Well, Hello Vata!
Nurturing the creative, energetic, anxious dosha of Ayurveda
If the word “Vata” sounds strange and unfamiliar, please read my “Intro to Ayurveda” post first. Today, I’m going to delve into exactly what it means.
In that article, I mentioned that the doshas, Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, are the three functional energies in Nature. We are Nature! Earth, water, fire, air, and ether (space) are what our physical bodies are made of.
Vata dosha is predominated by the air and ether/space elements and governs
movement and communication. It is the king (or queen) of the doshas because, without movement, the other two are useless. The word Vata literally means "wind" or "that which blows."
Its qualities are light, cold, dry, rough, mobile, subtle, and clear.
I always think the hummingbird is representative of the Vata-type individual who is always flitting about and can't sit still.
It is the dosha of depletion.
The seat of Vata is the colon. Problems in the lower part of the body (intestinal gas, bloating, lower back and hip pain, cramping, etc.) can all be signs of excess Vata.
Vata dosha rules the nervous system and is responsible for racing thoughts and a pounding heart that creates anxiety.
There are so many wonderful things about Vata-type people. When balanced, they are creative, optimistic, joyful, forgiving, flexible, and full of enthusiasm. They thrive on change and love to discover and experience new things. It’s no coincidence that when school starts back up in the fall, we’re transitioning into Vata season. People get excited about new projects, and creativity is in full bloom.
Vata is the dosha most likely to go out of balance (again, think movement) but luckily can come back into balance just as easily.
In a word, it’s changeable.
All of the attributes of Vata dosha (light, cold, dry, rough, mobile, subtle, and clear) are heightened during Vata Season (fall/early winter) as well as during the Vata times of day – 2:00-6:00 a.m. and 2:00-6:00 p.m. and also the Vata time of life - roughly 50 years old and beyond.
Confused? Don’t be! But, I sure was when I was first learning about Ayurveda.
Signs of unbalanced Vata dosha are:
Feelings of heightened anxiety, nervousness, and fear.
Bothered by cold and wind.
Sleep is interrupted and light. Vata dreams are often fearful and anxious.
Excess stimulation is bothersome–i.e., crowds and loud noises.
Intestinal gas, constipation.
Dryness–skin, hair, stools, eyes, etc.
Feeling disorganized and overwhelmed.
Can’t sit still.
Fatigue following bursts of energy. Crash and burn (this is typical of Vata energy).
I can hear everyone reading this and thinking, “that’s me!” because, truth be told, our entire world seems to have an excess of Vata energy right now.
So, what to do to ease this transition and stay healthy?
Like increases like in Ayurveda, so think opposite to bring your Vata back into balance:
Dress warmly and keep a scarf around your neck, especially when windy. The back of the neck is very vulnerable to wind.
Eat warm, gently cooked seasonal foods. Root vegetables are especially grounding for Vatas. Raw food can be too hard to digest.
Avoid cold drinks. Opt instead for warm beverages like spiced herbal teas, warm spiced milk, or warm lemon water with honey.
Eat enough healthy fats and oils (especially ghee).
Avoid over-exercising, which can aggravate already high-energy Vata. Gentle yoga, tai chi, and qigong are excellent choices.
Taking quiet walks in Nature is grounding for airy Vatas.
Meditation and pranayama (breathing practice) can help soothe Vata's anxiety and fear.
Daily self-massage with warm grounding oils like sesame or almond oil is extremely calming to the nervous system. Or, try an herbal Vata body oil.
Stay away from loud, noisy environments and when you can’t avoid them, take a moment to breathe deeply and find your inner calm.
Keeping a regular routine with regards to sleeping, eating, working, etc. is imperative for Vatas, who love variety and can easily lose focus. An ideal bedtime is between 9:00 –10:00 pm.
Nurture yourself as much as possible on a daily basis!
Wondering how much Vata dosha is in your constitution? Click HERE.
A word of caution to over-enthusiastic Vata-types is not to let yourself get burned out - especially during Vata Season.
Here in the Northeastern US, where I live, the heat of summer (Pitta Season) is slowly waning. Temperatures are fluctuating from day to day - hot and humid one day, cold and dry the next. And the wind is beginning to blow. Vata Season (fall/early winter) is fast approaching.
Autumn has always been my favorite season. It brings with it blue skies and crisp cool sweater-weather days, apple picking, and changing leaves. But I have always been aware of feelings of anxiety and agitation, as well as a lack of focus, that would show up as sure as the apples falling from the trees.
“When the seasons change, we experience a sympathetic internal shift. All life forms open themselves up to receive cosmic redirection from nature during these crucial seasonal transitions, so we are likely to be more vulnerable and unsettled.” - Maya Tiwari, The Path of Practice: A Woman’s Book of Ayurvedic Healing
This seasonal shift confused me for years until I began to study Ayurveda. Now, even though it still shows up with the apples and the pumpkins, I’m prepared and better equipped to handle it.
As we begin this transition from Pitta Season to Vata Season, it’s important to note something that Ayurveda teaches.
“The Ayurvedic texts say that a disease can take root in the body only during the junctions between the seasons when all nature is in flux. Because of the upheaval dominating these junctions, the body’s natural immunity becomes virtually defenseless against impending disease.” -Maya Tiwari. (Maya was my Ayurveda teacher)
I have experienced this firsthand many times and am learning just how true this cautionary statement is. The most important lesson I’ve learned is to nurture the Vata part of me deeply.
Over a decade ago, my lack of attention to this shift from summer into fall left me with a whopping case of whooping cough for three months. I almost died. A wise Chinese energy healer and herbalist helped me through that very scary time.
A critical fact to bear in mind is that an excess of a dosha can build up over months, and it is important to resolve this before moving into the next Ayurvedic season. If your Pitta has been high all summer, you want to get the excess heat out of your body so that it doesn’t get trapped and lead to health issues.
I addressed this issue in an article I wrote for Banyan Botanicals. You can read it here.
Even if Vata is not your primary dosha, you may find yourself feeling a little anxious or scattered as the temperature drops, and the wind begins to blow.
Many years ago, when I was struggling to heal from fibromyalgia (I usually refrain from using that made-up term, but I’ll use it here to tell this little story better) in addition to debilitating chronic pain, I had a host of other weird symptoms. The strangest one was my reaction to any type of strong air movement. Even during the heat of the summer - the wind while riding my bike, a fan, or an air conditioner - could literally bring me to tears.
One beautiful summer day while living in NYC, I was helping my partner out at his restaurant and filling in as a hostess. Standing by the open doors to the patio and under a ceiling fan, I felt my entire nervous system on high alert. A sweet observant server named Sarah walked over to me and put her arms around me. She must have been in her early twenties. She asked me if I had ever heard of Ayurveda. I said “no” but felt this deep knowing in my body that I did know it. I’d just forgotten.
She had grown up in California with hippie parents, as she described them. They had taught her about Ayurveda.
I still had one foot in allopathic medicine at the time, and when I would mention this symptom to any doctor, they looked at me like I was crazy. Sometimes they would suggest antidepressants!
That little seed that Sarah planted eventually led me to my first Ayurvedic practitioner. When I sheepishly mentioned the wind issue, he looked at me and said, “Of course, you feel that way. Your Vata is off-the-charts deranged. It’s as if too much wind is trapped in your body.” Ayurveda likes to use the word deranged.
I remember feeling so understood that day, and over the next months and years, I slowly made my way back into balance with the help of my new best friend, Ayurveda.
I wish I knew where Sarah is now. The restaurant closed, and we both moved on. I’d love to tell her that she was an angel that day.
In addition to having a lot of Vata in my constitution, I’m also firmly in the Vata time of my life. It’s a time of slowing down (takes some adjusting for Vata folks because we like to MOVE!) and a time of introspection. Vata types can be deeply spiritual, and so this can be a wonderful time of life. It certainly has been for me.
If you or someone you love always seems extra anxious and disorganized at this time of year, they may have a healthy dose of Vata in their constitution. Be kind and maybe help them get organized (Pitta folks are great at this).
Soothe their nerves - a foot massage perhaps? (Kapha types spring to mind here - they’re loving and kind and so grounded, they can calm the most jittery Vata-type.)
And, parents reading this, get to know your child’s constitution! What a difference that can make. An excellent book by one of my Ayurveda teachers is “Perfect Health for Kids: Ten Ayurvedic Health Secrets Every Parent Must Know” by John Douillard.
I LOVE my fellow Vata friends! I have many of them, and none of us seem to take things too personally. Vata people learn quickly and forget just as quickly. This is a handy trait as it usually keeps us from holding grudges (mostly because we can’t remember what happened!)
The daily Vata mantra should be, "Nurture me." Body, mind, and spirit.
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