Did you know that to perform an act as simple as blinking or moving a muscle, you need vata to cooperate! For a vata person, all bets are off. They can be unpredictable, sensitive to slightest changes in the environment, and ironically, hard to stereotype. So, who is a vata person and what is vata dosha? What does Ayurveda tell us about people who have vata dominant personalities—about their behavior, their tastes and preferences, state of health, and predispositions to health and illnesses—and why is it important to know?
The science of Ayurveda aims to put our body, mind, and spirit in total harmony. By identifying the prakruti or nature of an individual, then identifying the existing dosha imbalances, we can create a roadmap for an individual to live a healthy, perfectly balanced life using specific herbs, holistic cleanses and detox treatments, and a personalized diet that is aligned with one’s unique dosha constitution.
The five great elements or Panchamahabhutas—air, ether, fire, water, and earth—combine to form three fundamental bio energies—the doshas: kapha,vata and pitta—-that govern all our life functions, personality traits, and the mind-body complex that defines us as individuals. If all other factors remained constant, our psycho-physiological constitution would remain in an ideal state of harmony. But because we are constantly exposed to changes in the seasons, time cycles, environmental changes, age, among others, our bodily functions, temperament, behavior, and minds are constantly influenced by the predominant doshas and imbalances therein.
Combining space and air elements, the vata dosha principally governs movement and is the only motive dosha among the three. It is also the operating principle behind prana, or life force. Though it operates through the entire body, there are specific seats of vata where their predominance is more obvious such as in the large intestine, ears, back region, bones, thigh, cavities, nervous system, and skin. It is responsible for some critical functions:
- Regulates synaptic communication in the nervous system and controls cerebral functions.
- Manages the processes that involve movement including blood circulation, movement of nutrients and waste, transfer of oxygen.
- Controls mitosis and meiosis of cells, cell organization, and tissue formation.
- Plays an important role in elimination of waste and during childbirth.
- Activities like breathing, blinking, muscle movements including heart expansion and contraction are governed by vata dosha.
- They are the seat of emotions such as fear, anxiety, and nervousness. How alert and aware you are also depends on how balanced vata dosha is. Chest tremors or spasms in various parts of the body can also be controlled by bringing vata into balance.
Vata: Five Subtypes
The vata dosha has five subtypes: prana, udana, samana, apana, and vyana. Though vata or vayu (air element) moves everywhere, these subtypes also have a predominant direction that they flow in to facilitate their primary functions. For instance, prana vayu moves in the downward direction, udaan vayu moves in the upward direction, and vyana vayu moves everywhere.
Prana Vayu Located in the head region, prana vayu controls activities like breathing, mental processes, heart function, blood circulation, sensory perceptions like sight, sound and smell, and reception of knowledge.
Udana Vayu The upper chest is the seat of udana vayu, and it controls upward movements, circulation of oxygen and nutrients to the upper body. It also governs communication, exhalation, force behind effort. It enables preservation of memory.
Vyana Vayu This Vata subtype is located in the heart region and flows through the entire body. It carries all the essential nutrients, oxygen through blood from the center of the body towards the periphery, controls functions like sweating and blinking.
Samana Vayu This subtype is situated in the gastro-intestinal region and governs digestion and absorption of nutrients in the body, controls digestive enzyme secretions, bile and pancreatic juices. It also is responsible for maintenance and nourishment of brain cells.
Apana Vayu Found in the pelvic region it governs body’s elimination function by regulating release of urine, flatulence, reproductive releases, menstrual discharge, and childbirth.
What is a Person with Vata Predominance Like?
To know if you are a vata person, let’s answer these questions quickly:
Do you feel hungry all the time?
Are you inconsistent in your habits?
Are you a light sleeper?
Is your digestion erratic?
Do you experience emotions in busts and then they change?
Are you a fast talker/walker?
If your answers to all of these questions are yes, then chances are you have vata dominance.
What sets vata people apart from other doshas is the wide range they display in terms of body shapes, moods, or actions. They
- Are quite unpredictable in terms of what their next move is likely to be and how their emotions switch between extremes.
- Often start projects that they may not see through.
- Learn quickly and forget just as quickly.
- Are sensitive to changes in the environment and seasons.
- May often swing in extremes and are prone to lose balance in life.
- Can be compulsive talkers; and because of the bursts of excitement they often tire out easy.
Because vata is the air element in our body that controls the mind, when it is out of balance, one is prone to worry, sleeplessness and sleep-related disorders, and restlessness. Vata people sleep the least among all doshas and it keeps getting shorter as they age. They are more likely to experience digestive problems like constipation and flatulence and menstrual pain. They have frail bodies, high pitched voices, and relatively less stamina or resistance to disease. They often suffer from attention deficit, so vata persons are enabled by routines and schedules. In terms of diet, they have a liking for raw and astringent foods, but they need to have warm and cooked food to balance the vata dosha.
When vata is balanced, one experiences more energy, enthusiasm, clarity of mind, infectious positivity, and flexibility. One is more spontaneous, creative, and affectionate. But when vata is out of balance, one may experience fear, anxiety, loss of appetite or too much craving for food, some weight loss, digestive problems, poor sleep, and bloating.
Vata vyadhi or conditions that emanate due to imbalance in vata are the ones that are related to the changes in air principle or the way it moves in the body and may include fatigue, skin dryness, cramps, emphysema, arthritis, or conditions that influence mobility in body.
Here are a few things Ayurveda experts recommend to bring vata into balance:
Foods You Can Eat
To check vata imbalance, one should have foods that have much of ‘snehana’ or the Ayurvedic principle of healthy oiliness, to bring groundedness. These can be milk, ghee, spices like cardamom, asafetida, fenugreek, ginger, mustard seed, black pepper, cumin and coriander, clarified butter, sour foods and generous amount of bay leaves. In the fruit kingdom, you can have apples, peaches, prunes, grapes, lime, date, figs, strawberries, avocados, among others. Asparagus, cilantro, cucumber, cooked vegetables, parsley, mustard, are all recommended for vata people.
Foods to Avoid
Foods, including vegetables, that are difficult to digest or cause flatulence must be avoided including bengal gram, black gram, flat beans, barley, blackberries, snake gourds, honey, millet, rye, barley, buckwheat, dry breakfast cereals and dried meat. Vata people also need to avoid raw salads.
Proper Sleep Routine
Be in bed by 10:00 pm. Vata dosha is active from 2:00–6:00 am. This is the time when organs and bodily processes governed by vata dosha are under repair. When you stay up late, you divert the prana in activities of the mind that take away from healing the vata organs and functions like respiration, circulation and elimination processes.
Avoid Activities that Increase Anxiety and Exertion
When vata is aggravated, you are one worry away from going through immense anxiety and restlessness. So for vata dominant people, it is best to stay away from activities like watching violence on television, planning too hard, overthinking that can trigger worrying. Also since Vata people have relatively lower stamina, they may do well by avoiding tasks that require too much physical stamina and strength.
Answer Nature’s Calls When the Urge is There
Since vata governs movements and elimination, holding it in for too long can affect vata unfavorably.
While fasting in general is a good practice, it is not recommended by Ayurveda experts when vata is aggravated. Having an empty stomach for a prolonged period when vata is out of balance could potentially aggravate it further and result in restlessness.
Vata affects your stamina and movement. Exertion in exercises like walking for far too long or traveling too much can cause vata vitiation, sleep disorders, and fatigue.
Sleep on a Soft Bed
When the vata dosha is aggravated, it can lead to sleep problems such as insomnia, light sleep, or fatigue from lack of sleep. Sleeping on soft beds can help people with vitiated vata dosha to fall asleep easily due to the heightened comfort.
Snehana (Oleation Therapy)
Snehana is an important detox prescribed in the classical Ayurvedic texts for managing vata vitiation. Snehana translates to ‘oil’ or ‘soothe’. It softens body tissues and prepares them for eliminating the metabolic waste.
Swedana or Sweat Therapy
This is a sweat induced cleansing technique using herbal steams. This is a pre-detox therapy that works to improve circulation of blood, lubricates the joints, and removes ama or toxin build up in the system. It oleates the skin and reduces stress in the system significantly which helps reduce the habit of worrying, a common problem with vata persons. These therapies are best administered by trained Ayurveda therapists for the effects to last long after you have received the treatment.
Sneha Gandusha (Gargling with Oil)
Ayurveda experts also recommend oil gargling exercises as an imbalanced vata can cause excessive skin dryness and thinning. The Charak Samhita, one of the most reliable texts on the science of Ayurveda, recommends using cloves, nutmeg, arecanut, java pepper, and camphor extracts to go along with the oil.
Those with vitiated vata can enjoy some sun. The heat and warmth will counter the excessive air element in the body.
Practicing alternate nostril breathing (Nadishodhan pranayama) for five minutes, or rhythmic breathing techniques like SKY, can go a long way in regulating vata dosha in the body. The breathing exercise channels the vayu or air element through the five subtypes of vata to bring it back to flow in a state of balance. Nadi translates to energy channels and Shodhana is the act of cleansing. The pranayama helps streamline the flow of life force or prana in the body.
Jala Basti (Abdominal Cleansing with Water)
Part of Shat kriya or six yogic cleansing processes, Jal Basti involves cleansing the abdomen region by pulling water into the anus. It improves blood circulation, digestion, and strengthens the solar plexus. It may also help relieve constipation and other digestive disorders that are the bane of vata vitiation.