Stress and Rasayana

Today, stress has become an inevitable and the most unwanted companion of civilization. In biological terms, stress is defined as anything constituting a threat, real or apparent, which would adversely affect the organism. It can be induced by several factors like environmental changes, extremes of temperature, high altitude, restraints, fear, rage, anxiety, shock, grief, pain and so on. As far as body is able to cope with it, a stress act as a normal stimulus required for our physical and social well being and is better known as “eustress”. On the other hand, stress becomes “distress” when the individual is unable to cope with it. Thus, eustress helps in improving the performance, whereas, distress is known to induce a number of clinical maladies, like hypertension, coronary artery disease, peptic ulcer, asthma, migraine, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes mellitus, thyrotoxicosis, behavioral disorders like anxiety and depression and the list is very long.

The fact that stress plays an important role in the aetiology of several diseases is well recognized in Ayurveda, where, stress is known assahasa. Caraka advises to avoid sahasa as it adversely affects the body. Different types of stressors physical, psychological and environmental as they vitiate dosas are implicated in the aetiology of several diseases. Sahasa as it causes ojahksaya- loss of immunity increase the susceptibility of the body to various infectious diseases. Therefore, sahasa should be avoided as far as possible and body should be well protected by talking adequate care of the three sub pillars of life-diet, sleep, and celibacy – traya upastambhaiti – aharah, swapnoh, brahmacaryamiti, sleep here indicates adequate rest required by the body.

Rationally the best approach is to hit at the root cause, and this is particularly ideal strategy in the stress-management. Stress avoidance has been best appreciated by Caraka who states that in order to protect one’s life one should always avoid over-exerting himself. However, in today’s world of bottle neck competition, stress is an inevitable companion of success. This stress is justified also because of the results it bring along, however, the stress induced diseases can not be acceptable. Therefore, although stress avoidance is the ideal approach, it is not the most appropriate strategy and stress needs to be managed by strengthening the body’s adapting capacity to the stress. 

The coping capacity of the body can be increased by life style modifications, dietary interventions and / or drug treatment, all these being well organized under the umbrella of rasayana therapy, one of the eight branches of classical Ayurveda. Susruta defines rasayana tantra as the branch that improves longevity along with physical and mental strength and immunity. Ayurvedic approach to complete health is not fundamentally drug oriented, drugs being just one aspect of this multidimensional approach. All the same rasayana therapy in its purview includes drugs, dietary regimens and codes of conduct. 

Acara rasayana, constitutes the balanced use of sense organs, non-violence and self control is advised. This also suggests a regular routine free from stress. Ajasrika rasayana is about observing a nutritious and balanced dietary routine. A balanced diet consisting of all the six rasas and modified as per desa, kala (climate, environment and season), age and prakrti (dosic constitution) of the individual. In disease states, the dietary substances opposite to vitiated dosas are advised. In health, the balanced diet is considered the best rasayana.

Ausadha rasayana, i.e., the drug treatment becomes effective only when the first two are appropriately followed. Thus, to obtain the maximum benefits of rasayana therapy, one should regularly observe acara rasayana be careful of his diet and intermittently take rasayana drugs after proper purification.