How Ayurveda treats our modern day disease of the mind


I want to introduce this with an anecdote from a session with a patient.

This patient was sure they had some problem with memory. That there must be something wrong with them because they were incapable of memorising details from articles they had read and especially noticed it in moments where they were cornered to prove that they had this information stored in their heads. 

I kept claiming that this was not the case but that instead, the patient was not feeling safe at that moment and therefore nothing was working properly.

The reason I was so certain was because I tested their capacity to remember in a situation when they were not aware of it. Because my patient felt perfectly at ease with me and did not feel a need to prove something to me while just reviewing a good book that they had recently read, they were perfectly capable of talking about the book for a good 20 minutes of our session. I would even stop and ask more detailed questions of names or other things and they remembered. However, this person was brought up in a way that they had to be hyper vigilant to one of their parents quickly changing temper. In order to please the parent, they had learned

that knowing things academically was important. 

The parent itself was most probably highly disappointed with itself for not having succeeded professionally in the academic world so we could imagine that there was a drive in them pushing the child to achieve in this sphere. 

This theme that I am on since a couple of weeks now, that we could name adhd under the umbrella of trauma really, has therefore a lot to do with self esteem. 

I started with talking about turbulence and how hard it is to pick oneself up when in the darkness of the pit. I then moved on to the fact that we are very drawn to the idea of putting labels on our “conditions” so that we make sense of them. So that we don’t feel so different. Yet it has the effect of putting us in boxes and therefore ostracising ourselves. We are drawn to this because our mind wants to make sense of things and will therefore seek patterns. It is also wired for what we call a negativity bias which means that we will seek “what could go wrong” or we tend to let a negative comment stick like velcro whereas the positive ones we easily forget. This means that when we have a label on ourselves that says what is wrong with us, we will stick with it, let it define us and we will absolutely diminish ourselves. Modern medical science, psychiatry especially and to some extent the psychotherapeutic scene singles us out by making our suffering individual. Originally this was very good since it avoids the generalisation of symptoms and treating case by case, just like “clinical” means. But what it does as well, especially now, is that it puts the responsibility of a sick society on the individual and this increases shame. So naturally the individual will seek to alleviate that feeling by adopting the ideas of biological explanations to their suffering. What does this do? It makes pharmaceuticals sell more drugs. 

For sure, it does not make us trust that we can simply get rid of the symptoms through some simple changes in our life. 

I wanted to begin with this because many people would shake their heads and raise their eyebrows to the idea that Ayurveda could solve such a thing as ADHD. 

But if we would actually look at the symptoms of this condition and then look at what the entire purpose of Ayurveda (and yoga) is, we end up with the solution for the condition.

In the Bhagavad Gita, we come into the story when Arjuna, the soldier, is conflicted with the idea of going to war against his own family and Krishna helps him see why this battle is necessary. For it is his dharma, his purpose. 

If you don’t understand the analogy you might think that this story glorifies war but of course, this is not the case. For you start every day of your life with entering the battlefield of right or wrong actions. Knowing how to take the right action is actually what yoga is, according to the Bhagavad Gita. But this can only be known when the mind is clear and settled. Hence, yoga is meditation. Basically, the principle of the vedic philosophy is to arrive at the point where you see your true nature. This is of course the goal of Buddha when he expresses that clinging to the living is the source of suffering. Because our true nature is not the material world that we identify with. 

But let’s not go into a class on philosophy. Just understand that this is the whole reason for these practices. So meditation is done for the clarification of the mind by removing the obstacles that make us suffer. 

What were the symptoms of ADHD again?

Oh yes, the conflicted mind. 

Mainly 3 things : short attention span, incapacity to control impulses and difficulties to be still (hyperactivity). Maybe these difficulties existed already back in the days of the Buddha and his buddies?

Let’s start with talking about children since ADHD has more than doubled in children over the past 30 years.

I have already mentioned the fact that it might not be the most natural thing for children to sit still for 8 hours on a school bench trying to learn things from a teacher that might not even be very skilled in transmitting information. There is another thing here and that is the concept of play. We actually learn through play, our brain develops when we play. And when do we usually stop playing? Well, when we come into school age because, let’s face it, who has the energy to play after sitting for hours trying to concentrate in school (not to mention homework)? An interesting fact is that we need to be relaxed in order to learn and this is of course why play is the best teacher. It also explains my patients inability to remember things when they were in a position of pressure and fear. 

If we would talk about ADHD in adults I think it’s already enough to say that if we want to perform a task well, we need to be able to focus on it. But if we sit in an office where there are about 5 emails coming in every hour and phones ringing, bosses asking for updates – it will decrease our productivity and therefore reduce our attention span. Add to that the smart phones and just the fact that now we need to be available 24/7 due to them, there is this underlying vigilance of notifications. Who has not experienced the “ghost symptoms” when we believe that the phone was buzzing in our pockets or hallucinations of pings from whatsapp?

It makes us hyper vigilant. It’s no longer needed to have severe trauma from childhood to become like that, just live in 2022 with primary needs of food, shelter and belonging. 

Every day is truly Arjuna’s battlefield. The mind is an excellent slave but a horrible master. What is needed then is to train it well for its role. 

This means two things : we need to condition it for the habits we want it to have since the brain is wired for patterns of recognition. It means that it is absolutely wired for addiction. But it’s through the choices you make every day that you choose what it should be addicted to.  THAT is the battle between right and wrong action. Not because someone tells you what is the right thing to do but because you always seek to feel good. So choose the feel good option that promotes health in your brain as well as in your body or you will feel that internal war ever so strongly. 

How do we condition the mind for what we want it to feel like? By having a lifestyle that promotes health. 

The second thing that this means is that we need to learn how to manage our fear response. 

And why is that the case?

There are biological, social, psychological and environmental reasons but we could answer this very simply with the acronym HALT. Whatever good ideas, intentions and motivations we might have and hold on to, they will be thrown out the window when a deeper instinct takes over. When our urges take over, our reason has nothing to say. It’s why neuropsychiatrists would claim that there is no such thing as willpower. When we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired we are no longer listening to reason. The stress response takes over. And this is of course when we let old bad habits take over again. So by training our brain to not fall in the pit of stress, we are capable of making the right choices even if we are hungry and see the golden arcs of fast food just in front of us. 

Have you heard about the diet choices that apparently play a role in attention deficit? Well, I think no one will raise their eyebrows when I say that processed food containing refined sugar, refined white flour and saturated fats has been proven to make things worse. 

So dietary guidelines are actually essential when dealing with ADHD.

But that is a whole article of itself so let’s finish here for today.

If you wish to increase your attention span, if you wish to train your neuromuscular system to feel anchored, grounded and present, reach out and we can work together. If the 8 week online program would suit you, check the landing page of Nourish-Balance-Thrive here

Hi, I’m Charlotte (Yogi Cha). I’m a yoga teacher with a degree in clinical psychology. I’ve always had a deep curiosity toward eastern and western approaches to understanding the mind, and the ming/body union. You’ll find me in the lovely Canggu Bali, nestled amongst coconuts, palm trees and sunshine 🥥🌴🌞