What is Vata?
Vata is made up of the two elements ether and air.
People with more Vata in their constitutions tend to be thin, with a slender frame and prominent joints, delicate skin that is naturally dry, and dry voluminous hair. They are quick and lively in thought, speech and action, and make friends easily. There is an element of airiness to their step, a quality of lightness in their laughter. Change is usually their second name. They are light sleepers and gravitate towards warm environments. Creativity and enthusiasm are hallmarks of balanced Vata.
If your prakriti or original constitution has more Vata in it, you will exhibit many of the characteristics and qualities of Vata when you are in balance than people who have more Pitta or Kapha in their make-up. And that’s natural. But if the qualities become extreme, or more pronounced than usual at a given time, then the Vata in you has in all likelihood become aggravated or imbalanced, and needs to be brought back into balance. And if a predominantly Kapha or Pitta person starts exhibiting many Vata qualities that indicates a Vata imbalance in that Kapha or Pitta body type. In both cases, it is then time to follow a Vata-balancing diet and lifestyle to help restore the level of Vata in the physiology to its normal proportion.
Factors that can cause Vata dosha to increase in the physiology include a diet that contains too many dry or raw foods, over-consumption of ice-cold beverages, exposure to cold dry winds, a variable daily routine, too much travel, and mental overexertion.
Signs that you need to balance Vata
- Are you constantly worried, anxious, overwhelmed, fretful?
- Do you feel tired but find yourself unable to slow down and relax?
- Do you find it difficult to settle down and fall asleep at night? Is your sleep restless when you do manage to fall asleep?
- Is your skin feeling dryer than usual, stretched taut or flaking?
- Is your hair more brittle, with split ends happening oftener?
- Are your lips raw and chapped? Is your throat constantly dry?
- Is your digestion irregular? Do you experience problems with abdominal gas?
- Do you feel like you cannot sit still, that you need to be constantly moving?
- Do you feel “spaced out”? Is it harder to remember things for more than a short period of time? Is your attention span shorter than usual? Is it harder to focus?
- Do your bowel movements occur less than once daily?
Balancing Vata Dosha
Ayurvedic texts recommend the principle of opposites for reducing the level of a dosha that has become aggravated. Since the characteristics of Vata include lightness, dryness, cold, subtle and mobile, qualities that are opposite to these in diet and lifestyle help restore balance to Vata dosha.
Include foods that are liquid or unctuous in your daily diet to balance dryness, some “heavy” foods to offer substance and sustained nourishment, foods that are smooth in texture to offset roughness and foods that are warm or hot to balance the cool nature of Vata. So what exactly does this mean in terms of foods you should choose and foods you should stay away from? Here are some specific dietary tips:
1. If you need to balance Vata, a fat-free diet is not for you. Cook foods with a little ghee (clarified butter) or include some olive oil in your diet every day. Olive oil cannot be heated to high temperatures without destroying its healing value, so drizzle olive oil over fresh soft flatbreads, cooked grains, or warm vegetable dishes. Ghee can be heated to high temperatures without affecting its nourishing, healing qualities, so use ghee to sauté vegetables, spices or other foods. Avoid too many dry foods such as crackers, dry cold cereal and the like.
2. Cooked foods, served hot or warm, are ideal for balancing Vata. Pureed soups, cooked fruit, hot cereal, rice pudding and hot nourishing beverages such as nut milks or warm milk are excellent “comfort” foods and help pacify aggravated Vata. Avoid or minimize raw foods such as salads and raw sprouts.
3. The three Ayurvedic tastes that help balance Vata are sweet, sour and salty, so include more of these tastes in your daily diet. Milk, citrus fruits, dried fruit or salted toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds make good snack choices. Eat less of the bitter, pungent and astringent tastes.
4. Nuts are wonderful Vata-pacifiers. Soak ten almonds overnight. Blanch and eat in the early morning for a healthy burst of energy. Walnuts, hazelnuts and cashews make good Vata-pacifying snacks.
5. Carrots, asparagus, tender leafy greens, beets, sweet potatoes and summer squash such as zucchini are the best vegetable choices. They become more digestible when chopped and cooked with Vata-pacifying spices. Vegetables can be combined with grains or mung beans for satisfying one-dish meals. Avoid nightshades and larger beans.
6. Basmati rice is ideal for balancing Vata. Cook it with a little salt and ghee for added flavour. Wheat is also good. Fresh flatbreads made with whole wheat flour and drizzled with a little melted ghee combine well with cooked vegetables or Vata-balancing chutneys.
7. Most spices are warming and enhance digestion, so cook with a combination of spices that appeals to your taste buds and is appropriate for the dish you are making. Ayurvedic spices such as small quantities of turmeric, cumin, coriander, dried ginger, black pepper and saffron offer flavour, aroma and healing wisdom.
8. Drink lots of warm water through the day.
1. Since Vata dosha is characterized as restless, constantly in motion and irregular, the primary lifestyle recommendation for balancing Vata is to maintain a regular routine. That means rising and going to bed at roughly the same times each day, eating three meals at about the same times each day, and following a similar pattern of work and rest from day to day.
2. Do not skip meals. Eat a nourishing lunch at mid-day and lighter meals at breakfast and dinner. Sit down to eat each meal, eat in a peaceful atmosphere with your attention on your food, and sit quietly for a few minutes after your meal. If your digestive fire is irregular, practicing these eating habits will help make it more regular.
3. Daily elimination is very important to prevent ama from accumulating in the body. Triphala Rasayana helps promote regularity as well as toning the digestive system. Since Triphala is gentle, not habit forming and not depleting, it can be taken indefinitely to maintain regularity.
4. To pamper dry skin, to promote circulation and to nourish and tone muscles and nerves, indulge in an Ayurvedic massage every morning before you bathe or shower. Use almond or black sesame oil for your massage. If you like, you can add 3-4 drops of a pure essential oil such as lavender or sweet orange to 2 oz. of massage oil. Mix well before use. Two or three time a week, massage your scalp with warm oil, and let the oil stay for an hour or two before you shampoo. After your shower or bath, apply a generous coating of a pure, gentle moisturizer all over your body to keep your skin feeling smooth all day long.
5. Protect yourself from the cold and wind. Stay warm and toasty in cold weather by wearing several layers of clothing. Wear a cap and scarf when you go out to protect your ears and throat. Wear lip balm to prevent lips from getting dry and chafed.
6. Walking is the ideal exercise for balancing Vata. Walk in the early morning, for about 20 minutes every day.
7. You may have to woo sleep if Vata dosha is aggravated. It is important to get to bed early, so that you can get adequate rest each night. A cup of warm milk, with a pinch of nutmeg, can be helpful before bedtime.
8. Set aside about 30 minutes each day for meditation, to help calm the mind and enhance body-mind-spirit coordination.