Overview: Vata Dosha
Welcome back to the Ayurvedic series! I am sorry for the slight delay in regular Ayurvedic posting. If you have been following The Healing Root journey, there were some other very important posts I have had to pursue in the last couple of weeks (which you can check out under the “Wellbeing” section of the blog if you have missed that) but I am very excited to be back and at it again and am ready to delve deeper into this beautiful ancient healing system with you.
I have received a few emails from people who have deeply resonated with some of what I have posted on The Healing Root within the Ayurveda series. I am so thrilled to hear that you have been finding some guidance, insight & healing in these posts. This is, after all, the main hope and aspiration of The Healing Root: to bring a deepening of healing and wellbeing to as many people as are willing to read and consequently implement the wisdom of this system.
In the last Ayurvedic post, we touched on a deeper understanding of what Ayurveda is and then concluded with a brief overview of the doshas. As promised, I will now be exploring and unpacking some more of the detail of each dosha, one by one. So this post will be a more in-depth look into Vata dosha. We will look at the physical characteristics, the psychological characteristics, what causes imbalance and balance within each dosha and what the balanced and imbalanced states of each dosha express as. I also unpack what the dietary support for each particular dosha looks like because Ayurveda emphasises the use of food as medicine to balance and heal within each day.
Why should we try to understand the Doshas?
Well, very simply put, the doshas are what comprise us as human beings. As explained in previous posts, each dosha is comprised of two primary elements (of the five as seen through Ayurveda). These two elements have corresponding characteristics and energetic qualities. By deepening our understanding of the qualities of each dosha, not only do we begin to understand ourselves better, but we also begin to understand life better. By this I mean that we begin to understand the different energetic qualities of life (more consciously, at least. I believe we have an innate intelligence and knowledge of them but to bring this to conscious awareness is important in order to be an active agent in your life & health). With this knowledge you can begin to really make wise and fully informed decisions that will better support your journey towards wellbeing and balance. By studying the doshas, we begin to understand and work with life in a much more engaged way because we begin to understand and live the knowledge: feeling and really sensing the different effects on our own energy bodies and therefore our overall wellbeing.
It’s important to remember that we all have each dosha in us as we are made up of all of the elements, simply in different ratios. This means that we will identify with different characteristics & expressions of each dosha. However, you will likely find that you resonate more deeply with one or two doshas.
AYURVEDA & DIET:
In Ayurvedic philosophy, diet is one of the most fundamental ways that we can restore balance and inner harmony. Our dietary choices have a direct energetic effect on our entire being and as such it becomes super important to begin understanding the different energetic qualities of different foods and how they affect our mind-body relative to each dosha.
By understanding your doshic make-up and the corresponding characteristics, you can begin to identify and work with particular dietary changes, supplements + additions in order to restore balance as it pertains to your individual make-up.
The categories/lists that describe the different characteristics + qualities of each dosha are very long & varied, as such, I won’t have enough space to go through each characteristic or quality but I will touch on the main ones that reflect the base qualities of each dosha! You will then be able to identify places where you are balanced and imbalanced and some powerful ways of taking corrective action through lifestyle and mind.
Vata dosha is known as the “King of Doshas”. Why? Because it is comprised of the elements ether and air. On the continuum of energetic density, air and ether represents the subtlest of energies (compare this to Pitta whose corresponding elements and energies are Earth and Fire and are therefore more energetically dense). For this reason, Vata essentially “governs the body’s greater life force” and gives motion and liveness to the Pitta + Kapha doshas within all of us.
Because Vata dosha represents ether and air you can begin to understand the corresponding qualities that Vata dosha represent and what Vata governs within us all: mobility, movement, dynamic fluidity, movements in tissues, muscles, nerve impulses, assimilation of food, circulation of bodily fluids and health of joints and bones.
Each dosha has a main “home” in the physical body, and the “home” of Vata dosha is the colon.
An example that is incredibly apt in capturing the dynamic nature of Vata dosha is the parallel that can be drawn between Vata and the wind. The wind can be pleasant and enlivening (think a cool breeze on a hot day, or a warm summer wind that sweeps over the body reminding you of your own aliveness). But, the wind can equally be a dangerous force to be reckoned with as in the case of a raging hurricane or tornado that can charge through and leave destruction in its’ wake.
It is for these reasons that the Vata dosha is easily disrupted; like the changing wind it can move from a balanced state to an imbalanced state without much provocation. It is volatile and temperamental. It is also the dosha that most easily expresses creativity and proficient communication. Due to the volatile nature of Vata, it is the dosha that is associated with most (about 60%) of the listed disorders within classical Ayurvedic teachings.
Here we go …
Slender, thin, bony, long, narrow, light weight + struggle to gain weight or maintain weight (this mirrors their light quality as Vata is comprised of ether + air elements i.e. “light”) usually noticeably short or tall, often dry skin/hair/nails, prone to being cold, hair can be weak + brittle.
Arthritis, cracking joints, dry/scaly skin, gas, bloating, constipation, muscle + joint stiffness, bladder issues, improper digestion + nutrient absorption, low energy/fatigue, insomnia, food allergies + lower back pain
Psychological Characteristics of Balanced Vata:
Creative, dynamic, artistic, adaptable, imaginative, spontaneous, spiritually inclined, heightened intuitive capabilities, enthusiastic, sensitive to subtle energies, charismatic, talented in various things, observant + perceptive, emotionally sensitive, sharp thinkers and they have immense quickness of thought.
Psychological Characteristics of Imbalanced Vata:
Over-thinkers, restless, ungrounded, emotionally overly-sensitive/fragile, addictive personalities, lack boldness/confidence, disorganised, volatile, talk very fast, scattered train of thought, impatient, quick to understand but quick to forget, impulsive, major inclination towards anxiety and fear, can’t sit still and flighty/jittery, on edge
Ways that Vata Become Imbalanced:
Eating Vata-aggravating foods (too much raw food especially), eating on the run (not eating mindfully or eating while rushed/distracted), eating while emotionally charged (eating when anxious, angry, depressed or distracted), drinking alcohol, coffee or other stimulants, traveling frequently, vigorous exercise, going to bed late at night, smoking, too much sensory stimulation, suppression of inner creativity, irregular daily routines, irregular meal times, skipping meals
Ways that Vata Types Find Balance:
Eating a Vata-balancing diet (more on this below), eating seasonally, eating in a peaceful environment without too much distraction or sensory stimulation, getting creative, meditation daily, calming and nourishing activities (walking, yoga, tai chi etc.), spending time in nature, listening to calming music, use of uplifting + sweet essential oils, massage body daily with warming oils (olive oil or sesame oil) + warming essential oils (like rose geranium, lavender), taking a long hot soak in the bath tub to warm up, sunbathing, spending time with engaging, balanced Pittas and Kaphas.
Specific Vata Dietary Guidelines
For Vata doshas the following dietary guidelines are incredibly beneficial in order to bring a sense of balance and grounded-ness to the flighty and airy nature of Vata-dominant beings. These guidelines literally saved my life last year when I was going through the run of the mill with my health issues. I realized the immense states of deep imbalance that I was experiencing and through becoming aware of the places within my life where these imbalances were (through this Ayurvedic knowledge), I began to feel empowered to make informed decisions to slowly begin the process of coming back into deep alignment with my own blueprint of health.
So, in a very general sense Vata individuals should favor foods that are:
· Moist (to hydrate + lubricate the dry nature of Vata)
· Generally, Vata types do better on cooked foods
· Eat smaller more regular meals (due to lower agni – digestive fire)
· Sit down to eat
· Eat at regular times to avoid skipping meals and to create routine which is important for grounding the dynamic nature of Vata
· Reduce/eliminate caffeine + other stimulants
· Avoid cold beverages and also carbonated drinks
· Use warming foods, spices and herbs to increase agni and support your balance
· Avoid strict fasting (instead look at Vata-supportive fasting methods like a kitcheree cleanse)
Vata types do well on most fruits due to their hydrating and sweet-sour nature. However, there should be a focus on heavier fruits that are sweet + sour (tropical fruits are usually more warming in their energetic quality) like banana, dates, mangoes, grapes and the like. Cooking fruit, particularly in Winter months, is a great way to support the dietary needs of Vata individuals who do well with cooked, warm food.
Heartier veggies like sweet potato, squash, pumpkin, butternut and cooked carrots are great options for Vatas. As a Vata type, you want to try and avoid eating things that are too taxing on the digestive system such as excessive broccoli, Brussel sprouts and raw vegetables (leave those for the Pitta dominant humans who have strong digestive fires!). Steaming, roasting and blanching vegetables are best for Vata dosha. Eating raw vegetables is hard on the fragile Vata digestion. If you do want to eat rawer foods like salads there are some ways to make them more Vata-friendly: douse your salad in a creamy (but healthy) or oily dressing to ease the digestive process as oil/fattier foods line the intestinal tract and make the fiber in salads less rough/taxing for Vatas. Generally, juicing is not recommended due to its’ cooling effect on the body (and because Vata’s are already cold, this can bring them further into imbalance). However, if you are looking to increase nutrient intake juicing is a better option than eating a large amount of raw vegetables with fiber intact.
Proteins + Fats:
Out of all the doshas, Vata dosha is the most suited for higher protein and fat intake and in fact it is recommended for Vata individuals to increase the intake of these two macronutrient groups as they are very grounding and nourishing which is very beneficial for the ungrounded nature of Vata dosha. In particular, nuts and seeds (especially when soaked and peeled) are very beneficial to Vatas: although any form of nuts are beneficial. Better yet is when the nuts are in the form of nut mylks or butters.
Oils are very beneficial to Vata types as they provide important lubrication for the dry, airy, nature of Vata (less coconut oil as coconut oil is cooling. Oils like Olive Oil, sesame oil and Ghee are the best options for Vata types).
Legumes are harder for Vata’s to digest but are none the less important and grounding, so to make them easier for Vata’s to digest, pre-soak them and/or cook with them with spices such as cumin, ginger or asafetida which will make the legumes more digestible. Vata dosha is the dosha most suited for dairy or dairy-like “creamy” things. However, due to the high propensity for food allergies, milk can pose an issue for Vata types so it is recommended to either use a plant based source of “milk” or to boil the milk and let it cool to room temperature to make it more digestible (and of course source it as ethically and locally as possible). Out of all the doshas, Vata dosha benefits most from the consumption of animal products due to the grounding and nutrient-dense qualities thereof, however meat is not recommended in excess for any doshic type due to the physical, mental and energetic demands on the body-mind. Things like deep water fish and eggs are best for Vata types as a great source of protein.
Seasonings and spices:
Most spices are great for Vata – particularly sea salt, ginger, cinnamon and garlic (anything warming: I will do a separate post on this in the future!). Herbs are great, too. However, some herbs are considered more cooling (like cilantro/coriander) and others more warming like (basil).
Other general tips:
· Always have snacks on hand. Especially when travelling I always make sure to have some grounding, nourishing snacks close by so that I can stay energized, grounded and focused while there is a lot of sensory stimulation and motion going on around which can easily bring Vata out of balance.
· Create morning/daily rituals that work for you: for me that looks like burning incense daily, lighting my oil burner with warming essential oils, massaging myself with warming oils (I usually use Olive Oil) that are infused with warming/Vata balancing essential oils (lavender, sweet orange, lemon, tee-tree, neroli, bergamot are some of my favorites), meditating, cooking myself nourishing + wholesome meals that I make sure to sit down and enjoy, drinking warming beverages daily (chai lattes, herbal teas, milky turmeric/golden drinks etc.), put away sensory stimulation at least 90 minutes before bed but preferably 2 hours before bed to give enough time for you to slow down from the busy day and slow the mind down, reading, journaling, yoga and slow walks.
I really hope that this post provides some insight into the nature of Vata dosha and that you can find some suggestions, tips + understandings within this body of knowledge that will help you to identify places of imbalance in your life (and places of balance!) so that you can live into stronger alignment with your birth constitution. When we live in harmony with our birth constitution, we are fulfilling our highest potential of health and vibrancy. This in turn means we will be able to come into, and engage with our world from a much stronger and fulfilled place within ourselves. Why? because we have attended to our basic energetic, physical and emotional needs through these understandings + lifestyle adjustments.
If you try any of them or make some healing changes, I would so love to hear from you and connect, please don’t hesitate to share some of your journey with me. I absolutely love hearing from you all and knowing that this information has provided some sense of agency and power for you in your healing journey is one of the most encouraging and exciting things for me to hear about from you.
The book that I have learnt the most from and completely changed my life is this book below:
Eat, Taste, Heal by Thomas Yarema, MD and Daniel Rhoda and Chef Johnny Brannigan