Understanding the nervous system
The nervous system has two main parts:
- The Central Nervous System (CNS) consisting of the brain and spinal cord.
- The Peripheral Nervous System (PNS) comprises of the somatic and autonomic nervous system, which is made up of nerve fibres from the brain and spinal cord that cover the whole body including the muscles and internal organs (2)
The nervous system transmits signals between the brain and the entire body including all its organs. Some of its many controls include our ability to move, think, breathe, swallow, learn and see. (2)
How does the nervous system work?
According to Ayurveda everything is composed of the five elements air, ether, earth, water and fire. The three primary life energies known as doshas, vata, pitta and kapha are also derived from these elements. Each one of us possess a unique mix of the three doshas which is determined at our time of conception. In Ayurveda, ill health arises when our doshas become imbalanced. (3)
|Vata||Air and water||Movement|
|Pitta||Fire and water||Transformation and metabolism|
|Kapha||Water and earth||Nourishment and structure|
Vata, the air dosha, is responsible for movement. The Sanskrit root ‘va’ means to blow, direct, move or command. The word vata meaning wind. (3)
Prana is the vital life energy that empowers our existence. It is the subtle energy of the air dosha vata, that nourishes the whole body and mind, giving it vitality. Without this energy, we would die. Prana can also be obtained from food and water but is more pervasive in the air we breathe. (6)
Prana is the flow of communication between all the cells in our body. Prana gives us inspiration, positivity and the will to live. (6)
As Vata is mobile it is the driving force for everything within the body and mind, from a blinking eye, the circulation of the blood and lymphatic system to every impulse of the nervous system. Without vata, pitta and kapha are incapable of movement. (3)
According to Ayurveda, the body is formed from seven dhatus (tissues) layers. The sixth is majja dhatu. This is bone marrow but has become synonymous with the nervous system which is encased within bone like marrow. The bone marrow and nervous system are treated as homologous structures in Ayurveda (5)
|Rakta (blood)||Fire and water||Pitta|
|Mamsa (muscle, skeletal, visceral)||Primarily earth, secondarily water and fire||Kapha|
|Medas (fat or adipose)||Water||Kapha|
|Asthi (bone)||Earth and air||Vata|
|Majja (marrow and nerve)||Water and earth||Kapha|
|Shukra (reproductive)||Essence derived from all tissue||Kapha|
Ayurveda places great emphasis on the importance of good digestive heath. Our agni (digestive fire) must be strong enough to be able to digest and assimilate nutrients from our food. This is vital for good quality dhatus to be formed. Each dhatu also has its own individual agni. The strength of the dhatu-agni determines the quality and quantity of the dhatu formed. Each dhatu provides nourishment for the following dhatu so the health of each dhatu depends on the quality of the previous dhatu. (3)
If dhatu-agni is low, excess tissue of a poor quality is produced. If dhatu-agni is too high, then a deficiency of the dhatu will occur as the heat will burn it up. When too little of a dhatu is formed, or it is of poor quality, it is unable to nourish the next dhatu which will then also become depleted. (3)
Understanding the root
In Ayurveda problems of the nervous system can be due to imbalances in all three doshas but vata disorders are the fundamental basis of most diseases. Vata is the dosha that moves and can change easily, without vata the other two doshas cannot move into imbalance. Vata can move pitta and kapha around the body where they may settle in weak dhatus. Nervous system disorders are called ‘vata vyadhi’ which means that they have been caused by vitiated vata. (5)
Many nerve pathologies cause symptoms that are associated with vata such as pain, problems with movement and learning disorders. (5) Excess vata leads to weak and poor-quality tissue formation. When vata is out of balance, it also causes prana to go out of balance. (4)
Too much prana causes loss of mental control, as the life force loses connection with the brain and body, leading to loss of sensory and motor coordination and increasing the risk of learning and behavioural problems. Too little prana results in lack of metal energy, enthusiasm, curiosity and lack of motivation. (3)
If there is vitiation of pitta, this causes the dhatu to form faster than normal. This can cause dhatu to heat up resulting in inflammation which over a long period of time can burn out the myelin and nerve tissue. (4)
Excess kapha causes more tissues to be formed than usual which are of bad quality. This makes the majja dhatu thick and heavy slowing the rate that the neurons can communicate with each other. It also slows the flow of prana. (4)
In the subtle body, majja dhatu is dependent upon the balanced flow of prana. Feeling happy, at peace, free from negativity, ability to focus on the good and not the bad are signs that majja dhatu is working optimally. Depleted majja dhatu creates a hollow feeling, an emptiness and dissatisfaction with life. Excessive majja dhatu can cause feelings of stagnation and lack of motivation. (5)
Signs and symptoms
There are over 600 neurological disorders at present which include stroke, meningitis, Bell’s palsy, headaches, dizziness, multiple scoliosis, Alzheimer’s disease.
The following are the most common signs and symptoms of a nervous system disorder. Each individual may experience different symptoms. Always consult your healthcare provider for a diagnosis. (9)
- Persistent or sudden onset of a headache
- A headache the changes or is different
- Loss of feeling or tingling
- Weakness or loss of muscle strength
- Loss of sight or double vision
- Memory loss
- Impaired mental ability
- Lack of coordination
- Muscle rigidity
- Tremors and seizures
- Back pain which radiates to feet, toes or other parts of the body
- Muscle wasting and slurred speech
- New language impairment
Withania somniferum (Ashwaganda): Ashwaganda is an exceptional nourishing nerve tonic and rasayana (rejuvenative), especially for vata. It helps increase resilience to physical and emotional stress. It also helps to bring calmness and clarity. (3)
Jatamansi (Nardostachys jatamansi): Jatamansi is probably the most important herb in Ayurveda for the nervous system. It balances all three doshas, relives turmoil and stress of the mind and calms the nervous system. (7)
Bala (Sida cordifolia): Bala is one of the best adaptogenic and nourishing herbs for vata. It strengthens and nourishes the majja dhatu (nerve tissue), enhances energy, vitality and resilience to all types of stress. (3)
Bacopa monniera (Brahmi): Bacopa is a rasayana for the brain and majja dhatu (nerve tissue). It is good for pacifying vata disorders and disturbances of pitta. It improves brain function and is used as part of a herbal protocol for learning and behavioural disorders. (3)
Kapikacchu (Mucuna pruriens): Kapikacchu is well known for its use in Parkinson’s disease as the seeds contain L-dopa. It is a great tonic for nerves, especially for vata disorders. (3)
Scutellaria laterifolia (Skullcap): Skullcap is rich in nutrients that are required for a healthy nervous system. The flavonoid Scutellarin enhances the production of endorphins. (8)
Avena sativa (Oat straw): Avena is highly nutritious, full of protein, magnesium, silica, iron and calcium which are vital for a healthy nervous system. (8)
Acorus calamus (Sweet flag): Acorus is one of the most used brain and nerve tonics in Ayurveda. It helps to rejuvenate the mind and nervous system. It promotes cerebral circulation and brain function. (7)
Always consult a qualified herbalist or ayurvedic practitioner.
Correcting lifestyle and diet is the most important factor in pacifying vata, restoring majja dhatu or preventing illness in the first place.
- Regular routine with mealtimes, bedtime and rising
- Daily sesame seed oil self-massages
- Walks in nature being present without gadgets
- Limiting time spent on electronic devices
- Proper relaxation practices that aren’t stimulating e.g., watching dramatic films or TV or scrolling on your phone doesn’t allow the nervous system to relax
- Pranayama breathing exercises to help the flow of prana
- Gentle daily movement is very important for proper flow of prana e.g., walking, yoga or Qi Gong
- Eat good quality, seasonal foods that are not ultra-processed or packaged
- Ensure food is freshly cooked, warm, soft and easy to digest. Avoid hard, cold, raw, dry and left-over food
- Add digestive spices such as ginger, cumin, cardamom, fennel and coriander
- It’s important to include good fats such as sesame seed oil and ghee daily
- Increase sweet, sour and salty foods whilst minimising bitter, pungent and astringent foods
- Eat meals mindfully without distractions
- Eat until 75% full, wait until the previous meal has digested
- Pandya N. Ayurveda and the Nervous System. International Journal of Innovative Science and Research Technology. 2021;6(11):99-100.
- What are the parts of the nervous system?. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/neuro/conditioninfo/parts. Published 2018. Accessed April 13, 2022
- McIntyre, A., 2012. The Ayurveda bible. Alresford: Godsfield p13-74,291, 318, 330, 339.
- Taking a Closer Look at Your Nervous System with Ayurveda. Keralaayurveda.biz. https://www.keralaayurveda.biz/blog/taking-a-closer-look-at-your-nervous-system-with-ayurveda. Accessed April 13, 2022.
- Halpern D. Majja Dhatu: A Closer Look at the Nervous System from the Ayurvedic Perspective – California College of Ayurveda. California College of Ayurveda. https://www.ayurvedacollege.com/blog/majja-dhatu-nervous-system/. Published 2010. Accessed April 13, 2022.
- Prabhu, U., 2022. Secrets of the Five Pranas. [online] American Institute of Vedic Studies. Available at: <https://www.vedanet.com/the-secrets-of-the-five-pranas/> [Accessed 12 April 2022].
- Smith A. A Textbook On “Dravyaguna for Westerners”. Sauve: Éd. Turiya; 2009: p251.
- McIntyre A. The Complete Herbal Tutor. London: Octopus Publishing Group; 2010: p112 & p157
- Overview of Nervous System Disorders. John Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/overview-of-nervous-system-disorders Accessed April 13, 2022.