Vata governs movement in the body, the activities of the nervous system and the process of elimination. Vata influences the other doshas.
Qualities of Vata:Cold, light, dry, irregular, rough, moving, quick, changeable
If Vata dosha predominates, movement and change are characteristic of your nature. You will tend to always be on the go, with an energetic and creative mind. As long as Vata is in balance, you will be lively and enthusiastic, with a lean body.
Physical Characteristics: Those with a predominance of Vata dosha are usually have a thin, light frame and excellent agility. Their energy comes in bursts, and they are likely to experience sudden bouts of fatigue. Vatas typically have dry skin and hair and cold hands and feet. They sleep lightly and their digestion can be sensitive. When the Vata dosha becomes imbalanced, it manifests in the body as weight loss, constipation, hypertension, arthritis, weakness, restlessness, and digestive challenges.
Emotional Characteristics: Vatas love excitement and new experiences. They are quick to anger but also to forgive. When Vatas are in balance, they are energetic, creative, and flexible. They also take initiative and are lively conversationalists. When unbalanced, they are prone to worry and anxiousness and often suffer from insomnia. When they feel overwhelmed or stressed, their response is, ï¿½What did I do wrong?ï¿½
Balancing Vata Dosha for better Health and Well-Being
Source: Banyan Botanicals
In Ayurvedic philosophy, vata dosha plays a critical role in the functioning of our body and mind. It is responsible for all movement including breathing, elimination, secretions, motor skills and sensory functions. Vata dosha also governs the feeling of pain, the emotion of fear, and thoughts of creativity.
Each of us has a unique capacity for channeling vata into the healthy functioning of our body and mind. Once this capacity is surpassed an imbalance begins to manifest. This manifestation will usually first appear as modest physical or mental discomfort. If left unchecked, a chronic vata dosha imbalance can eventually lead to disease.
Common Vata dosha imbalances:
Nervousness, anxiety, panic, fear
Twitches, tics, tremors, spasms
Cracking and popping joints
Dry or chapped skin
Dry, hard stools, constipation or gas
Low body weight, emaciation
Dislike of cold and wind
Difficulty tolerating loud noises
Light, restless sleep
Spacey, scattered feeling
Excess thinking or worrying
If you could see vata and describe its qualities you might conjure up an image of a windy autumn day. Vata is cold, dry, light, rough, mobile and subtle. Vata dosha cannot be sensed directly, but it leaves its mark on our physical and mental activities with these qualities.
Anything we encounter that has similar qualities will tend to increase our vata. Anything with the opposite qualities will tend to decrease our vata.
Below we address four major areas in life where personal choices can affect vata dosha. The areas are diet, lifestyle, thoughts and emotions, and your relationship with the environment in which you live. Understanding how your choices in each area affect vata can give you insight on how your vata becomes increased and what you can do to bring it back into balance.
The following guidelines can be used as a starting point for developing your own personal routine. Ayurveda views everyone as unique, so by definition any advice given to more than one person will not apply in exactly the same way. What is important is to pay attention and learn what works for you.
Asking yourself questions will assist you in developing an awareness of what is working. On a daily basis, check in with yourself and monitor whether the changes you are making are having an impact on your health. Ask yourself how you feel differently and begin to make connections between the choices you make and how you are feeling.
Using food as medicine to bring vata dosha back into balance is a very practical approach. We all have the power to choose what foods we put into our body each and every meal. Most of us our blessed with an unlimited variety of options that previous generations could never have imagined. However, to balance vata dosha one must choose wisely using taste as a guide.
Ayurveda classifies foods by 6 different tastes ï¿½ sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent. Each taste has qualities that have an effect on the doshas. The following chart illustrates how the six tastes affect vata.
Taste Effect on Vata Dosha
Sweet Balances vata
Sour Balances vata
Salty Balances vata
Bitter Aggravates vata
Pungent Aggravates vata
Astringent Aggravates vata
As you can see from the above chart, when trying to balance vata it is best to favor the tastes of sweet, sour and salty and minimize your intake of bitter, pungent and astringent. Many foods have complex combinations of tastes. Here are some specific examples of classic vata-balancing foods as well as foods to avoid:
Foods that will Balance Vata (Enjoy) Foods that will Aggravate Vata (Avoid)
Bananas, avocados, oranges, grapefruits, grapes, cherries, peaches, plums, mangos and papayas Avoid Apples, cranberries, pomegranite, watermelon, pears
Beets, carrots, squash, tomatoes, okra, onions, asparagus, artichokes, cucumber, green beans, olives, sweet potato (cooked not raw) Avoid brocolli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, tomatoes, white potatoes, mushrooms, peppers, peas, turnips
Amaranth, oats, wheat, white rice, brown rice, wild rice Avoid Barley, millet, corn, buckwheat, rye, granola, quinoa, wheat bran, oat bran
In moderation: Aduki, black and red lentils, mung, tofu Avoid Black, black eyed peas, garbanzos, kidney, lima, navy, pinto, soy, split peas, tempeh
Almonds, walnuts, cashews, coconut, hazelnut, peanuts, pecans, pine, pistachio, macadamia Nuts are good for vata!
beef, chicken, turkey, duck, eggs, freshwater fish, seafood, shrimp Avoid Lamb, pork, rabbit, venison
Honey, fructose, turbinado, maple syrup, molasses, sucanat Avoid White sugar
More specific information on diet can be found in the following books:
The 3-Season Diet by Dr. John Douillard
Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing by Usha and Dr. Vasant Lad
Meat ï¿½ Traditionally Ayurveda was primarily vegetarian and used meats only for specific medicinal applications. However, being a vegetarian is not a prerequisite for benefiting from Ayurvedic wisdom. To the contrary, Ayurveda can support all types of dietary choices including omnivores, vegans and macrobiotics. Developing awareness includes paying attention to how specific foods make you feel. No diet choice is either good for everyone or bad for everyone.
In addition to what you choose to eat, how you prepare your food also has a dramatic effect on vata. The key qualities to incorporate into vata meal preparation are hot, moist, and heavy.
Vata is cold. Thus favoring heat and avoiding cold whenever possible is the first duty of all aspiring vata balancers. Fresh foods are preferred to frozen foods. Iced drinks and cold foods, like ice cream, should really be avoided.
Warm, cooked meals pacify vata whereas cold, raw foods will aggravate vata. For example, hot oatmeal with a little maple syrup and warm milk is vata-friendly. However, a bowl of Cheerios, topped with white sugar and cold milk is going to aggravate vata.
Vata is dry, so moist foods are preferred to dry foods. Again the oatmeal is moist, soft and soupy. Those same Cheerios are dry and crunchy and even more aggravating if you eat them straight out of the box.
Oil or ghee can be judiciously used to further employ the moist quality that pacifies vata. Since many green vegetables are bitter, they tend to aggravate vata. Sautï¿½ing them in oil is one way to neutralize the vata-aggravating qualities. Sautï¿½ing vata-friendly vegetables like asparagus and okra is even better.
Since vata by nature is light, favor relatively heavy foods. This is not to be confused with overeating, but rather selecting foods that give a feeling of satisfaction after eating. Light foods, and thus vata-aggravating foods, include vegetable salads, rice cakes, and fruit juice. Heavier alternatives include vegetable cream soups, casseroles and pasta.
Using food as medicine is an art. A skilled vata-soothing artist will always seek to incorporate the qualities of hot, moist and heavy. Be creative and have fun.
How you eat your meals provides yet another opportunity to pacify vata. Vata is mobile and active, so taking the time to slow down and eat your meals while seated in a peaceful setting is ideal. Eating a quick snack in the car between errands while talking on your cell phone is not so ideal. Get the picture? Be slow, be calm, and be peaceful. Breathing deeply and chewing your food well are both conducive to a vata-friendly eating experience. In fact, if during your meals you are taking the time to breathe deeply and experience gratitude for the abundance that nature has provided, you are well on your way to balancing vata.
Here are some final thoughts on the vata diet. Vata by nature loves change so experimenting with your diet may come easily. As you will soon see in the lifestyle section, routine balances vata. So as you become aware of vata-balancing meals that work for you, jot them down and attempt to incorporate them into a regular meal schedule.
How you structure your day, which activities you spend your time doing, and how you perform those activities, are all important areas where you can make vata-pacifying choices.
Vata is mobile and inconsistent. Developing a daily routine with consistent times for waking, meditating, eating, working, exercising, relaxing and sleeping is very helpful for soothing vata. Anywhere you can add structure and regularity to your daily activities will help pacify vata.
In your daily activities seek to incorporate the qualities of being calm, passive and grounded to offset the frenzied activity and scattered feeling of vata aggravation. Slow down, take your time, and breathe deeply.
Hang-gliding and skydiving are poor choices for the vata challenged, whereas gardening and painting are more appropriate hobbies. Flying all over town doing a million different things is not so good for vata. Bird watching, on the other hand, is good. Fishing aimlessly for activity to keep from being bored is not so good. Fly-fishing in a gentle stream is good, although it is likely to be vata-aggravating for the fly and the fish.
Exercise is an important component of a healthy lifestyle. Excessive motion aggravates vata, so exercise that involves running and jumping should be minimized. Choose exercises that are slow, gentle and methodical. Walking, hiking, stationary bikes, low impact aerobics, tai chi, golf and canoeing are some vata-friendly examples. Mild weightlifting can be excellent, especially if your vata imbalance manifests as being underweight. Swimming is good provided you can stay warm. Yoga is great if you choose a style that is calming and grounding.
- Sometimes it is helpful to think of your day in segments. Within each segment you can insert specific vata-soothing actions. Here are a few examples:
- Instead waking up to a jarring high-pitched alarm clock, use a gentle chiming alarm or a radio set to a soothing station.
- Instead of having a cup of coffee (coffee is bitter, and the caffeine is vata aggravating), have some spiced hot tea with honey and a little milk or cream.
- Instead of reading the newspaper, read something spiritually uplifting.
- In the car, instead of listening to the news or talk radio, listen to an inspirational CD or tape.
- Choosing to listen to music that is soothing and calming as opposed to loud and grating on the nerves.
- Instead of watching a scary movie or a psychological thriller, watch a romantic comedy.
- Instead of eating in the hustle and bustle of a restaurant, have a picnic in the park.
- Instead of driving with the top down, roll up the widows and enjoy the calm and the warmth.
- Instead of running errands on your lunch break, take a nice nap.
- Instead of multi-tasking, focus on one thing at a time.
These are just a few suggestions to give you some ideas. There are an infinite number of ways you can adjust your lifestyle to pacify vata dosha. Use some of the creativity inherent in vata to come up with your own ideas that are suited to your tastes.
Thoughts and Emotions
Ayurveda teaches that controlling the body is easier than controlling the mind. Thus it is advised to first focus on making changes in diet and lifestyle before attempting to change the habits of the mind.
- An incessant internal chatter characterizes vata in the mind. Scattered thoughts can send the mind on tangents making it difficult to concentrate. An out-of-control mind can also lead to fear and anxiety, which are the classic vata emotional imbalances.
- Controlling the mind is no easy task. However there are practices that can make vata imbalances more manageable.
- Simplify your life wherever possible. Too often, vata imbalances lead to biting off more than can be chewed. The busy-bee is a vata bee. Identify what is most important to you in life and let go of the rest.
- Focus on one thing at a time. Although multi-tasking is a coveted skill this day and age, it is not so good for vata. Instead choose one task and focus on driving it to completion.
- Concentration is the skill of being able to focus on one thing at a time. Meditation is concentration on the divine and can be very calming for vata. All major religions have practices of meditation, whether it is the concentration on an aspect of the divine, sitting in silence repeating a mantra, or the repetition of prayer. Consult your religious counselor for advice in this area. If you are not religious there are many useful techniques of meditation that are available to those wishing to learn.
- Affirmations are another useful tool that can be used to keep the mind from wandering aimlessly. A common practice is to pick a short, spiritually uplifting poem or prayer and repeat it unceasingly while sitting in meditation. You can also repeat affirmations while carrying out your daily activities. There are many good books on the science of affirmations; one example is Paramahansa Yoganandaï¿½s Scientific Healing Affirmations. Affirmations that encourage peace, courage and strength are excellent for balancing vata.
- Meditation, prayer and repeating affirmations are all ways to positively influence your mind. You must also be aware of the influence that others have on your mind. In particular, some vigilance is needed to defend your mind from the constant barrage of advertising and messages in the mass media. Advertisers know the effectiveness of constant repetition of a message. Politicians are also well aware of this. Unfortunately they probably do not have your best interest at heart. Minimize the amount of time that you surrender your thought control to mass media. TV, radio, and the Internet all have a place in our lives. However, be aware of how they affect the way you feel and adjust your usage accordingly.
For example, the news these days is filled with stories on terrorism, war, and crime. The fear and anxiety created from excessive exposure to these stories is very vata aggravating. Be at least as judicious in the selection of food for your mind as you are for your body.
Relationship with Environment
Developing an awareness of how climate and daily weather patterns affect the way you feel is necessary for balancing vata dosha. When it comes to weather, the keys to healthy vata are warmth and humidity. You may know of a person whose arthritis does much better when she spends her winters in Florida instead of New York. Migrating to warmer, more humid climates is a vata-pacifying activity.
Since moving is not so practical, those who live in cold and dry climates need to take care to keep warm and hydrated to avoid excess aggravation of vata. Try to minimize your exposure to cold and wind. Always dress in a way that you will be comfortably warm. Protect yourself from the wind, especially cold winds, with caps and scarves.
For dry climates like Albuquerque, where it is not uncommon to have humidity of less than 15%, regular oil massage is essential to balancing vata dosha. Oil helps hydrate the skin and prevents dryness. Steam baths are wonderful for combating vata-aggravating dryness. Hot tubs are okay, but saunas should be avoided (the warmth is good, but they are too drying for vata). Another good way to alleviate dryness is to use humidifiers.
Developing a daily herbal regime is an excellent compliment to any vata-pacifying program. Changes in diet and lifestyle will minimize new vata aggravation while herbs help eliminate already accumulated vata from the system. Some herbal formulas for common vata imbalances are listed below:
Common Vata dosha imbalances:
- Nervousness, anxiety, panic, fear ï¿½ Tranquil Mind
- Light, restless sleep ï¿½ Tranquil Mind
- Twitches, tics, tremors, spasms ï¿½ Joint Formula
- Cracking and popping joints ï¿½ Joint Formula
- Dry or chapped skin ï¿½ Vata Massage Oil
- Dry, hard stools, constipation or gas ï¿½ Triphala
- Low body weight, emaciation ï¿½ Ashwagandha
- Spacey, scattered feeling ï¿½ Mental Clarity
- Excess thinking or worrying, absentmindedness, poor memory ï¿½ Mental Clarity
Broad spectrum vata-reducing herbs and formulas include:
Vata Massage Oil
Be patient. Ayurveda is a journey of self-discovery that never ends. Vata dosha by its very nature is quick to go out of balance and with proper care can oftentimes be brought quickly back into balance. With practice, the art of bringing vata back into balance will soon become the art of keeping vata in balance. There are times when you will not do what is best for vata. One word of caution, worrying about proper diet and lifestyle choices is a common pitfall on the road to balanced vata. Worry aggravates vata so be patient, kind and loving with yourself. Make slow simple changes to your life and observe the differences in the way you feel. There are no right or wrong choices. There is no finish line, just an ev