All energy in our natural world is composed of five basic elements according to Ayurveda – ether, air, fire, water and earth. These elements give rise to the Doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. These Doshas help us identify the elemental makeup of our natural world, so we use them when referring to the qualities of the seasons, foods, herbs, activities, or an individual’s constitution.
The elements of the Vata season
In the Northern hemisphere, the season shifts from warmer and moist tending towards dry and cold in the autumn and winter – this is known as the Vata season in Ayurveda. Vata Dosha is composed of air & ether and qualified by action, transportation and movement. Vata is considered the “King of Doshas” as it energizes the other two Doshas (Pitta and Kapha).
We recognize Vata’s elements in nature as:
Vata Dosha in the mind-body
The Vata Dosha is manifest primarily in the abdominal cavity below the navel – colon, pelvis, pelvic organs, as well as the thighs, skin, ears, brain, nervous system and lungs. It is responsible for all action in the body, including movements of the body and mind, sensory impulses and motor regulation, breath, removal of waste, speech and the pumping of the heart. It is furthermore the energy which kindles our Agni, or digestion, allows for the absorption of nutrients and delivers a baby.
In a sense, you could say Vata makes it happen.
According to the Tridoshas of Ayurveda, we all have a unique combination of Vata, Pitta and Kapha, with one or two Doshas manifested more prominently.
Vata-dominant individuals tend to have the following qualities:
- Slimmer build, light weight, either very tall or short
- Quick-moving mind and actions
- Tendency to do many things
- Thinner skin and hair, prone to dryness
- Oval, narrow face and smaller eyes
- Variable appetite, tendency towards constipation
- Light sleep, possibly interrupted, dreams full of movement
- Lower stamina with bursts of activity
- Drawn to creative activities, dance and travel
If you can relate to several of the qualities above, Vata may be a dominant Dosha for you.
How to detect a Vata imbalance
While some of Vata’s qualities sound like imbalances, such as dryness or interrupted sleep, having a Vata-dominant constitution is not inherently an imbalance. All of the Doshas have certain qualities which we can learn to balance through Ayurveda’s guidelines. Understanding one’s constitution is key to determining which of those guidelines are most crucial.
Anyone can experience Vata imbalances, though the Vata-dominant individuals are more prone to them.
Signs of a Vata imbalance include:
- Dryness of skin, hair, ears, lips, joints
- Dryness internally – bloat, gas, constipation, dehydration, weight loss
- Dry and lightness of the mind – restlessness, dizziness, feeling ungrounded
- Cold: poor circulation, muscle spasm or constriction, asthma, pain and aches, tightness
- Roughness, especially skin and lips
- Excessive movement: anxiety, fidgeting, agitation, muscle twitching, palpitations
How to manage a Vata imbalance
A combination of the following diet and lifestyle adjustments can return Vata into balance and prevent seasonal allergies, colds and flus.
- It almost goes without saying that an imbalance during the “dry season” requires additional hydration. But don’t just hydrate with any water – filtered, warm or hot water is most pacifying to a Vata imbalance.
- Additionally, hydration of the skin is recommended through self abhyanga, or massage with warm oil (sesame or almond) 15 minutes prior to bathing.
- Use of Vata-pacifying oils in cooking can further hydrate the body internally: sesame, almond or avocado oil.
Adopt a seasonal diet
- Reduce the amount of astringent, dry, light, cold, raw and processed foods.
- Increase sweet, sour, salty, warm, cooked whole foods.
- Pumpkin, sweet potato, beets, carrots and zucchinni, brussel sprouts, avocados, dates, figs, lemons, limes, papayas, grapefruit and grapes are all beneficial vegetables and fruits.
- For grains, legumes and nuts, try rice, oatmeal, quinoa, split mung beans, almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews.
- Beneficial spices include black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, fennel, ginger, turmeric, saffron.
Stick to a regular schedule
- Lack of sleep imbalances Vata very quickly, so getting enough sleep and at the right time is key – between 10pm-4am.
- Eating three meals a day with regularity also pacifies Vata.
- Excessive exercise can exacerbate Vata, so don’t push it during this season.
- Generally: it is ill-advised to exercise more than 45min to 1 hour at one time, or more than twice per day.
- Honor your body’s needs with modifications of your routine, opting for gentler workouts that also calm the mind and body, such as Yoga.
Incorporate a meditative or calming practice
- Meditation is instrumental in pacifying Vata as it requires the withdrawal of senses, or external distractions. If entering meditation is more challenging during this season, consider practicing Yoga asana or an equally calming routine prior to meditation, to allow the mind and body to work out some of the clutter.
- Mantra and chanting can help to focus the mind and can also be especially beneficial for balancing Vata.