Our physical body responds to our mind’s interpretation of external sensory perceptions. Most of us feel good when we see a beautiful scene, a happy expression makes us feel relaxed, music has the ability to sooth us or excite us and even sadden us at times. Tasty food makes us feel pleasure and aroma therapy is based on the ability of pleasant sensory perceptions of smell to affect our mood and emotions.
So it’s but obvious that natural environment around us can be modulated to produce greater mental well-being. That’s why we look for green surroundings, peaceful ambience, more spacious and bright places to live and travel to, add plants to our interiors, and aroma diffusers to our offices and temples.
Alternative and natural therapies are based on adding elements in our environment that are known to enhance a sense of well-being. These can include one or several sense organs.
- Touch- A massage always works wonders when we feel tightness in our muscles. From Ayurveda to Physiotherapy, acupressure to socio cultural practices of massage, all rely on touch and pressure modalities to induce relaxation in body which has positive feedback effect of relaxing the mind and giving a sense of well-being. Many research papers have been published on effect of touch in modulation of feelings and emotions in normal population as well as people suffering from autism, mood disorders and even physical symptoms like pain and paresthesias .
- Vision- How do we feel looking at a dark, dirty space? And now imagine looking at blue skies, blooming flowers, gurgling waterfalls! ‘A thing of beauty’ is not just joyful for poets and writers but for everyone. Visual Imagery related relaxation techniques are based on using calming visions to help in relaxation exercised. Similarly, watching violence in real or virtual world increased release of adrenaline and other stress hormones which cause physical and mental stress leading to mood disturbance, anger, irritability and consequent physical manifestations of body aches, headaches and gastrointestinal side effects. Therapies and therapy environment are thus kept simple, spacious and pleasant to senses to induce a sense of well-being both as part of natural loving or illness management.
- Hearing- The energy of sound is used widely in medical fields for how it affects cellular vibrations and hormonal secretions. Use of music is an age old method of improving mental well-being. From chanting mantras to latest sound baths, all rely on how pleasant sounds make us feel better. The negative impact of harsh sounds is all too understood and has even be utilised for criminal interrogation as means of breaking down people. The opposite is obviously true as well and hospitals, ICUs in modern medical facilities and surgeons in operation theatres use music to uplift mood and enhance positivity.
- Taste- According to Ayurvedic system of living,Food makes us who we are and various flavours and combinations of edible products have the ability to affect our emotions. In psychiatric parlance, the disorders around stress eating and impact of sweet and bitter flavours is widely studied. It’s also well known that mood affects the taste of food. Alternative therapies have thus used taste and aromas to help create positive and relaxed mental states. Similarly, the distinct categories of sattvik, rajasik and tamasik food in Ayurveda focuses on how food habits affect us both physically and mentally.
- Smell- Aroma therapies need no introduction. Smells are potent memory stimulants and emotions of. certain remote past are often felt intensely if associated with a certain smell. Thus use of lavender fragrance for calming the mind and inducing sleep, Jasmine fragrance for uplifting mood and desire, cinnamon fragrance for improving concentration etc are commonly known applications to improve mental well-being.
Other than the sensory impressions, natural therapy relies on diet, exercises and daily rituals which are supposed to improve wellness and keep illness at bay. The use of fresh and locally available ingredients, evidence based use of herbs and spices for boosting relaxation and immunity, yogic poses and breathing techniques and daily rituals of bathing and grooming along with spiritual norms and practices like prayer, gratitude and faith etc all come together to maintain a healthy lifestyle for a healthy mind and body.
The author is a Senior Psychiatrist and Founder & Director of ‘Manasthali’.