By Beth Lauren, certified Ayurveda Wellness Counselor, founder of Sangha NYC and author of Reeling: Misadventures in Moviemaking, Money and Love
It can be challenging to assess how the mind contributes to a person’s overall physical health. Still, the mind-body connection is now widely accepted by Western medical traditions as it has been by Eastern medicine for centuries.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric condition that can occur in people who have experienced a traumatic event such as combat, a severe accident, or sexual assault. Studies have shown that the hyperarousal symptoms of PTSD may also put a survivor in a constant state of stress and anxiety. It’s common knowledge that both put tremendous strain on a person’s body, increasing the risk for physical health problems including cardiovascular disease, asthma, chronic pain, sleep apnea, and a host of gastrointestinal disorders.
The mind and body work together in both harmony and disharmony. For years PTSD troubled my mind and continued its descent through my body, resulting in bouts of IBS, sleep apnea, and insomnia. PTSD was my enduring legacy as a rape survivor. I was just 12 years old at the time of my assault. I would be 46 when I first began to process this violent and painful experience that was too much for both my brain and body to handle for 34 years.
Five years later, I became an Ayurveda Wellness Counselor and adopted the daily routine, or dinacharya, an Ayurvedic lifestyle recommends practitioners follow. And now, at the age of 55, I’m experiencing the best mental and physical health of my life.
Ayurveda is an ancient healing system. Using a holistic approach, Ayurveda balances manas (mind), shareera (body), and atma (soul) for optimal health. The goal of practitioners is not merely to prevent and cure disease but to focus on optimizing physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being. Managing both mind and body together is the approach needed to treat symptoms of PTSD successfully.
Ayurveda also offers a personalized methodology that is well-suited for treating the individual needs of those who have PTSD. No one’s pain is the same. How trauma manifests in the body can be affected by climate, pre-existing health issues, age, genetics – so many factors.
An Ayurvedic way of living: diet, daily routine, yoga, and meditation
On my journey, I found that I wanted my body and soul to follow once my mind was free from suffering. I began by paying close attention to how my eating habits affected my mood, digestion, and weight. It wasn’t just what I put into my body, but when I ate—the time of day and my state of mind when I was eating contributed to my malfunctioning digestion. Emotional eating was an issue for me, as it is for so many survivors, especially women. How many television shows and movies have we all seen where the heroine soothes her broken heart with a pint of ice cream?
In Ayurveda, food is medicine, not a consolation prize. Choosing foods that are in harmony with the season, grown locally, and favor one’s dosha—the energetic force of nature that comprises one’s unique body constitution—is essential for following an Ayurvedic lifestyle. I also found that eating primarily hot cooked foods and adding warming spices such as turmeric, cardamom, cumin, and cinnamon nourished my body and brain.
The more I learned about what an Ayurvedic lifestyle could offer, the more it seemed intuitive. Simple adjustments such as having my largest meal for lunch instead of dinner made sense to me. Why wouldn’t I give my body as much waking time as possible to digest heavy foods?
Digestive strength is paramount in Ayurveda. Maintaining strong agni or digestive power supports the body’s immunity, and a robust immune system is essential for managing daily stressors. Digesting doesn’t just apply to nutrition. We are constantly digesting our thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Healthy agni is key to a calm and peaceful state of mind, so all three don’t overwhelm us.
My daily practice includes 1-2 cups of Cumin, Coriander, Fennel (CCF) tea, a traditional Ayurvedic blend that supports digestion and gently detoxifies the liver. CCF’s calming and cooling qualities work well with all constitutions.
Several Ayurvedic herbs nourish and calm the brain and body, but the one I recommend as the most productive is ashwagandha.
A powerful herb in Ayurvedic healing, ashwagandha has been used in India for centuries for a wide variety of conditions, including stress, anxiety, insomnia, joint pain – the list is endless, and it includes some of the most common PTSD symptoms. In Ayurveda, specific herbs are adaptogens, which help the body cope with external stresses such as toxins in the environment and internal stresses such as anxiety and insomnia. Ashwagandha is one of them.
Yoga is so much more than a way to stretch and strengthen muscles. Daily practice can provide mental clarity and peace, providing a spiritual and psychological foundation for Ayurveda. It’s no mystery why certification as an Ayurveda Wellness Counselor includes a yoga module. For me, slow-paced yoga postures such as paschimottasana (seated forward bend pose) and matsyendrasana (half spinal twist pose) help to keep me calm and relaxed.
Given that the mind-body connection is fundamental to Ayurveda, it’s evident that meditation would be, like yoga, an integral component of its practice. Meditation helps us to attain awareness and harmony by experiencing inner calm and deep relaxation. While the violence I survived will always produce lingering feelings and thoughts resulting in anxiety, sadness, and eyes that fill with tears, all those emotions are less charged now. Those memories no longer imprison my body and brain. I can honestly write that a 5,000-year-old modality has been a massive part of my recovery, and for that, I am very grateful.
ABOUT BETH LAUREN
Beth Lauren spent over a decade in the film industry as a writer, producer, and director. She poignantly and humorously documents the devastating journey to produce her second feature in her memoir, Reeling: Misadventures in Moviemaking, Money, and Love. Beth wrote and produced the feature film, Fairytale of New York, which premiered at the New Filmmakers Series 2000 in NYC. She wrote, produced, and directed the short films: Immaculate Concoction and Getting Ned, in addition to co-producing and consulting on several plays and short films.
She is a certified Ayurveda Wellness Counselor and is the owner of Sangha NYC, where she offers virtual and in-person Ayurvedic counseling services and products. Sangha NYC enjoys a partnership with Nirogam, one of India’s largest and most trusted suppliers of Ayurvedic medicines. Beth is the Well-Tech World Summit organizer, which will take place in Dublin, Ireland, in March 2022.