Drawbacks of current modern medicines
The mood stabilizers, anti depressants and anti psychotics are an amazing product of modern medicines.
They have a strong effect on brain chemistry and are often very useful for managing this disease and improving the lives of bipolar patients.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, these medications do not treat the deep doshic root causes of the disease, but rather they balance and suppress the manifesting symptoms.
The Role of Samana Vata in Bipolar Disorder
In the mind, the role of samana vayu is to balance and stabilize the other vayus.
When it is healthy, the other vatas find greater stability. When it is disrupted, a person loses control of his thoughts and feelings. Samana vayu is also responsible for absorbing sensory impressions into the workings of the brain and mind.
Vyana vayu is also responsible for movement in the nervous system and circulation of thoughts and emotions. Aggravated pitta pushed by vata leads to the mental principle of rajas, which may result in mania.
Ayurvedic Treatment for Bipolar Disorder
Focusing on three steps
1) Increasing ojas
Eating a diet rich in Ojas-increasing foods is a great way to promote healthy Ojas in the body.
Here is a list of some powerful Ojas building food choices:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Healthy oils such as coconut, olive, sesame and almond
- Coconut meat, coconut water, coconut milk
As mentioned before, constriction is a leading cause of depleted Ojas. Therefore, taking the time to take some deep breaths each day is an excellent and efficient way to increase our Ojas and our vitality.
Each morning, take a comfortable seat and take 10 deep belly breaths making them long, smooth and steady.
2) Increasing Sattva Guna
Eat Sattvic foods.
Light foods such as fresh vegetables, milk, fruits, most grains, split or whole mung dhal and almonds increase calmness, clarity and creativity of the mind — in other words, they enhance Sattva.
Use ghee as medium of cooking. Ghee is clarified butter, free of milk solids, proteins and water. It has amazing nutritive and medicinal qualities, besides being extremely flavorful and aromatic. Its penetrative qualities make it an excellent medium for aiding the absorption of nutrients by the body, while also lubricating the tissues.
Avoid refrigerated, processed, artificially colored, canned and chemically preserved foods as far as you can. They increase ama, or toxic undigested matter in the physiology; tax the body’s agni, or digestive fire; lack vitality; and do not stimulate your Sattva.
3) Stabilizing Vata Dosha
To keep Vata in balance, favor the sweet, sour and salty tastes and avoid bitter, pungent and astringent foods.
- Eat larger quantities, but don’t overeat. This helps to balance the lightness of Vata.
- Take sweeteners in moderation. They all help to pacify Vata.
- Fats and oils are beneficial in the digestive system and help reduce Vata. Use up to three teaspoons daily of ghee or extra virgin olive oil.
- All low-fat dairy products are recommended. Milk is easier to digest when warm or heated.
- Use spices that pacify Vata including cardamom, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, salt, cloves, mustard seed, basil, asafetida, cilantro, fennel, oregano, sage, tarragon, thyme, and black pepper.
- Rice and wheat are the best grains for balancing Vata. Reduce the amount of barley, corn, white flour, and rye that you consume.
- Favor sweet, heavy fruits such as bananas, avocados, mangoes, apricots, plums, berries, coconut, figs, grapefruit, oranges, lemons, melons, papaya, peaches, pineapples, kiwi, dates, nectarines, and dried fruits.
- Cooked vegetables are best. Raw vegetables should be minimized. Favor Asparagus, beets, and carrots. Other vegetables may be taken in moderation if cooked in ghee or sesame oil, including peas, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, and sweet potatoes. Sprouts and cabbage tend to produce gas and should be minimized.
- Dairy products pacify Vata. For optimal digestion, boil milk before drinking it and consume it while warm.
- All varieties of nuts are recommended.
- Beans can aggravate Vata. Minimize your consumption of beans, with the exception of mung bean dahl.
- For non-vegetarians, use fresh, organic chicken, turkey, seafood, and eggs.