Parkinson’s disease, known in Ayurveda as “Kampavata,” is a common neurological disorder. As we age, particularly into our later years, we tend to become more vata-like. When this is combined with a vata increasing lifestyle with stress and constitutional tendencies, the stage is set for vata to overflow into circulation and the blood. Systemic signs of vata disturbance occur, such as dryness of the membranes of the body and constipation. Vata may locate therefore to any areas that are weak. When a pre-existing weakness resides in the tissue of the brain, this becomes the site of relocation, and thus we have a condition of vata – Parkinson’s disease is one of these conditions.
An increase in vata dries out kapha (involved with cellular structure) in the susceptible region of the brain stem. This creates an open space, inviting vata in. While the condition has a predominantly vata pathology, pitta can also play an important role in the pathology as its heat can burn out the cellular structure, causing diminished kapha. Hence personalities based in fear (vata) and intensity (pitta) are most predisposed to this condition, and those of kapha nature are the most naturally protected. Medical research has determined the cause of the condition to be a loss of function of specialized cells in the brain stem which stimulate the production of the neurotransmitter, dopamine.
Western Medical Treatment
Although there is no current cure, drugs supplying the brain can ease symptoms, with L-DOPA have been the mainstay of allopathic Parkinson’s treatments. The strongest effects of this chemical are seen in the reduction of gait abnormalities and rigidity. Additional drugs are given to prevent the catabolism (breakdown) of dopamine. L-DOPA is often administered in combination with other drugs. Surgery to alter brain function are under study.
Ayurvedic treatment for this condition centres around the treatment of vata disturbance. Massage and poultices form the basis of the treatment. Massage (abhyanga) and enema (basti) are indicated as well as the ingestion of oils. Oils medicated with ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) and bala (Sida cordifolia) are commonly used to pacify vata and build ojas (strength). They are known to be rejuvenative with a strong nourishing action on the nervous system. The herb Mucuna pruriens or Kapikachhu has received a lot of attention historically and again in recent years.
A vata pacifying diet and proper dietary habits are essential to long term success. Additional vata pacifying regimens including daily oil massage (applied by the patient or practitioner) and sensory therapies complete the treatment regimen. Finally, a supportive environment should be created which is not overly stimulating. Meditation and yogic practices are the cornerstone of all Ayurvedic programs, as they cultivate a sattvic mind and teach the patient how to manage their internal energies. This is essential for good health. When pitta is vitiated in addition to the primary vata disturbance, care should be taken that treatment and lifestyle do not overheat the mind or body. Symptoms of pitta include anger, strong criticism, and increased intensity.
Since disease is the result of living out of harmony with one’s constitution, understanding where a person is out of harmony on the physical, emotional and spiritual levels is the cornerstone of Ayurvedic and Yogic healing and the healing of our consciousness. With this understanding, a person can take the actions necessary to bring about harmony and healing. Ayurvedic philosophy teaches us that the harmonious individual with a purely sattvic nature, does not experience disease. Likewise, one who is sick, who cultivates a sattvic mind, brings rapid healing to their body. Hence, all patients should be encouraged to reduce stress and cultivate practices such as meditation, which bring about peace of mind. Future Western scientific exploration of Ayurvedic healing will have to go beyond the pharmacological actions of various herbs, and explore the effects of Ayurvedic lifestyles, regimens, and Yogic practices applied as part of a treatment regimen in addition to herbs.