Vata is made up of the two elements space and air and can be identified as the Wind element. Vata is the principle of movement and change. The amount of space affects the ability of the air to gain momentum. If unrestricted, air can gain momentum and become too forceful, such as a hurricane.
People with a predominance of Vata in their nature tend to be thin, light, quick in thoughts and actions and always on-the-go. Change is a constant part of life. When Vata is balanced, they are creative, energetic, enthusiastic, and lively. But if Vata becomes excessive, they may develop anxiety, insomnia, dry skin, or irregular digestion.
Qualities of Vata: Cold, light, dry, irregular, rough, moving, quick, changeable
Vata dosha governs all movement in the physiology, the activities of the nervous system and the process of elimination, from the subtle, fleeting movement of a thought flitting across your mind to the coursing of blood through your arteries and veins. Vata governs breathing, movements in the muscles and tissues, pulsations in the heart, all expansion and contraction, the movements of cytoplasm and the cell membranes, and the movement of impulses in nerve cells.
The primary seat or location of the Vata in the body is the colon. It also resides in the hips, thighs, ears, bones, large intestine, pelvic cavity, and skin. It is related to the touch sensation. If the body develops an excess of Vata, it will typically accumulate in these areas.
Vata functions in the:
- head-neck-chest region governing thinking and creativity, learning new information and inhalation.
- throat and chest region, controlling sneezing, singing and exhalation.
- heart to all over the body through the circulatory system and the skin controlling the beating of the heart, sweating and the sense of touch are examples of Vyana Vata activity.
- stomach area, governing the flow of food through the digestive tract.
- colon and pelvic area governing functions as menstruation and the elimination of wastes.
The Characteristics of Vata
Mind: Creative, quick, imaginative
Body: Thin, light frame
Appetite: Delicate, spontaneous, often miss meals
Routine: Variable, spontaneous
Temperament: Welcomes new experiences, excitable, friendly, energetic
Conversation: Loves to talk!!
Shopping Style: Buy, buy, buy.
Stress Response: What did I do wrong? Tendency to blame oneself
Physical Characteristics of Vata
People with more Vata in their constitutions tend to be thin, with a slender frame and prominent joints (due to poor muscle development), and excellent agility. Their chests are flat and their veins and tendons are visible. Vatas typically have dry, frizzy hair, dry, delicate skin and cold hands and feet. The eyes ay be sunken, small, dry and active. The nails are rough and brittle and the nose is often bent.
They sleep lightly and their digestion can be sensitive. They are usually cold and thus gravitate towards warm environments. When the Vata dosha becomes imbalanced, it manifests in the body as weight loss, constipation, hypertension, arthritis, weakness, restlessness, and digestive challenges.
Emotional Characteristics of Vata
Vatas love excitement and new experiences. They are quick to anger but also to forgive. They are quick and lively in thought, speech and action, and make friends easily. They also take initiative and are lively conversationalists. There is an element of airiness to their step, a quality of lightness in their laughter. Change is usually their second name. Creativity and enthusiasm are hallmarks of balanced Vata. When unbalanced, they are prone to worry and anxiousness and often suffer from insomnia. When they feel overwhelmed or stressed, their response is, “What did I do wrong?”
Psychologically, they are characterized by quick mental understanding. They may understand something immediately, but may soon forget it. They have weak will power, tend toward mental instability and possess little tolerance, confidence or boldness. Their decisiveness power is weak. They tend to be nervous, fearful and afflicted by much anxiety, pain, tremors, and spasms.
Signs that You Need to Balance Vata
Factors that can cause Vata dosha to increase include a diet that contains too many dry or raw foods, over-consumption of ice-cold beverages, exposure to cold dry winds, a variable daily routine, too much travel, and mental overexertion.
- Are you constantly worried, anxious, overwhelmed, fretful?
- Do you feel tired but find yourself unable to slow down and relax?
- Do you find it difficult to settle down and fall asleep at night? Is your sleep restless when you do manage to fall asleep?
- Is your skin feeling dryer than usual, stretched taut or flaking?
- Is your hair more brittle, with split ends happening oftener?
- Are your lips raw and chapped? Is your throat constantly dry?
- Is your digestion irregular? Do you experience problems with abdominal gas?
- Do you feel like you cannot sit still, that you need to be constantly moving?
- Do you feel “spaced out”? Is it harder to remember things for more than a short period of time?
- Is your attention span shorter than usual? Is it harder to focus?
- Do your bowel movements occur less than once daily?
If you answered yes to many of the questions above, following a Vata-balancing diet and lifestyle can help restore balance to Vata.
Dietary Recommendations for Vata
To balance the lightness of Vata, eat larger quantities, but don’t overeat. Include foods that are liquid in your daily diet to balance dryness, some “heavy” foods to offer substance and sustained nourishment, foods that are smooth in texture to offset roughness and foods that are warm or hot to balance the cool nature of Vata.
- If you need to balance Vata, a fat-free diet is not for you.
- Include lots of good fats such as olive oil, raw sesame oil and avocado in your diet. Drizzle olive oil over fresh soft flatbreads, cooked grains, or warm vegetable dishes.
- Avoid too many dry foods such as crackers, dry cold cereal and the like.
- Cooked warm foods are ideal for balancing Vata. Use a slow cooker so that the nutrients and important enzymes in vegetables are retained. Pureed soups, cooked fruit, hot cereal, rice pudding and hot beverages such as nut milks are excellent “comfort” foods and help pacify aggravated Vata. Avoid or minimize raw foods such as salads and raw sprouts.
- The three tastes that help balance Vata are sweet, sour and salty. Include more of these tastes in your daily diet. Milk, citrus fruits, dried fruit or salted toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds make good snack choices. Eat less of the bitter, pungent and astringent tastes.
- Favor aromas that are sweet, heavy, and warm. Examples include basil, bay, cinnamon, citrus, cloves, frankincense, lavender, pine, sage, and vanilla.
- All nuts are wonderful Vata-pacifiers. Soak ten almonds overnight. Blanch and eat in the early morning for a healthy burst of energy. Walnuts, hazelnuts and cashews make good Vata-pacifying snacks.
- Cooked vegetables are best. Raw vegetables should be minimized. Favor Asparagus, beets, and carrots. Other vegetables may be taken in moderation if cooked in ghee or extra virgin olive oil, including peas, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, and sweet potatoes.
- Sprouts and cabbage tend to produce gas and should be minimized. Avoid nightshades veggies
- Beans can aggravate Vata, so minimize them, with the exception of tofu and mung beans.
- For non-vegetarians, use fresh, organic chicken, turkey, seafood, and eggs.
- Favor sweet, heavy fruits such as: bananas, avocados, mangoes, apricots, plums, berries, coconut, figs, grapefruit, orange, lemon, melons, papaya, peaches, pineapples, rhubarb, kiwi, dates, nectarines and dried fruits. Eat fewer dry or light fruits such as apples, cranberries, pears, and pomegranates. To ease digestion, fruits are best eaten lightly cooked or eaten alone.
- Basmati rice is ideal for balancing Vata. Cook it with a little salt and ghee for added flavor. If you can eat gluten, wheat is also good. Fresh flatbreads made with whole wheat flour (called atta or chapatti flour and available at Indian grocery stores) drizzled with a little melted ghee combined cooked vegetables and Vata-balancing chutneys make excellent meals for Vata. Reduce the amount of barley, corn, millet, buckwheat, and rye.
- Most spices are warming and enhance digestion, so cook with a combination of spices that appeals to your taste buds and is appropriate for the dish you are making. Spices that pacify Vata include cardamom, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, salt, cloves, mustard seed, basil, asafetida, cilantro, fennel, oregano, sage, tarragon, thyme, and black pepper
- Fresh ginger root is beneficial and can be used frequently. During the cool weather, sip ginger tea throughout the day.Drink lots of lukewarm or warm water through the day.
Suggested Food Choices for Vata
The following list of suggested foods is by no means all-inclusive, but offers starting guidelines if you are new to ayurvedic dietary principles.
Foods listed as “Best” can be eaten without reservation on a daily basis. Foods listed as “Small Amounts” can be eaten in small portions fairly often or in larger portions once or twice per week. Foods listed as “Avoid” should be eaten only on rare occasions. Remember, it is not what you do once in a while that matters. Choose sweet, sour, and salty foods; avoid bitter, astringent and pungent foods.
It is best to eat these as a cooked grain or an unyeasted bread. Small amounts of yeast breads are all right however.
Best: Amaranth, cooked oats, quinoa, white or brown rice, and wheat;
Small Amounts: Barley and millet;
Avoid: Buckwheat, corn flour (chips, bread, and tortillas), dry oats (granola), polenta, and rye.
It is best to use raw or organic milk. Milk should be taken warm with a small amount of ginger and cardamom.
Best: Butter, buttermilk, kefir, milk, sour cream and yogurt (fresh);
Small Amounts: Hard cheeses;
Avoid: Ice cream, frozen yogurt.
Moderation is important; overuse of even the best sweeteners will increase vata.
Best: Raw, uncooked honey, raw sugar, maltose, maple syrup, molasses, rice syrup, and sucanat;
Small Amounts: Date and grape sugar;
Avoid: Brown sugar, white sugar.
Best: Almond, ghee, sesame;
Small Amounts: Avocado, castor, coconut, flaxseed, mustard, olive, peanut, sunflower;
Sweeter fruits are best.
Best: Baked apples, apricots, avocados, ripe bananas, blackberries, cantaloupe, cherries, coconut, cranberry sauce, dates (fresh), figs (fresh), grapefruit, grapes, lemons, mangos, nectarines, oranges, papaya, peaches, pears, persimmons, pineapple, plums, raspberries, strawberries, tangerines;
Small Amounts: Apples (sour is best), pomegranate;
Avoid: Dried fruit of any kind, cranberries.
Cooked vegetables are best because they are easier to digest.
Best: Avocado, beets, carrots (not as a juice), leeks, mustard greens, okra, onions (well cooked), parsnips, shallots, acorn squash, winter squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, water chestnuts;
Small Amounts: Broccoli, cauliflower, celery, corn, cucumber, eggplant, green beans, kale, medium chilies and hot peppers, mushrooms, potatoes, radishes, seaweed, spinach, sweet peas, zucchini. The following may be eaten uncooked with a creamy or oily dressing: lettuce, spinach, and any leafy green (occasional use only and with a spicy heavy dressing);
Avoid: Alfalfa sprouts, artichokes (unless served with a butter-lemon sauce), asparagus, bean sprouts, Brussels sprouts, cabbage (even cooked), raw vegetables, snow peas.
Nuts and Seeds
Lightly roasted nuts are best. Dry roasting should be avoided. Salted nuts are fine. Nut butters are highly recommended except for peanut butter.
Small Amounts: Cashews, filberts, pecans, pinon, pistachio, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds;
If you choose to eat meat, limit consumption to 2-3 times per week. Meat soups can be particularly nourishing during convalescence.
Best: Chicken or turkey (white meat only), beef, duck, eggs, fresh water fish, lamb, pork, seafood, venison;
Small Amounts: Dark meat, shellfish.
Best: Mung beans;
Small Amounts: Tofu and hummus;
Avoid: Aduki beans, black beans, chickpeas, fava beans, kidney beans, lentils, Mexican, navy, and pinto beans, soybeans (except as tofu or soy milk).
When spicing, the overall spiciness is more important than individual spices. Even some “Avoid” spices can be used if balanced with other spices on the “Best” list. For vata, food should be spiced moderately and never very hot or bland.
Best: Anise, basil, bay leaf, caraway, caramom, catnip, Cayenne pepper, cinnamon, clove, cumin, dill, fennel, fenugreek, garlic, ginger (fresh), marjoram, mustard, nutmeg, oregano, pepper, peppermint, poppy seeds, rosemary, saffron, sage, spearmint, thyme, turmeric;
Small Amounts: Cilantro, ginger (dry), horseradish, parsley, very hot mustards;
Avoid: Cayenne pepper.
Best: Mayonnaise and vinegar;
Small Amounts: Ketchup;
Avoid: Carob and chocolate.
Best: Three or four cups of room temperature or warm water per day. Spicy teas
such as chamomile, cinnamon, clove, and ginger. Try the Vata tea available at the front desk.
Small Amounts: Diluted fruit juices
Avoid: Black tea, coffee, fruit juices, carbonated mineral water, soft drinks, and all alcohol.
Lifestyle Recommendations for Vata
- Since Vata dosha is characterized as restless, constantly in motion and irregular, the primary lifestyle recommendation for balancing Vata is to maintain a regular routine. Try to get to bed before 10pm, awaken by 6am, and eat your meals at regular times. Follow a similar pattern of work and rest from day to day.
- Do not skip meals. Eat a nourishing lunch at mid-day and lighter meals at breakfast and dinner. Sit down to eat each meal, eat in a peaceful atmosphere with your attention on your food, and sit quietly for a few minutes after your meal. If your digestive fire is irregular, practicing these eating habits will help make it more regular.
- Daily elimination is very important to prevent undigested food particles from accumulating in the body. Incorporate digestive enzymes, probiotics and herbs to help promote regularity as well as toning the digestive system.
- To pamper dry skin, to promote circulation and to nourish and tone muscles and nerves, indulge in an ayurvedic massage every morning before you bathe or shower. Use using warmer, heavier oils like sesame, almond or jojoba oil for your massage. If you like, you can add 3-4 drops of a pure essential oil such as lavender or sweet orange to 2 oz. of massage oil. Mix well before use. Two or three time a week, massage your scalp with warm oil, and let the oil stay for an hour or two before you shampoo. After your shower or bath, apply a generous coating of a pure, gentle moisturizer all over your body to keep your skin feeling smooth all day long.
- Protect yourself from the cold and wind. Stay warm and toasty in cold weather by wearing several layers of clothing. Wear a hat and scarf when you go out to protect your ears and throat. Wear lip balm to prevent lips from getting dry and chafed.
- They experience periods of high energy, but they also tire easily. Light exercise that enhance balance and flexibility is best for a Vata body type. Take care not to push yourself too far and exceed the limits of your energy. Beneficial activities for Vatas include: yoga, Qi Gong, Tai Chi, walking and short hikes, light bicycling, light tennis, golf, dance, and aerobics.
- You may have to woo sleep if Vata dosha is aggravated. It is important to get to bed early, so that you can get adequate rest each night. A cup of warm milk, with a pinch of nutmeg, can be helpful before bedtime.
- Favor soothing, calming music.
- Favor warm colors in your clothing and environment such as earth colors, pastels, browns, and warm yellows.
- Set aside about 30 minutes each day for meditation, to help calm the mind and enhance body-mind-spirit coordination.