In my last post, I talked about how to start to tune in to your unique experience to discover your constitution. This post is the first in a series of three in-depth discussions of each of the three building blocks of Ayurveda: dosha.
There are a two ways of understanding dosha: how it expresses when it is healthy and in balance, and how it expresses when it has gone out of balance.
Vata dosha is made up of space and wind elements.
In general, when vata dosha is present, you will see dryness and mobility. Vata dosha is also light, rough, cold, hard and subtle. These gunas show at every level of expression.
Vata is responsible for all of the many movements that take place within the body. It is vata that moves your hand to your mouth when you are eating, it is also vata that travels into the dusty corners of the mind to retrieve a memory. When it is well-behaved, its specialty is maintaining a kind of regularity to these movements, while allowing for a healthy amount of innovation and creativity within the established rhythm.
A healthy person with a Vata-predominant constitution is inspired, creative and broad thinking. They have a sensitivity to the subtle energy of their environment and those around them but they are not overwhelmed by it. They are serene and connected to both “heaven” and “earth.”
What does a vata-predominant person look like?
Typically she will have bodily features that are not average or regular.
She is likely to be unusually tall or unusually short. Her limbs or facial features may seem slightly out of proportion or imbalanced from one side to the other and she has curly or wavy hair that will often be dark, rough or dry. Her teeth may be a bit crooked (unless she had braces) and her eyes are round and dark.
She is the one in your yoga class with prominent joints and thin muscles that might look a bit stringy because there is not much fat and insulation coating them. Her hands and feet are often cold and she is likely to be bothered by the draft near a window.
Vata agni and sex drive are variable: at times strong and at others, barely a spark.
The home site of vata dosha in the body is the large intestine, so when vata accumulates too much, this is usually the first place that it shows signs. As the vata continues to get out of hand, signs will appear other places as well. The nervous system is particularly susceptible to excess vata.
What does excess vata look like?
Her first clue that vata is building up is usually constipation or gas and bloating.
Before too long she is likely to feel “spaced-out.” She might start to act erratic, secretive or unpredictable. Anxiety and fear are familiar emotions for her and they may express as excessive talking and nervous laughter. Her difficulty focusing might make it hard for her to make or maintain eye contact.
As her nervous system continues to be effected, she might start to have an irregular heart-beat or adrenal problems from frequent “fight or flight” reactions. She is weak and tired a lot of the time even after a good night’s sleep, although good sleep is likely to be elusive. Lack of sleep and stress might lead her to have frequent panic attacks. This is made worse by her tendency to try to take on too many things, putting herself under pressure all the time.
Our friend with a surplus of vata is likely to be thin enough that you can see her ribs, even if she is snacking all day long. Her skin is dry and her nails are thin and brittle, often with lots of white spots in them. She has a very hard time staying warm enough and her hands and feet are ice-cold and maybe even a bit blue. She probably sleeps with socks on.
Her variable sex drive will probably settle on an extreme: non-existent or ever-amorous. A lack of intimacy can make her feel isolated, but if she has sex too frequently, it will make her more weak and increase anxiety. As vata increases in her reproductive tissues, she may have an irregular menstrual cycle with little bleeding and lots of clotting, cramping and back pain. If she chooses to get pregnant, she might have difficulty conceiving.
Excess vata in the mind and nervous system can make it hard for her to be dependable and relationships are likely to suffer. Our vata friend may go through frequent break-ups with friends and lovers.
What to Do?
The experience of vata is primarily rough and dry, it is important to increase the gunas of smooth and moist.
Regularity is the name of the game.
Vata individuals, and those with excess vata, need to increase their experience of regularity. For most people, this begins with developing a regular sleep schedule. Usually this means at least 8 hours of sleep per night—ideally between about 10 pm and 6 am.
Having a regular schedule goes a long way to smoothing out rough edges. Think of how unsettling it is to have to plan what is coming next while you are in the middle of doing something. When there is not a set schedule—particularly for food and sleep, two of the pillars of human life—there is a constant underlying anxiety in the system.
One huge improvement that can be made in their lives is to cut back on the number of activities and get more rest.
Rest is the number one medicine for calming vata.
Abhyanga also goes a long way to nourishing and pacifying the nervous system when it is over-stimulated by too much vata.
What to Eat?
Smooth, moist, sweet and warm foods will soothe vata in the body and the mind. It is best to schedule meal times and to try not to eat outside of those scheduled times to allow agni regain it’s rhythm.
The vata appetite is not super strong, so a heavy meal is likely to be overwhelming. However, most vatas find that a bit of meat or some bone broth are excellent medicines. A moderate amount of oils and fats in the diet will nourish the body and mind deeply.
If dairy is easily digested, unpasteurized cow’s milk cooked with turmeric, ginger and cardamom is a wonderful aid to deep rest and healing for the nervous system.
It is best to avoid raw, dry and crunchy foods. Soups, stews and porridges are fabulous meals for calming vata—especially in the autumn.
Read about Pitta dosha…
This post is also available in: French