What is Restless Leg Syndrome?
Restless leg syndrome is a neurological condition characterized by an uncontrollable desire to move the legs while resting or trying to fall asleep. The condition has no known cause and cure, often getting worse as people age.
Restless Leg Syndrome and Ayurveda
According to Ayurvedic texts, there are three types of energy in human bodies, namely Pitta, Kapha and Vata, which carry out, stimulate or maintain normal body functions. Any functional deficit inside the body is recognized through the imbalance of Vata, Pitta and Kapha using the terms Vata dosha, Pitta dosha, and Kapha dosha, respectively.
As a representative of Wind (vayu) and Ether (akash), Vata is responsible for all sorts of movements in the mind and body. Since movement is the main function of Vata, with qualities such as “light, dry, mobile, cold, hard, rough, sharp, subtle, flowing, and clear”, chala (flowing) is the main quality of Vata dosha.
Due to excess chalata (mobility), people under the influence of Vata dosha are always restless. They will be shaking their legs, hands, eyes, eyebrows, lips, tongue, head, neck or any joint due to the hyperactive Vata energy. Restless leg syndrome is a condition that has been characterized as Vata dosha or an imbalance in the function of the Vata energy.
If a Vata-constitution person has a Vata-provoking diet as well as does excessive physical and mental activity and is deprived of rest, they are prone to have restless leg syndrome, which is a pure Vata disorder.
When Kapha- and Pitta-constitution people have Vata-provoking diets coupled with excessive physical and mental activity and lack of rest, they are prone to the development of chronic diseases, which can manifest as restless leg syndrome due to the combination of doshas.
The pathological condition includes Vata disturbance in the majjavaha srotas, which explains the role of the psyche in developing restless leg syndrome, as majja offers stability to the body and mind.
Signs and Symptoms
People may report symptoms varying from burning sensations to feeling of insects crawling underneath the skin of the legs. Severity also varies from mild irritation to strong pain.
However, the most notable symptom is the uncontrollable desire to move the legs while resting or trying to fall asleep. Some people’s legs shake so intensely that they cannot fall asleep – one of the main reasons for insomnia.
How to Stop the Aggravation of Vata
As per Ayurveda, Vata imbalance is the main reason for the development of restless leg syndrome. Hence, the first and most important step towards treating restless leg syndrome is stopping Vata-provoking diet and activities immediately.
- Ati vyayama – avoiding excessive exercise e.g. spending too much time working out in the gym;
- Apatarpana – stopping drastic fasting i.e. following a very strict diet to lose weight quickly;
- Vyavaya – putting an end to excessive indulgence in sexual activities;
- Ruksha – stopping the excessive consumption of dry foods e.g. too many sandwiches and carbonated drinks result in Vata imbalance;
- Avoiding excessive consumption of bitter foods;
- Avoiding stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine and alcohol;
- Avoiding too much mental stress.
Dos and Don’ts
- Walking: it promotes blood circulation in the body and relieves tension in the calves and thigh muscles. Try not to overdo it, however, as this may further aggravate the condition of your limbs.
- Yoga stretching: Pavanmuktasan (the wind-blowing pose) helps you release the wind thus reducing excess Vata. It is advisable to do the pose in the evening.
- Stay hydrated: Dehydration increases the dry quality of Vata. Hence, in order to avoid aggravating your restless leg syndrome, it is important to drink a sufficient amount of water throughout the day.
- Deep breathing: Breathing more deeply will help wash out endogenous toxins which Ayurveda calls ama. Thanks to the clearance of the Vata obstruction, the energy will begin to flow normally. This will help release tension and calm your body.
- Proper sleep: going to bed early and waking up early are key factors for getting enough rest and balancing the tri-dosha naturally.
- Eat at regular intervals.
- Dairy: All dairy products pacify Vata. It is recommended to drink warm milk with spices.
- Sweeteners: All sweeteners (in moderation) pacify Vata.
- Grains: Rice and wheat are very good for balancing the Vata dosha; reduce the intake of barley, corn, millet, buckwheat, rye and oats as they are not good for Vata.
- Fruit: Consume more sweet and sour fruit such as oranges, bananas, grapes, cherries, peaches, melons, berries, plums, pineapples, mangos and papayas.
- Vegetables: Fresh peas, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, zucchini, potatoes, beets, cucumbers, carrots, asparagus and sweet potatoes are good; vegetables are acceptable in moderate quantities if they are cooked, especially with ghee or oil along with spices such as cumin; better avoid sprouts and raw cabbage.
- Spices to balance the Vata dosha such as cardamom, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, salt, cloves, mustard seed and small quantities of black pepper are acceptable to add to your food.
- All baked nuts are all right.
- Reduce all kinds of dry beans except mung dhal.
- All oils reduce Vata; it is recommended to add more oil to your diet.
Classical Ayurvedic Products Used to Treat Restless Leg Syndrome:
- Dhanadanayanadi Kashayam
- Guggulutiktam Kwatham
- Manasamitra Vatakam
- Swarnabhasmam capsules
- Baladhathryadi Tailam
Kapikacchu (Mucuna pruriens)
Due to its sweet taste and warm potency, Kapikacchu is very good Vata shamak (i.e. it pacifies Vata). Due to its action on the brain, it controls the central nervous system, enhances your mood, lowers stress, and treats inflammation.
All these properties are geared towards pacifying Vata and help increase body strength, especially muscle strength. Hence, this nutritive tonic is advisable in treating restless leg syndrome.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Ashwagandha is good for strengthening the nervous system and has a sedative effect on the body. However, it is most famous for its rejuvenating and nourishing qualities. It has been used for many years as a remedy for insomnia, ensuring better sleep without any side effects.
Due to its sweet taste and warm potency, this herb pacifies Vata.
It is good for muscle strength as well. This way Ashwagandha is useful in treating restless leg syndrome.
Abhyanga (Oil massage)
Due to their Vata-pacifying nature, regular full-body medicated oil massages known as Abhyanga in Ayurveda help reduce pain and discomfort. Balaswagandhadi Tailam, Kshirabala Tailam and Valiya Narayana Tailam can be used for Abhyanga.
Other forms of oleation such as Kaya Seka (Pizichil), Pinda Sweda and Earvang Dhara can also be prescribed for pacifying Vata and the other doshas as well as relaxing and rejuvenating the mind.
According to Ayurveda, the nose is the doorway to the brain. Medicated oils can reach the brain in a fraction of a second. Due to the involvement of the brain and the basal ganglia, nasya is a good choice of treatment.
It is recommended to administer two drops of cow ghee (or Mahamasha Tailam, Anu Tailam, Mahakalyanaka Ghritam) in each nostril.
Shirodhara / Shirobasti
Pouring medicated oils and decoctions on the forehead or keeping a belt with oils on the head for about an hour is among the best treatments to fight Vata dosha. Baladhathryadi Tailam and Bala Tailam are helpful in controlling the condition.
Basti (Medicated enema)
Restless leg syndrome is mainly a Vata-dominant condition in which Apana and Vyana are vitiated to the greatest extent possible. Basti is the best treatment for Vata and Apana. Your Ayurveda expert may advise you a course of Basti which helps to pacify Vata.