This is the first part in a series of discussions between Anxiety Slayers Ananga Sivyer and Shann Vander Leek on how Ayurveda, India's ancient and natural science of life, can help us understand and soothe anxiety.
Shann: We’re here today with Ananga Sivyer a collaborative spirit on our Anxiety Slayer project. Ananga and I thought it would be a good idea to start to do some interviews and share some more information about stress relief and anxiety relief via Ayurveda, and we came up with some questions, and thought it would be cool to bat them about and see if we could be helpful and provide more supportive information to our listeners.
So welcome, Ananga! I’m so excited to move forward with our very first Anxiety Slayer interview!
Ananga: Thanks, Shann! Me too!
Shann: I thought that what we would do is just dive right into the questions and see where they take us.
Shann: According to Ayurveda, can you tell me what causes anxiety? What brings it about in the first place?
Ananga: Basically, according to Ayurveda, the cause of anxiety is excessive sensory stimulation - too much incoming information and an overloaded nervous system.
We’re living in a society where there’s constant noise, and constant visual stimulation, even when we’re in bed trying to sleep there may be the rumble of traffic or aircraft or something – these things are agitating to our nervous systems, and our nervous system becomes overwhelmed and overtaxed, and then we start to experience anxiety.
Shann: I can relate to that, on many different levels. What does Ayurveda have to offer someone who is suffering from an anxiety attack, or an anxious moment, when they’re at work or out and about?
Ananga: There are a lot of things you can do. The first thing I should say is that the key to managing anxiety is to lower the bar, lower the base anxiety rate, by taking care of yourself and taking supportive measures to nourish and protect your nervous system when you’re not having a panic attack. Because that takes you off red alert and makes you a calmer person and a more protected person in general.
If you’re out and about, and panic or anxiety happens, there are things you can do, via breathing techniques, or using pressure points on the body – in Ayurveda these are called marma points – and there are many vital energy points on the body that can be used to directly affect the nervous system and calm it down.
One of those is right in the middle of the palm of the hand – and we’ve got more information in our Anxiety Slayer material on how to do this – but it’s very simple. You just make a fist with your hand, so that your middle fingers are resting in the middle of your palm, and then you locate that point in the middle of your palm with the thumb of the opposite hand, and you just press and hold that point, and take a few deep breaths. Just by holding that point for a minute you can begin to feel more calm. So that’s one little simple thing you can use on the go.
Shann: Wow, that’s really excellent. Are there any mental techniques or herbal remedies that people can try?
Ananga: Yes, Ayurveda has a diverse collection of techniques. Being a sister with yoga, it shares a lot of techniques with yoga. One useful mental technique is to just mentally shift your awareness back and away from intense emotions. When you’re contacting stressful and anxious feelings, your awareness tends to be right where your eyes are – right in the front of your face – and just by mentally bringing that awareness back, and observing the situation more detachedly, you can rise above anxious thoughts like: “What if I faint? What if this happens? What if that happens?” You can come back and observe yourself going through it, but not feel it so intensely. And then you don’t get so caught up in those awful feelings. It takes a little practice, but it’s very effective.
Shann: Most interesting. You know, I’ve noticed that Ayurveda is not as popular and readily available as Chinese medicine, for instance, which has become so popular that you can go to just about any place and find herbs, or ginseng, et cetera. So when you’re trying to apply Ayurveda to yourself, how do you access the herbs and remedies that you can use personally?
Ananga: Well, Ayurveda has a very rich and ancient wise-woman tradition. There are many herbs and cooking spices in your kitchen that can help reduce anxiety. So there are simple recipes we can learn and mix up at home – and I’ll explain that a bit more in a moment. And although Ayurveda isn’t as accessible as Chinese medicine yet, there are some wonderful practitioners around.
Here in the UK, we have Pukka Herbs, which is run by a very experienced practitioner called Sebastian Pole. His herbs are available on the internet, at www.pukkaherbs.com. In the USA you have a wonderful company called Banyan Botanicals, who also have an excellent range of herbs. So although it’s not so easy to just walk into a store yet, herbal preparations and advice are available.
Shann: Excellent. Can you tell me more about thenaturalremedies for anxiety we might find in our own kitchens?
Ananga: Yes, there are some beautiful and simple things you can use from your kitchen cupboard. Nutmeg is a natural sedative; it can help you sleep, and it helps reduce heart palpitations and feelings of anxiety. So adding a pinch of nutmeg to warm milk at bedtime, is a really good way to relax the nervous system.
Or if you find that you’re suffering with a racing heart from anxious feelings, you can mix a cup of orange juice with a pinch of nutmeg and a teaspoon of honey; mix it up thoroughly and sip, and it will help calm any feelings of anxiety. That’s a really easy and effective one from the kitchen cupboard.
Shann: And I can tell you that you recommended that I do that months ago, and I did – and not only was it helpful, but it was quite tasty. It was quite lovely.
Ananga: Yeah, it’s really nice. I find it so rewarding that you can take things from the cupboard in your kitchen and help yourself, or your kids, family, and friends. I find that really exciting. It gets my inner apothecary going. And a lot of home Ayurvedic remedies are very tasty. There’s another one you can make with warm milk and saffron – a few strands of saffron – which is also delicious and looks lovely, because the milk goes a golden yellow colour. Saffron is very soothing to the heart, if somebody’s suffering from heartbreak or really intense, sad emotions involving the heart, saffron is a real healer for that. It’s very supportive to the nervous system.
Shann: Wow. So I have a question for you.
Shann: Sometimes, if I’m feeling like my stomach is a little upset, or maybe the onset of a little bit of nausea or heartburn, I have taken a piece of candied ginger – or if I have raw ginger, a teaspoon of ginger – and it’s worked beautifully to calm my stomach. Is that Ayurveda?
Ananga: Yes. Ayurveda is knowing the properties of everything – you, me, and the plants and herbs and environment around us – and then knowing how they interact with each other. So using ginger like that is very calming to the stomach. Fresh ginger is less likely to upset someone who’s running hot. Powdered ginger is more hot – more pungent – so fresh ginger’s definitely the safer bet when you’re dealing with things like that.
You can also use powdered ginger in a bath – a third of a cup of powdered ginger with a third of a cup of baking soda – and soak, in the evening, for ten to fifteen minutes in a warm bath, and that also helps reduce anxiety. So ginger is really an incredible herb. It has so many healing properties.