Vata embodies the energy of movement. It governs the movement of the blood through the body, the movement of the breath, the contraction of the heart and other muscles. It is also closely linked to our creativity, flexibility, and communication throughout the mind and nervous system.
By appreciating the individual characteristics and tendencies of each of the doshas, we are able to choose a diet and lifestyle that is optimal for our personal constitution. We become sensitized to the qualities and symptoms of imbalance within the system and learn how to maintain or restore harmonious equilibrium.
Qualities of Vata (gunas)
The qualities of vata are reflective of the air and ether elements. Becoming familiar with these gunas helps make balancing vata dosha an intuitive process.
Generally, we can promote the restoration of balance by reducing the influence of vata’s qualities and promoting its opposing qualities. For example, reducing exposure to cold and favouring warmth is one way of balancing vata. The qualities of vata are as follows:
- Rough, hard
Each dosha will share qualities with specific seasons. This results in an increased chance of imbalance of a particular dosha during the associated season. Vata predominates during late fall/winter.
At this time of the year, the environment and weather mirror vata’s qualities of coldness, roughness, dryness, and hardness. During the late fall and winter months, we are more susceptible to a vata imbalance. We should therefore favour opposing qualities during this time to maintain a healthy internal balance.
Main Site in the Body
Although all three of the doshas are distributed throughout the body, each has a main seat where they predominate. Vata dosha is most evident in the lower third of the body, from the hips down to the toes. Its main site is in the colon. This can become evident when vata is aggravated and the colon becomes rough and dry, causing constipation.
Time of Life
All three of the doshas are present within the body at all times, however at certain stages of life we have a tendency towards a particular dosha and its associated qualities. Vata is most evident during the ‘wisdom years’, or the final third of life, approximately age 60+.
During this stage of life, we may notice an increase in symptoms of vata aggravation, such as brittle bones, dry skin, weight loss, and forgetfulness.
Time of Day
Just as each dosha is associated with different times of life, they each are also heightened at specific times throughout the day.
Vata is dominant between 2 a.m. – 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. – 6 p.m. In order to maximize our efficiency and use of time, it is recommended that we structure our daily routine according to the qualities of the presiding dosha.
For example, vata is associated with heightened spiritual awareness, creativity, and the flow of breath. Therefore, vata times of day are the ideal periods to meditate, perform spiritual activities, practice pranayama, or engage in a creative pastime such as painting, writing or playing music. The early vata period (2am – 6am) is specifically associated with prayer and spiritual practice. During this time, the mind is at its quietest. This makes it easier to meditate.
Physical and Mental Attributes
- Creativity, enthusiasm, innovation
- Spiritual insight
- Light bones and muscles
- A tall and slender frame
- Flexibility, open-mindedness, adventurousness, adaptability
- Variable digestion
- An active mind: quick to learn but also quick to forget
- An active body: eats, moves, and talks quickly
- Lightness and agility
Causes of Imbalance
- Diet: eating foods that aggravate the dry, light, rough, and cold qualities of vata
- Excessive travel or movement
- Excessive talking or socialising
- Overstimulation of the senses
- Being in cold or windy environments
- Loud, stimulating music
- Old age
- Intense or fast exercise
Symptoms of Imbalance
Internal imbalance usually arises due to unsupportive diet and lifestyle choices, or emotional stress such as trauma or grief. Once an imbalance has occurred, the natural equilibrium of the whole bodily system has been disturbed.
It is possible for any of us to become imbalanced due to an excess of any particular dosha, but in general we are more likely to fall out of alignment in our predominant dosha. When aggravated, each dosha disrupts the body in its own unique way.
Vata imbalance can be recognized by the following symptoms:
- Dry, cracking skin and joints
- Gas, bloating, constipation
- Inability to focus, a restless mind, nervousness, anxiety
- Feeling ungrounded
- Lower back pain, joint pain, twitches, muscle spasms
- Weight loss, difficulty gaining or maintaining weight
Ways to Balance Vata
- Eat a supportive diet by promoting the opposing qualities to vata: warm, moist, soft, cooked foods with high quality oils
- Practice calming and grounding exercise such as gentle yoga
- Develop a practice of stilling the mind through meditation or pranayama (particularly techniques such as alternate nostril breathing and deep belly breathing)
- Do an abhyanga (self-massage) with warm sesame oil
- Develop a consistent routine for sleep and meal times
- Take time to wind down before bed, reduce sensory stimulation, turn down the lights and switch off all electronics
- Eat slowly and consciously in a calm environment, free from distractions
- Avoid caffeine and other stimulants
- Reduce consumption of raw, dry, rough and cold foods
- Spend more time in nature
Fast-paced modern life; traveling long distances quickly; scrolling through hundreds and thousands of images per day — these things have become the daily norm for most people. However, all this movement and increased sensory input can easily throw vata out of alignment.
The best way to maintain and restore internal vata balance is to understand how it behaves and what aspects of the mind and body it governs. Once you understand the dosha on a more intimate level, treatment of imbalance will become a simple and intuitive practice.