The prevalence of mental stress in our modern lives is almost as unavoidable as the darkness of night. It is rare that we don’t have something calling on our mental energy or affecting us emotionally. Whether it is work, relationships, finances, busy schedules, politics, we are constantly realizing that we are not in control of our life and circumstances. This results in a high prevalence of mental and emotional tension in our lives.
A 2012 report by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), found that 45.9 million (about 20% of Americans) experience mental health disorder each year. Of these, about 9.5 million are diagnosed a severe mental health condition.1 This prevalence is also associated with substance abuse.
People with mental health issues, whether it is stress, anxiety, depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, or worse, all feel alone and isolated in their disease. If you experience this, it is important that you know, that you are not alone. You do not have to fight this alone.
Ayurveda approaches mental health disturbance as a spiritual crisis that can be healed with the modification of physiological and psychological factor. Therefore, approach to treatment is a combination of Dietary intervention, herbal medicine, counseling, and body therapies. Focus of this article is how Shirodhara can help with mental health issues.
What is Shirodhara?
Shirodhara is a master therapy for management of psychological disorders and psychosomatic conditions. Psychological disorder may include: chronic stress reaction, anxiety, PTSD, schizophrenia, bipolar and more… psychosomatic conditions are physical conditions influenced by psychological stress: IBS, Crohns, colitis, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, migraines and headaches, neck or shoulder pain, back pain, and more.
Shirodhara involves performance of a drip therapy onto the forehead of the patient. This drip therapy is designed influence the hormonal system of the body. Starting with the pineal gland, pituitary gland and hypothalamus.2 These are not only main control centers, but they correspond with the spiritual centers of Sahasrara (crown) chakra and Ajna (third eye) chakra. These are modified through Shirodhara to support contact with our soul and contribute to having a spiritual experience through this therapy.
This influence of the Shirodhara therapy causes induction of meditative states and altered states of consciousness. Thus, resulting in regulatory effect on the nervous system and the body.
Shirodhara is individualized based on the condition and person having the condition. It may be performed using substances like medicated milk, buttermilk, herbal oil, ghee, and more. Thus, if is scientifically designed to heal the individual person’s mind and body by helping them connect with the soul.
What are the effects of performing Shirodhara?
Effect of Shirodhara are primarily observed on the mental state and mental health of the individual. It seems to activate the parasympathetic (rest & digest) nervous system. This has a balancing effect on our sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system. It has been show to lower nor-adrenaline and serotonin in the brain, as well as reduce cortisol (stress hormone) in the body.2 These result in a system relaxation response which is restorative and rejuvenating for the individual.
Research of Health Benefits of Shirodhara:
Insomnia: application of shirodhara with milk decoction has been found to reduce symptoms of insomnia by 66%. This includes equal reducting in restlessness, anxiety, mind racing, and other symptoms that associated with insomniac state.3 Milk has a cooling effect. When combined with nourishing and calming herbs like Ashwagandha, GotuKola, Brahmi, etc. It calms and nourishes the mind. Thus, helping the mental activity to subside, physical response mental restlessness to disappear.
Anxiety: we all feel anxiety sometimes… symptoms may range: emotional nervous tension, sweating palms, heat on head, shortness of breath, heart racing, diarrhea, or even panic attacks. The nervousness is caused by activation serotonin and nor-adrenalin activity in the brain and increase cortisol (stress hormone) in the body. People with chronic stress experience immune weakness. They can also get sick very often. Two studies found that, Shirodhara reduced nor-adrenaline and serotonin in the brain. This calming effect on worry, paranoia, imagined stress, etc.4-5 They also found that Shirodhara also increased elimination of cortisol, while increasing circulating NK cells (anti-cancer immune cells).4-5 With measurement of Anxiety symptoms, 3 weeks of treatments lower symptoms by 32%. This effect was maintained for atleast 6 additional weeks.6
Reduction of Serotonin and nor-adrenaline are both important factors in treatment of PTSD, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder… Enhancement and sustainability of the result we get with Shirodhara is achieved by following Ayurvedic diet, breathing exercises, and spiritual counseling.
High Blood Pressure: Blood pressure can be affected by many factors. Shirodhara is rarely useful for people with high blood pressure related to obesity, cholesterol or diabetes. These conditions are better treated with herbs and diet. However, blood pressure caused stress, nervous tension and tightening of blood vessels can get a lot of benefit with Shirodhara. These people often have blood pressure that gets worse with worrying, anger, and fear…
Study of healthy individuals found application of single session of Shirodhara reduce blood pressure by 20+ points. Shirodhara also reduced their breathing rate from 18.5 to 16.5 breaths per minute.7 This indicated that Shirodhara activated the parasympathetic nervous system: This caused the patients to have slower and deeper breaths, while relaxing their blood vessels and reducing blood pressure.
Another study looked at patients with blood pressure problems, who also suffered with anxiety, worry, anger, and related-insomnia. Combination of Shirodhara with Sarpagandha tablets (Rauwolfia serpentina) significantly reduce all symptoms along with blood pressure.8 This effect could be maintained with continuation of herbal medicine, mental/emotional counseling and Ayurvedic dietary protocol.
Mental and emotional stress is not disease. Rather it is more like tension we experience in weightlifting. It causes us to grow stronger. However, without proper self-care and recovery after exercising our body can fall into a state of disrepair. Similarly, without proper self-care of the mental emotional states through spiritual means, our mind can fall into disrepair. These can be subtle changes like fatigue, headaches, insomnia, irritable bowels that are aggravated by stress. These can also be overt changes like mental and emotional breakdown, resulting in chronic anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar, PTSD, etc.
Ayurveda offers various means to treat these conditions on physiological levels. Like changes in diet and lifestyle that help to change the biochemistry of the mind. It offers spiritual counseling and guidance in spiritual practice to support individual to better access their true Self. Ayurveda also recommends advanced therapies like Shirodhara for directly affecting the mind and promoting natural healing of this powerful instrument. In all, Ayurveda seeks to guide us to live a cleaner, pure, and more spiritual life, that promotes wellbeing on all levels.
- SAMHSA “Behavioral Health, United States, 2012.” US Department of Health and Human Services https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/2012-BHUS.pdf
- Dornala SN and Dornala SSN. “Multidimensional Effects of Shirodhara on Psycho-somatic Axis in the Management of Psucho-physiological disorders.” Int. J. Ayur. Pharma Research, 2014; Vol. 2(4), Pg. 32-40.
- Gotmare Ashish et al. GoDugdha Shirodhara: A Non-pharmacological Treatment of Nidranash (insomnia). Int. J. Res. Ayurveda Pharm. Vol. 4(4), July-Aug. 2013.
- Xu F, Uebaba K, Ogawa H, Tatsuse T, Wang BH, Hisajima T, Venkatraman S. Pharmaco-physio-psychologic effect of Ayurvedic oil-dripping treatment using an essential oil from Lavendula angustifolia. J Altern Complement Med. 2008 Oct; Vol. 14(8), Pg. 947-56.
- Uebaba K, Xu FH, Ogawa H, Tatsuse T, Wang BH, Hisajima T, Venkatraman S. Psychoneuroimmunologic effects of Ayurvedic oil-dripping treatment. J Altern Complement Med. 2008 Dec;14(10):1189-98.
- Rastogi S, et al. “Effects of Shirodhara in generalized anxiety disorder” Association of Humanitas Medicine, 6(4), e27, 2016.
- Dhuri, Kalpana D., Prashant V. Bodhe, and Ashok B. Vaidya. “Shirodhara: A Psycho-Physiological Profile in Healthy Volunteers.” Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine 4.1 (2013): 40–44. PMC. Web. 9 June 2018.
- Chittaranjan Kundu, V. Shukla, M. Santwani, N. Bhatt. The role of psychic factors in pathogenesis of essential hypertension and its management by Shirodhara and Sarpagandha Vati. AYU (An International Quarterly Journal of Research in Ayurveda). Oct-Dec 2010 v31 i4 p436.