What does it really take to get over an illness, let alone to get over it quickly? The body has many innate ways to fight infections, go through the inflammation process, and restore equilibrium — and for thousands of years, Ayurvedic doctors have been using certain herbs to help it along. One of the most respected and time-tested of these plant foods is Ashwagandha.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb, meaning it’s used to promote a healthy response to environmental, emotional, and physical stressors. Over the past few decades, Western medicine has discovered what Ayurvedic doctors have known for thousands of years: Stress determines health. Ayurvedic practitioners understand that it takes more than just addressing physical symptoms to get to the root of an illness. It’s of utmost importance to consider emotional and mental factors that cause physical problems, make them worse, or prevent complete healing.
According to Indian philosophical tradition, the physical body is the manifestation of the emotional and mental bodies — so it only makes sense for the Ayurvedic physician to treat all three.
The International Journal of Yoga reported that wellbeing is related to positive emotions and cognitive processing. Negative emotions adversely affect the ability to cope with stress, and therefore the health of the body. Studies have shown that yoga, to name but one modality of mind-body practices, reduces anxiety and depression, thereby leading to wellbeing. Other means include meditation, quiet walks, exercise, breathing practices, Qigong, laughter, guided imagery, and rest.
Finding Ways to Ease the Stress
The research team of Lakshmi Narasimhan, Division of Life Sciences and Yoga, Swami Vivekananda Yoga Aunsandhana Samsthana, Bangalore, India, found that stress is not a singular event, but rather “a transaction between an individual and the environment that makes demand on all available coping resources of the body-mind complex.” This relationship involves cognitive appraisal and coping processes.
When a person’s coping resources are taxed, though, this results in distressful negative emotions that precipitate other disturbing behaviors, like anger, fear, distress, and irritability. Ashwagandha, and other such adaptogenic herbs, can help because they meet the challenges of stress that underlie a cascade of reactions in the mind and body.
It’s important to note that Vedic wisdom suggests using Ashwagandha during recovery — not during acute phases of illness.
Australian researchers noted that Ashwagandha’s stress-relieving effects are likely to work successfully due to the herb’s moderating effect on the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis — the glands involved in the body’s physiological reaction to stress. This is important because a full recovery from illness necessitates dealing with the stress that can potentially stand in the way to the body’s ability to bring itself into balance. It’s important to note that Vedic wisdom suggests using Ashwagandha during recovery — not during acute phases of illness.
Sleep and peace aids recovery
It’s no secret that rest aids recovery. A good sleep has been the cure for many conditions — from headaches to digestive issues. Retired Cornell University scientist James Maas, PhD, one of the world’s foremost sleep researchers, said that at least 70 percent of Americans do not get enough sleep, and this puts them at risk for serious health problems. But, happily, Ashwagandha is a sleep aid.
Japanese researchers noted that the root or whole plant extract of Ashwagandha has a long tradition of use to induce sleep. This is important because poor sleep is a cofactor in most major illnesses and a wide array of mind-body symptoms. Ayurvedic medicine classifies Ashwagandha as a Rasayana herb — one that promotes homeostasis, which, in turn, slows the aging process and prevents illness. Ashwagandha boosts body- and brain-health in a number of ways, including the increase of the stress tolerance and immune system strength. The result, of course, translates to quicker recovery from illnesses.
The scientific name for Ashwagandha is Withania somnifera, with “somnifera” meaning “sleep-inducing.” Ayurvedic doctors have been recommending the herb for sound sleep throughout the centuries. As an adaptogen, Ashwagandha corrects the imbalance between the immune and neuroendocrine systems to normalize bodily functions under stressed conditions. A good night’s sleep helps this process along.
The Body Wants to Recover
Our bodies are imbued with complex and dynamic systems that help us recover from illness and protect us from all sorts of health-threatening phenomena. The herbs in Ayurveda are used to restore balance to the body.
Mandip Goyal, editor of the International Quarterly Journal of Research in Ayurveda, Gujarat, India, explained that the time has come for world healers to take a closer look at the philosophy of prevention and preservation in Ayurveda as the first step in treatment and to recovery. While every system of Western medicine emphasizes treating disease, said Goyal, in Ayurveda, treating a disease is always secondary. The first order of business is to maintain and preserve health. It takes a healthy immune system to accomplish this.
Ayurveda’s historical use of Ashwagandha has been to improve the immune system to allow the body to find equilibrium. With proper balance of mind, body, spirit, and emotions, health is the natural outcome.