Ayurveda for Winter Depression- Part I

Winter is a challenging season, both physically as well as mentally. Feelings of depression, sadness and impending doom experienced by many during this season are collectively known as Winter Depression – a type of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Colder nights, shorter days and scarcity of day light cause major shifts in the circadian rhythms of our body and mind. These changes are considered as major reasons for triggering SAD disorders. Experts say that winter depression affects almost 20% individuals all over the world. It is more common in women than in men.


Our mind is governed by three energies. These dynamic energies are in a state of constant flux which is reflected through our moods, emotions and over- all state of our mind.

Sattva- the positive energy represents knowledge and purity. Rajas which is the impulsive energy, represents action and passion; while Tamas– the negative energy represents inertia and ignorance. Sattva is considered as a guna i.e. virtue, while Rajas and Tamas are called Dosha-as their imbalance leads to diseases. Imbalance of Rajas and Tamas with respect to Sattva is the main cause for most psychological and psyho-somatic disorders (e.g. Irritable Bowel Syndrome).

Seasonal changes in our environment are one of the factors which affect the relative levels of these Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, giving rise to various imbalance e.g. SAD. Dominance of darkness during winters causes a surge in Tamas, which creates negativity, low self- esteem, lack of motivation, sadness, delusion, depression and even suicidal tendencies. Sattva which is the positive energy of mind recedes naturally in this situation, unless we make deliberate efforts to augment it through practice of Yoga, meditation, pranayama and including Sattva enhancing i.e. Sattvic foods.

Depending on the body type or Prakriti of a person, symptoms of winter depression may be expressed differently. Along with the feelings of depression some other symptoms that are felt by people according to their Prakriti are:

Vata Prakriti

  • Feelings of grief, sadness and  hopelessness
  • Poor Concentration
  • Conflicts, easily get into arguments with others
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety

Pitta Prakriti

  • Irritability
  • Craving for sugar, starch and alcohol
  • Fatigue loss of energy
  • Difficulty in anger management, violent moods

Kapha Prakriti

  • Apathy
  • Excessive Sleep
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Mental confusion
  • Weight gain
  • Heaviness in arms and legs

Those suffering from SAD can also be benefitted by including Ayurvedic herbs and classical Ayurvedic preparations which boost Sattva guna of our mind. Ayurvedic supplements which can help in managing Winter Depression are:

  1. Medhya Rasayana: A combination of equal parts of Guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia), Yashtimadhu (Glycerrhiza glabra), Madookparni (Centella asiatica) and Shakhapushpi (Convolvulus pluricaulis) is known as ‘Medhya Rasayana’. This is an excellent classical Ayurvedic combination which helps in boosting positive thinking, cognitive thinking and in the management of many psychosomatic, neuropsychiatric and developmental disorders. These herbs are also rich in anti-oxidants and strengthen our immune system.1 Medhya Rasayana should be taken first thing in the morning with one teaspoon of ghee (clarified butter) or with a cup of warm organic milk for best results. Depending on the body type and severity of winter depression, herb or combination of all the four herbs can be used.
  2. Kalyanaka Ghrita: Kalyanaka Ghrita/ghee is an Ayurvedic classical preparation in which ghee/clarified butter is processed and fortified with many herbs. This ghee is one of the best Ayurvedic supplements for managing psychological imbalances like winter depression and neuropsychiatric disorders. When winter depression is significantly affecting  the quality of life, supplements like Kalyanaka Ghrita should be included in your daily routine.* One tsp. of this ghee taken twice daily on empty stomach with warm water is ideal.
  3. Ashwagandha (Withania sominfera): Those with Vata and Kapha body type are more prone to suffer from winter depression. Ashwagandha with its Kapha and Vata pacifying abilities is a perfect supplement for their body type. Scientific research has proved that the anti-depressant activity of Ashwagandha is at par conventional anti-depressants. It is not only safe, but a wholesome supplement for winter depression. Also, Ashwagandha strengthens immune system and helps in resisting nasty winter infections like Flu.2
  4. Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri): Brahmi has been revered as one of the most potent nootropic/medhya herbs in Ayurveda. Brahmi fortified ghee i.e. Brahmi Ghrita or Brahmi powder mixed with ghee can be taken early in morning for relieving symptoms of depression. Research studies have shown that Brahmi not only alleviates symptoms of depression, it also enhances cognitive functions.3
  5. Vacha (Acorus calamus): Vacha a.k.a. calamus root or sweet flag is yet another effective Ayurvedic herb which benefits higher brain functions and beneficial in managing depression.Vacha is extremely hot in potency, hence should be taken in moderation by those with Pitta body type. The heating nature of Vacha is especially beneficial for those with Vata and Kapha body type. Also, if winter depression has symptoms like excessive sleep, poor appetite, weight gain etc., then Vacha can be an excellent supplement. **

*All cases of winter depression must be evaluated by a physician.

** Dosage Of Vacha must be caliberated depending on a person’s body type and only after consulting an Ayurvedic practitioner.

References:

  1. Reena Kulkarni, K. J. Girish, and Abhimanyu Kumar, Nootropic herbs (Medhya Rasayana) in Ayurveda: An update, Pharmacogn Rev. 2012 Jul-Dec; 6(12): 147–153.
  2. Bhattacharya SK, Bhattacharya A, Sairam K, Ghosal S. Anxiolytic-antidepressant activity of Withania somnifera glycowithanolides: an experimental study. Phytomedicine. 2000 Dec;7(6):463-9.
  3. Yogesh S Deole, HM Chandola, A Clinical Study on Effect of Brahmi Ghrita on Depression, Ayu, 2008 : 29, 4;207-214
  4. Tripathi AK, Singh RH. Experimental evaluation of antidepressant effect of Vacha (Acorus calamus) in animal models of depression. AYU 2010;31:153-8

 

Author:

Having practiced Ayurveda in entirely diverse cultures like India and United States, Dr Chetali Samant has experienced the myriad facets and the true meaning of Ayurvedic Health Care. She has received her master’s degree in Ayurveda (M.D Ayurveda) from Gujarat Ayurveda University- one of the most prestigious universities of Ayurveda in India and the only Ayurveda University in the world. She has been honored with a gold medal for her academic achievements during her postgraduate studies. After specializing in the field of mother and child care, she realized that the health of one family member indeed depends on the health status of every member of the family. Ever since, she has encouraged and educated many families in promoting and maintaining health.

Comments

  1. Great blog post, it’s practical information.

  2. Another timely article for this winter, I am sure Ayurveda can help the winter depression for people living in the winter parts of the world.

  3. Pam Brown says:

    Nice advice for this winter season. I will also read the part two of “Ayurveda for Winter Depression”.

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