Medically reviewed by Adithya Cattamanchi, M.D. — Written by Crystal Hoshaw
June 1, 2020
It’s a real possibility that anxiety has touched nearly everyone I know. The pressures of life, the uncertainty of the future, and a constantly changing world are more than enough to create the sense that the rug is perpetually being pulled out from under our feet.
My first experiences with anxiety began as a little girl. I remember getting my first failing grade. As my eyes settled on the big “Unsatisfactory” scrawled at the top of my fourth grade math test, my mind launched into a fast-forward of my future.
Was I going to graduate? Go to college? Be able to support myself? Was I going to be able to survive?
When I took my driver’s test at 15 years old, I was again riddled with anxiety. My nerves were so jumpy that I accidentally started to make a left turn into oncoming traffic, failing instantly.
I hadn’t even left the DMV parking lot.
This was also about the time that I began yoga practice, and I kept wondering why I couldn’t simply will myself to be calm with the meditation techniques I learned in class.
If only it were so simple.
It’s been a journey of years to help me understand the deeper elements at play behind my experience of anxiety, and Ayurveda has played an integral role in this process of self-reflection.
Ayurveda is the name of the traditional medicine system of India. In Sanskrit, it means “science of life.”
Ayurveda isn’t just about herbs and complementary treatments. It’s actually a complete outlook, a way of seeing life and the world that has a rich history and cultural depth.
Ayurveda is still highly relevant for millions of Indian people today, and increasingly for Westerners as well.
While Ayurveda is sometimes treated as the latest buzzword without much cultural context or background (or in some cases, accuracy), it’s finding a place in Western society more and more.
Ayurveda is getting more attention and acceptance as accredited training programs true to the system’s roots pop up across North America and Europe.
Ayurveda is a self-contained, cohesive system with its own cosmology, herbology, and process of diagnosis. It’s a rich lens for understanding our health, our bodies, our minds, and the environment in which we live.
Blowing in the wind
To understand anxiety through an Ayurvedic lens, it’s important to first understand that Ayurveda sees existence itself as made up of particular elements. I think of this lens as a poetic metaphor for experiencing self and life.
Whether fire, water, earth, wind, or space, everything in existence is made up of some combination of these parts.
It’s easiest to see the elements expressed in food: a hot pepper contains fire element, a sweet potato contains earth, and a brothy soup contains water. Simple, right?
You can see the elements in emotions as well. If you’re angry and “seeing red,” you bet there’s some fire element coursing through you.
If you’re deeply in love, you’re likely experiencing the ooey, gooey sweetness of water element. If you feel strong and grounded, you’re likely experiencing earth.
When it comes to anxiety, wind element is largely at play. If you imagine a leaf blown about by the breeze or a candle flame flickering in the wind, you can see why anxiety and wind go hand in hand.
As I looked at myself with this metaphor in mind, I saw that I was constantly on the move, both in my body and my mind. I walked quickly, balanced 10 tasks at once, and was always “on.”
When fear and stress are acute, it’s difficult to feel calm, still, resolute, and sure of where you’re going. My experience felt very much like a leaf trembling in the wind, blown about by every new gust.