Understanding the nervous system
Prolonged stress of all kinds, whether physical, mental or emotional has a negative effect on health. The advances in technology have contributed to prolonged stress with many people working longer hours and not disconnecting from work. Even relaxation isn’t truly relaxing as the senses and nervous system aren’t given the chance to relax due to social media scrolling, gaming, action films and exposure to the news 24/7.
How does the nervous system work?
Dosha function is at the heart of Ayurveda. The three doshas, vata, pitta and kapha are composed of the five elements and are responsible for all functions within our body and mind. (5) We are all born with a unique mix of the doshas, our Prakruti. When our dosha mix remains in balance, our health and wellbeing are maintained but when they become imbalanced, we can become unwell. (3)
|Vata||Air and water||Movement|
|Pitta||Fire and water||Transformation and metabolism|
|Kapha||Water and earth||Nourishment and structure|
While dosha imbalance can predispose ill health, the dhatu can become the sites of disease. (3)
The dhatus are seven tissue layers of structural development that are a direct result of our nutritional and respiratory intake. Whatever comes into the body through the digestion and lungs will determine the quality of the dhatu. The dhatus have a complex metabolism as nutrients become more refined as they pass through each level of dhatu metabolism. The dhatus build themselves and the succeeding dhatu. (10)
The seven Dhatus listed in order of nutrient metabolism (3)
- Rasa – plasma
- Rakta – blood
- Mamsa – muscle, skeletal, visceral
- Medas – fat or adipose
- Ashti – bone
- Majja – marrow and nerve
- Shukra – reproductive
Majja Dhatu is the sixth tissue. The bone marrow and nervous system are treated as homologous structures in Ayurveda (5)
Majja comes from the root ‘maj’ to sink, as the bone marrow and nerve tissue is sunk deep inside the spinal cord and the bones. (10) Majja fills the empty spaces in the body which includes the brain cavity, bones and nerve channels. Majja also provides lubrication for the eyes, skin and stool as well as producing red blood cells. (3)
Majja’s lubricating nature provides the body with love, affection and compassion. (10) Healthy majja gives us a sense of fullness and completeness in life (10) with good memory and a sharp, clear mind. (3)
In excess, majja creates heaviness of the eyes, limbs and joints while a deficiency will create porous bones, feelings of emptiness, anxiety, poor concentration and memory.
Understanding the root
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 and to prevent ama (toxins) from forming. If ama is formed and not removed it is absorbed into the body and can obstruct normal functioning of the dhatu. (3)
Agni is not just found in the gut, each dhatu has its own agni. 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)
In Ayurveda nervous system disorders are called ‘vata vyadhi’ which means that they have been caused by vitiated vata. Although problems of the nervous system can be due to imbalances in any of the doshas, vata disorders are the fundamental basis of most diseases. This is because vata is the dosha that moves so can change easily. The other two doshas cannot move into imbalance without vata’s influence. (5)
Vitiated vata can cause variability in agni resulting in impaired digestion. This leads to poor quality majja-dhatu formation. (3) Vata can move pitta, kapha and ama around the body where they may settle in weak dhatus. (5)
Vitiation of pitta causes the majja-dhatu to form faster than normal. This can cause majja-dhatu to heat up resulting in inflammation. Over a long period of time this can burn out the myelin and nerve tissue leading to conditions such as multiple scoliosis. (4)
Vitiation of kapha causes more majja-dhatu to be formed than usual also 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)
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
In Ayurveda, Madhya Rasayana are herbs that support memory, intelligence, creativity and help improve learning skills. They also provide essential nutrients for the brain and nervous system. (3) They help rejuvenate the mind by pacifying vata and strengthening the majja dhatu. (10)
The following are all Medhya Rasayana.
Withania somnifera (Ashwaganda): One of the main herbs used in Ayurveda for rejuvenating the body and is used in many rasayana formulas. It reduces vata and rejuvenates majja dhatu. It strengthens the central nervous system, reduces stress (mental, physical and exhaustion). It increases memory and learning capabilities. (10)
Jatamansi (Nardostachys jatamansi): Jatamansi is probably the most important herb in Ayurveda for the nervous system. It balances all three doshas, relieves turmoil and stress of the mind and calms the nervous system. (7) Through the nerves it strengthens the heart and brain tissues. It increases resistance to stress and helps relieves stress and nervous tension. It is very helpful for insomnia. (10)
Due to overuse Jatamansi is now an endangered species. It should not be used without proper guarantee of being from a sustainable harvest.
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. It relieves tension, anxiety, nervous exhaustion and insomnia. It soothes inflammatory gut issues. (3)
Bacopa monniera (Brahmi): Bacopa has a long history of use in Ayurveda for rejuvenating the brain, memory and central nervous system. (10) It is a rasayana for the brain and majja dhatu. 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 one of the most powerful rasayanas in Ayurveda. It has a regenerating effect on the nervous system and can be used to strengthen majja dhatu in stress and burnout. (10). It 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) It can aggravate pitta disorders even though it is only mildly heating. (10)
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) It is of the best herbs to use in Nasaya as an effective way to rejuvenate the sinuses and brain. It also helps to clear the srotas (channels) of ama. (10)
Centella asiatica (Gotu kola): Gotu kola is one of the best sattvic herbs. Its use promotes a calm, clear mind and improves mental function. It is high in minerals that are beneficial to the nervous system such as magnesium and calcium. It also relaxes the whole nervous system. (10)
Saraswatarishta/Saraswatharishtam: An Ayurveda nervine formula consisting of over 20 herbs with the main herb Bacopa monniera. This formula is used for disorders of the mind and to pacify the central nervous system. It is also used to enhance memory, increase concentration and reduce mental fatigue. (3)
Dashamula: This is a traditional Ayurveda formula consisting of ten roots. It removes excess vata, is nourishing, strengthening and calms the nerves. It helps eliminate ama from the gut and supports the respiratory system. It is very effective for tremors, sciatica and Parkinson’s. The roots used are agnimantha, bilva, brihati, gambhari, gokshura, kantakari, patala, prishniparni, shalaprani and shyonaka. (7)
Himsagar Taila: This is an ayurvedic oil which is very beneficial for problems of the central nervous system and brain. It can be massaged on to the scalp to relieve tension, anxiety and induce peaceful sleep. It is a blend of over 40 herbs in sesame seed oil which include sandalwood, cloves and gooseberry. (7)
Always consult a qualified herbalist or ayurvedic practitioner for guidance on which herbs are best for you and the correct dosage.
Connecting with nature: One of the most important ways to rejuvenate majja dhatu and pacify vata is spending time in nature as it is grounding and balancing. (10)
Pranayama and mantra: Breathing exercises and chanting work directly on pacifying vata and calming the nervous system by opening and cleansing the channels that bring oxygen to the brain. Pranayama enhances metal clarity and balances the emotions. It also stimulates agni. (10)
Nasaya: This is the administration of herbal oil through the nose. This is the most effective way to deliver herbs to the brain to help with sensory and motor function, memory, concentration and intellect. (3)
Dinacharya: Ayurveda places great importance upon daily routines as it helps to bring balance to the body, mind and pacify vata. Rising early, bed by 10pm and eating meals at the same time each day with the largest meal at lunch time. (3)
Meditation: Meditation has been shown in numerous studies to rebuild, support and strengthen the nervous system. Mediation also helps clear the mind of mental and emotional ama preventing the build-up of more. (3)
Yoga: Practising simple sun solutions each morning will improve circulation and flow in the body, remove stagnation and strengthen agni. (4)
Diet: In Ayurveda the principal Ramayana (rejuvenator) is food. As dhatus are formed from what we eat, we need to ensure our diet is full of foods that are fresh, seasonal, easy to digest and as close to their natural state as possible. Ultra-processed and packaged foods should be avoided.
Ghee, butter, seeds, nuts, animal fat and marrow help build majja.
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