Ayurvedic Wisdom: Self-Care for Vata DoshaNov 01, 2022 06:00AM ● By Jaya Ramamurthy
In 2019, we kicked off this magazine’s deep dive into Ayurveda, the world’s oldest system of health enhancement and maintenance, with a three-part series. Then, in 2020 and 2021, we published a series of four articles providing Ayurvedic advice about staying healthy in the four seasons of the year. This article is the first in a new three-part series by Ayurvedic clinical specialist Jaya Ramamurthy that takes a deeper look at Ayurveda’s three doshas—the three energies that comprise everyone’s physical, emotional and behavioral makeup. [Go to bit.ly/naa-ayurveda to see all of our Ayurveda articles to date.]
Originating several millennia ago in the Indian subcontinent, Ayurveda is more than just a medical system for treating and preventing illness. It is a worldview—a way of looking at the universe and our place in it. Its simple but profound Five Element Theory connects human beings to one another and to the cosmos.
The Five Elements and the Doshas
Ayurveda’s first principle is drawn from the philosophical school of thought called Sankhya, which teaches that the cosmos is made of the five primary elements: earth, water, fire, air and ether. These elements have certain qualities, so all matter has a combination of these attributes. For example, earth, which is the densest element, is described as heavy, static, cold and dry—like a sandy beach at low tide at night. Water, on the other hand, is cold, heavy and wet with no inherent movement of its own. It moves with the wind or a gradient in the landscape. Air is light, cold and full of movement; in fact, air is the only element capable of movement. Fire is warm or hot and light as well as dry. Finally, ether is omnipresent space that holds all the elements.
To make up life, the five elements combine in three unique ways, and each combination is generically called a dosha, meaning “the thing that can become faulty, leading to disease.” The doshas make it possible to have an infinite number of combinations, and that means no two people are exactly alike.
For example, earth and water combine to make a life form, such as a cell of the human body, and the combination is called the kapha dosha. The pitta dosha is the combination of water and fire, which, together, make cellular or metabolic processes. For example, on the most subtle level, digestive enzymes can be abstracted to be fire encapsulated by water. The combination of air and ether creates movement and is called the vata dosha. The three doshas can be thought of as forces that exist within the human body—they cannot be measured, but they can be observed.
Ayurveda’s therapeutic principles are simple: similar qualities, when layered or added on, will increase, and opposite qualities will balance each other. This becomes clear as we examine the vata dosha in particular.
The Vata Profile
Vata is mobile, cool, light, dry, rough, subtle, flowing, sharp, clear and hard. Since air is the principal element in the Vata person, lightness and dryness are predominant. The vata body type is a thin body frame, the face tends to be oval or long, and facial features are slight. The vata gait is quick and unsteady, the skin tends to be dry and dull, and the hair tends to be thin, curly and dry. Vata people have a dry or hoarse voice and a thin tongue. As a rule, the vata body type finds it hard to gain weight.
Vata people have distinct features. They can be restless and need to constantly move. They usually have an irregular appetite, are prone to constipation and bloating and their joints make crackling sounds. They can have trouble sleeping, and their days are characterized by erratic energy. They are usually always cold and prefer warm beverages, food, climates and environments.
Vata people have vivid imaginations, are creative, and are great out-of-the-box thinkers. They learn quickly but tend to forget easily. They are vivid storytellers and can be the life and soul of a party. Older vata individuals make great teachers for the young in a societal setting, eager and generous to give.
Vata types tend to worry a lot and are prone to anxiety. Their moods can fluctuate unpredictably with their energy levels. They can be hypersensitive to their environment and upset or irritated by noise, wind or cold. They might find it hard to commit to an idea or project or they might have several interests but quickly become bored with them and leave them unfinished.
Health Tips for Vata
The biggest challenge for vata types is consistent daily self-care routines—making sure that meals and rest times are built into the day with little guesswork. Vata types must eat regularly in accordance with their appetite and rest regularly as well.
Since dryness is predominant, plenty of warm water and consumption of healthy fats, such as virgin coconut oil, sesame oil, and ghee, are very useful for this body type. These fats ensure adequate moisturizing of tissues, add luster to the skin and hair, and prevent chronic constipation. A glass of warm water first thing in the morning can help many vata types have a bowel movement easily. If constipation does not resolve, one should seek help from an Ayurvedic practitioner.
Since Vata types don’t conserve energy well, they need to stick to a consistent eating schedule and focus on small, warm and moist meals. They benefit from sweet, salty and sour foods that are gently spiced and adequately oiled but not fried. Generally, sweet fleshy fruits, such as mango, banana, stone fruits and grapes, cooked or steamed vegetables, and soaked nuts are good for them. It is best to avoid coffee, alcohol and cold and dry foods such as raw salads, dry fruits, bread, chips and cereals.
A daily oil massage before a shower helps alleviate vata's dryness, calms the nervous system and helps ground vata. An oil massage of the scalp once a week also helps keep the scalp and hair healthy.
To stay in balance, vata types need to pay attention to seasonal shifts. Cold and windy conditions can aggravate Vata disorders. In fall and winter, vata types must balance the approaching cold, light, dry months with the opposite qualities—warm, heavy, moist and stable, especially during the vata times of day, which are 2 to 6 a.m. and p.m.
Best Practices During the Vata Season
Consistent daily self-care routines, such as oil massage, breathwork and meditation, will ground and nourish a person during this vata time of year. One should avoid all dry and light foods, even salads, since they can provoke excess vata—air—in the body and gas, bloating, and discomfort will result. Instead, focus on warm, moist, nourishing meals made with fall’s seasonal produce, which naturally counteract vata. For instance, fall’s wide varieties of squashes are very nourishing. One must make sure to include good fats like ghee in the diet. And foods that incorporate warming spices and herbs such as ginger, garlic, turmeric, black pepper and small amounts of cayenne pepper are seasonally appropriate.
For a personalized vata balancing protocol, consult an Ayurvedic practitioner. Ayurveda encourages us to tune in and pay attention to the state of our body-mind intuitively. This subtle observation is valuable to help pivot and adjust to the season’s rhythms. An Ayurvedic lifestyle goes a long way to not only help us prevent disease but to thrive and flourish along life’s path, no matter where we find ourselves. ❧