The Vata dosha
In the first series of my Ayurveda articles, I have written about what Ayurveda is and what the purpose or universal alignment means, according to Samkhya philosophy. Here we are looking at the doshas in more detail and how we can adjust exercise, diet and lifestyle habits according to if we are in or out of balance and need to increase or decrease certain elements or factors.
According to Ayurveda, each human can have too much or not enough of a certain "dosha", and this determines how we look, feel and act. Three doshas work together. The names are Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Quantity and quality of these three substances in our body depends on the season, time of the day, diet etc. When there is a balance between the three fundamental bodily bio-elements, we are said to be well.
Dosha is a Sanskrit word that means something like "fault," "defect," or "that which darkens." The root "dush" means "to become corrupt or bad; to sin." The classical text of Ayurveda, the Charaka Samhita, employs it mainly to indicate excess that is capable of causing disease.
The doshas reflect Prakriti (nature) and how they exactly work together in us determines how we ultimately deal with life, and it manifests in our dharma. There is always one or two (or even all three) that are predominant in us, but what are the characteristics of each of them and how can we use this wisdom to determine what kind of exercise or lifestyle is wholesome for us? So, what exactly, is a dosha? A dosha is a substance, which can be either in excess or being vitiated, that is corrupted. If there is too much, disease or illness may set in. Three essential doshas determine our looks, attitude, behaviour and how we feel!
The Vata dosha
The Vata dosha is associated with the element of ether and air. Air is responsible for inspirations and expirations. Ether is light, and the air element is typically dry. Vata furthermore is characterized as subtle energy, light; it is mobile, cold, rough, and all-pervasive; it governs the movement and activities of body and mind.
Vata is involved in our overall thought process and responsible for speech, sensations, touch, and hearing. Feelings associated with this dosha are fear, anxiety, grief on one side and enthusiasm, inspiration, and courage on the other side. Other positive traits of Vata express itself in creativity, enthusiasms, speed, agility, responsiveness.
Vata regulates our natural urges (excretion), ensures the proper circulation of the blood, and determines our sexual vigour. It is the primary dosha or biological force behind everything. It is regarded as the motivating power behind the other two doshas (Pitta and Kapha), which are lame or incapable of movement without the Vata dosha. As mentioned before, it is primarily ether in substance and air in motion and fills all empty spaces, in our body is it primarily said to be in our hips and lower back.
On a more inner level, Vata is both the life force and the energy of thought. Vata's sense organs are the ears and skin. Its motor organs are speech and our hands.
The primary physical site is the colon and the energy produced through the digestion of food. As a toxin, Vata can produce excess gas resulting from faulty digestion. Vata (like the wind) contains subtle particles of water and the potential of fire or electrical forces, like for example, a change in temperature and pressure, can make the wind blow faster. The proper balance of Vata, as already mentioned above, depends upon the right amount of Pitta and Kapha.
Disturbed Vata can make us feel mentally nervous, and we may suffer from digestive disorders, it manifests in low energy and weakens all bodily tissues. We can appreciate how this mental energy manifests right now in COVID 19, and many people experience anxiety, fear, and fatigue!
Vata dosha - the physical body
There are many tests out there to determine which of the doshas is the dominant and most people have two with one primary dosha. Some may have all three.
So, how does a person look who has Vata as its primary dosha? Characteristics of this person would be an agile person who is quick and swift, but maybe unsteady in their movements. Vata dominated people are also quickly angry,, and irritated. They also can tend to be fearful and nervous. In general, a Vata dominated person is intolerant to cold and shivers easily. There is a tendency for excess activity at times, but also excess fatigue at other times. The physical characteristics are people with small bones and thin frames; they possess a great deal of flexibility, especially in the spine. Vata rules over bones, people with a vitiated VATA dosha may suffer arthritis, tend to feel cold, have dry skin and cracking joints, and in poor circulation.
There are three "modes of existence" or tendencies/qualities, according to Samkhya in nature (Prakriti). They are sattva (equilibrium, positivity), rajas (passion and activity) and tamas (destruction and chaos). So, according to this, those three substances can be either in balance, too active or too weak. I have already mentioned some tendencies above, but find below the characteristics of all three tendencies:
A sattvic Vata is creative and open-minded, quickly understands, is an excellent communicator and in general, a very enthusiastic personality. Vata people have got a strong sense of humour, are receptive and sensitive, possess strong energy and abundant vitality. They are a constant inspiration!
However, a rajasic Vata is too active, always on the move, restless, full of desire, never satisfied, easily distracted, hyperactive, inconsistent, overly talkative, superficial, noisy and disruptive.
Tamasic Vatas are deceptive, fearful, possess erratic behaviour, are extreme, against any order or courtesy, inclined to theft, prone to sexual perversions, easily addicted to drugs and other escapes (sometimes suicidal), cannot be trusted, and play havoc with other people's lives.
So, we have seen the tendencies for Vata, but does increase the substance Vata?
An increase in VATA is caused by fasting, excessive physical exercise, exposure to cold, laziness, staying awake at night, rainy season, old age, in the evening and the last part of the night, eating over-ripened dry and cooked well in advance food, astringent substances, excessive injury, excessive indulgence in sexual activities, anxiety, suppression of natural urges, feelings of regret and guilt.
A vitiated VATA manifests as general stiffness and pain in the body, dryness in the mouth, stomach-aches, dry skin, fatigue, malaise, delirium, and dull complexion. People seem withdrawn and expose maybe timid behaviour. Often respiratory problems are a sign of Vata disturbance. It also can manifest in arthritis, obesity, stomach problems, insomnia, and mental disorders.
How can we change this?
People who suffer from an unbalanced Vata dosha can make sure that they fully empty their bowls and eat an appropriate diet. They should try to keep warm, eat sweet and sour foods, get a massage, enjoy warm baths, overall rest, sleep, and stay in peaceful environments.
Vata promoting foods are potatoes, rice, and cauliflower.
Vata diminishing food, according to Ayurveda, is, for example, a tomato salad with a little garlic.
Asana practice is a must for VATA. However, the practice should not be too strong (Vata types should avoid excessive movement, and never rush or hurry in asana practice.
A good start for a practice that aims to balance VATA is starting with gentle breathing, calming down the nervous system. Warm-up the body gradually by improving circulation and moving joints gently. A mild sweat is ok, and overall, the practice should be mindful with gentle movements. Asana practise should emphasize the pelvic region and colon (Vata) releasing tension from hips, lumbar spine and sacroiliac joint. The physical practice can start with standing poses; this is followed by longer sitting, which is good for strength and stillness in the lower abdomen (control of Apana Vayu). Also, twists are good but keep breathing (according to Ayurveda Vata doshas should not hold the breath as this would increase Vata if the aim is to decrease Vata) and forward bends combined with gentle backbends (locust, cobra). The practice can finish with meditation and pranayama. The keywords are "stability" and "calmness" and end the whole practice with a long Savasana feeling calm, stable, and warm with tension away from the lower abdomen.
Keywords: Calm, slow, steady, grounding, strengthening and consistent
Pranayama: mainly right nostril breathing in the morning to stimulate energy and in the evening left nostril breathing to calm the mind and promote sleep
A mild form of bhastrika could be practised when feeling cold. VATA dosha dominated people have to be careful not to space out. Bhastrika can be increasing heat in the body.
In general, it is good for Vata dosha dominated people to stay grounded, not to get too much spaced out through the inappropriate pranayamas or other substances and to stay calm.
Images: earthy, watery, and fiery images (mountains, lakes, the ocean, a flowers lotus or rose, the element fire, the sun at dawn, colour gold and saffron), Ganesha as a deity is good for the grounding.
We discuss Ayurveda in the 2021 – 2022 Yoga Teacher Training. Sign up and find out more if you are interested n learning more about yoga.
Sign up, if you like this article, and would like to receive more of this. Next, I will discuss Pitta. If you are like me, you may think and confuse dosha with dosa, (yummy crêpes made from fermented rice and lentils) and pitta with the greek pita bread, but then I love food!