Yesterday, in an interview for Yoga Journal, I was asked what lifestyle techniques I wholeheartedly swear by. I’ve been saving this trick up for a while to share…it’s certainly one of the main approaches I live by for maximum wellness and solid-to-goodness ground-ed-ness.

I tame my vata.

But I have a theory. I believe untamed vata is the reason why people in our culture are feeling more and more unsettled and angsty, and getting weirdly unwell as a result. I make a big call, but read on.

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Our “vata” is out of balance. Contemporary life turns us into vata types. But it also aggravates vata energy. We’re set up to #epicfail!

Have no idea what I’m talking about?

OK, I’ll break this whole vata thing down

* Vata is an Ayurvedic term.

* Ayurvedic healing, IMO, is the most grounded approach I’ve encountered. Yoga as we know it today – all of it – and meditation and a lot of the dietary theory I espouse comes from this tradition which is more than 5000 years old (some say 10,000). It started in India. Buddhism stemmed from it 3000 years ago.

* If you want to learn more, Deepak Chopra’s book Perfect Health is a good start.

* Anyway. According to Ayurvedic thinking, we’re all made up of 3 doshas – vata, pitta and kapha. This is less woo-woo than it sounds. Promise. It’s simply a way to categorise body/personality types that exist for a multitude of evolutionary reasons. We all possess all three doshas, but tend to have one that dominates. Our dominant dosha can get out of balance, which causes us different digestion/weight, health and emotional issues.

Make sense?

So, generally…

Vata types have: light, flexible bodies and big, protruding teeth; small, recessed, dry eyes;  irregular appetite and thirst; often experience digestive and malabsorption problems; easily excited; alert and quick to act without much thinking; may give a wrong answer but with great confidence. Their dominant force is wind so do not like sitting idle, and seek constant action. They’re FLIGHTY! Vatas hate cold. Hate, hate, hate it. They need warm, mushy foods to bring them back down to earth. And they love summer.

Pitta types have: a medium frame and weight. They seldom gain or lose much weight. Their eyes are bright but tend to be sensitive to light. Pitta people usually have strong appetite and thirst. They have excellent abilities for learning, understanding and concentrating; highly disciplined; can be judgmental, critical and perfectionistic, and tend to become ANGRY  easily; have moderate strength, medium span of life. Their force is fire – so summer is the time when pitta gets easily aggravated. Sunburn, poison ivy, prickly heat and short tempers are common. Pittas need and love cooling foods (salads), and should avoid chilies and hot spices. I’ve noticed pitta men are often bald…too much heat coming out the top of their heads!

Kaphas types have: a strong and large body frame, big eyes, strong teeth and thick, curly hair; thick, smooth, oily and hairy skin; slow digestion and metabolism which often result in weight gain; cravings for sweet and salt; a calm, steady mind;  a deep melodious voice and a monotonous pattern of speech. Kapha is a an earthy type and can get heavy – they need firing up. The respond well to coffee and spices. Kapha tends to get aggravated as the moon gets full and during the winter and early spring, when the weather is heavy, wet and cloudy…it makes them too heavy and damp.

* To find out what type you are, Deepak Chopra has this “what dosha are you” quiz you can do.

But this is key: Vata controls the whole lot. And if vata is out of whack, everything goes to pieces. All the doshas become unbalanced.

let’s look at what gets vata grumpy….

I’ll bold the things that strike me as particular to modern life, as in it’s stuff that we’re increasingly exposed to or served up or told is good for us. See if you agree.

* cold weather and exposure to wind or air-conditioning.

* cold foods – iced water, refrigerated foods, green salads

* food that is dry, rough or light in properties (I’m thinking cereals and rice cakes and pretty much everything in the “health food” aisles) and irregular eating habits.

* excessive physical exercise, particularly of a strongly aerobic nature

* lack of proper rest, mental and emotional stress and anything that disturbs the peace or security of a person.

and what happens when vata is upset?

We get cold, constipation, lack of energy, loss of sleep, fatigue, emaciation, abdominal distention with flatulence, defective sensory functioning. Psychological symptoms include fear, anxiety, insecurity, confusion, and aimless talking.

Familiar?

but in addition….

I think that modern life demands that we become vata-ish. We’re expected to be fast, fleety, jumping from one thing to the next, give answers “even if they’re incorrect”, not concentrating fully, toggling, being thin(!), not settling on one thing, demanding lots of choices…and so on.

So, modern life not only upsets our vata, it makes us vata-like in the first place!

I know all this because my dominant dosha is – surprise, surprise – vata.

And I know my vata is being pushed to the limits all around me. It’s niggled by air-con, loud voices, cold drinks.

And that this has in the past made me sick…and now can impede my wellness.

so what to do?

The simple answer: we must passify or de-excite our vata when we’re feeling it being whipped up.

Below is what I do. I think ALL of us, no matter our dominant dosha, need to be mindful of these things. So that we’re not thrown by vata. Also, bear in mind vata healing requires patience and consistency over a long period of time. I know, I know…friggen hard if you’re a vata. Life’s like that.

Finally, these tips are particularly crucial at this time of year. Vatas don’t like being cold!

So, overall:

1. get warm

2. combat dryness with oils

3. replace the light flutteriness with heaviness

4. replace roughness with smoothness

5. be consistent

  • I eat warm, smooth, heavy foods like soups and stews and root vegetables. Sweet potato soup with coconut milk is ideal! I avoid ricecakes or breakfast cereals…dry stuff.
  • I warm most foods…even just a little. Or eat salad at room temperature if possible.
  • The three ayurvedic tastes that help balance vata are sweet, sour and salty – milk, salted toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds make good snacks. Eat less of the bitter, pungent and astringent tastes. Nuts are wonderful vata-pacifiers. Oily!
  • Walking is the ideal exercise… gentle, 20 minutes. Yoga is also good. Vigorous, jumpy exercise ain’t good when vata is playing up.
  • I wear heavy clothing and use heavy bedding – thick blankets on top of my doona. Heavy things ground vata.
  • I always drink water as a tea, or at least warm.
  • Try tea with fennal and licorice. Try the Maharishi Ayur Veda Vata Tea – Licorice, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon. Chai is also great. Tim Brown also makes an amazing range of dosha teas…
  • I eat lots of oils and butter (not deep fried or greasy stuff)
  • I wear socks and I protect myself from wind. Scarves are my friend.
  • Saunas are great… warm and still!
  • Oils! I use Rosehip oil on my face and untoasted sesame oil on my body. Argan oil in my hair. It works to ground me.
  • Be aware that noise will throw you. Don’t be ashamed to turn down volume!
  • Maintain a regular routine as much as you can – regular bedtime, regular getting up, regular meal times. I never skip meals – this makes me fluttery and jittery.
  • Don’t travel too much…moving about in cars, trains, planes sends vata to pieces
  • This is a tricky one – I avoid flighty, jittery people…

Have you come across Ayurvedic thinking? Does the above resonate with you (even if you think the premise sounds bloody weird)?


Have your say, leave a comment.

  • Nicky Roberts

    Thank you for this great post. I’ve been dabbling in the peripherals of Ayurvedic medicine for years (I’m Pitta) but not been consistent about it. Your post has convinced me that I need to be paying closer attention to this dietary piece. I Love the practical tips!

  • B

    Such perfect timing Sarah (as always) thank you.
    I have been wondering ‘why’ I am so off for the past week or so – I skipped yoga last week, been drinking way to many cold smoothies instead of eating meals and have been waking up cold in the early hours unable to get back to sleep. After ready this and doing the Chopra quiz – all I really need is warmth.

  • Nancy J

    I am South Indian, but raised in NZ and I find that your take on Ayurveda is a refreshing Western guide for those who don’t know about ayurvedic. Like you I am Vata but my mother is a grounded Kapha so maybe this is why we get along so well.

    Also if you want a delicious sooth drink, try Indian buttermilk with yoghurt as the base and warm water to make it slightly runny – ginger diced with the juice also, curry leaves slightly toasted in oil and salt to taste. “It’s cooling for the body, but at a warm temperature” as my mother would say – so when you are suffering from Pitta symptoms here is what you need to try! x

    • nancy j

      for those who don’t know about ayurveda* (typo)

  • Ken

    This is so good! Thank you.

  • Maria

    I am really struggling at the moment with vata derangement but it’s not possible for me to stop travelling as I live a long way from where I work and my days start at different times so one morning I am up early the next I’m not. I am not in the position to be able to change my life to support me having a routine. 🙂

  • Narayani

    Sarah, you’ve helped me a lot here. I am Pitta Kapha but I came out of menopause with a vatta imbalance. So I need to learn more about balancing vatta. I live in a very dry, hot and windy climate. I used to be able to do vigorus aerobic exercise – like running, or swimming distance, but lately I find myself very vatta after exercise like that. Now I have support for my theory that gentle walking and swimming is better for me (along with my regular gentle yoga practice).

    I see so many vatta imbalances in my students too. We ARE living in very vatta times.

  • rachel

    Sarah: Buddhism did not ‘stem from’ Ayurveda. Or the Vedic teachings! Please — I really support what you are doing and think you are right on with the comments you make about chronic, societal Vata imbalance. These ancient systems have a lot of value to offer us. There is no need for this inaccurate and confusing conflation/linkage. (I say this as a qualified yoga teacher who uses a range of Ayurvedic and hatha yoga practices, and someone who has had the good fortune to deeply study and practice Buddhist teachings.)

    • Bob

      She said Buddhism stemmed from ancient yogic teachings. Buddha tried being a yogi first, after which he chose the middle path.

  • rachel

    Hi Adam, it’s not uncommon to be what’s termed “bi-dosha”. Although pitta-vata might be more common than kapha-pitta! There’s a lot of nuance to this. When I was studying this, my teacher gave us diagnostic questionnaires that illuminated our “base” dosha (kind of what we’re born with) along with where we’re at right now (that base dosha plus all the things acting on it). That’s why vata imbalance (or vata derangement as I think of it) is so common, because in the West we live in a society that aggravates vata virtually non-stop.

  • Gerry

    I am definity predominant Vata and some pitta I think. My biggest problem is the need to stick to routine

  • Jacquie

    You can be Kapha with a rajasic mind, the gunas express the state of mind….
    Look at your body type would be best to describe your Dosha, but for state of mind, look at the Gunas

  • Air+Light

    I am vata as well, I drink ginger honey tea often to calm and ground me. I like being Vata though. I am light, fine boned and I have a tiny little waist 🙂

  • Air+Light

    I am vata as well, I drink ginger honey tea often to calm and ground me. I like being Vata though.

  • Jenna Erb

    I’ve got an eratic schedule and drive lots for work. Working on taming my vata. This week, I’m swapping out my blue and turquoise things for warming oranges and reds- particularly scarves and bedding.

  • Erin F

    Hi Sarah!! Erin here- I work at The Chopra Center in SoCal, and I
    L
    O
    V
    E
    Your breakdown of vata imbalance and tips!! You make doshas easy to understand and simply…not an easy task!
    I’m on week one of your 8 week program and I’ve got Ayurvedic support from the center and everyone cheering me on…Thank You!!!
    Please come visit us at The Center when you are in SoCal!!! Ayurvedic massage is an amazing way to calm vata!!!
    Xo- Erin

  • Tanya Horsnell

    I am also a poster girl for Vata. Absolutely everything about Vata resonates with me. Right now I am sitting here, with goosebumps after drinking a cold green smoothie, kicking myself for not having something warming instead. I know better! Learning ayurvedic principles has been so beneficial to me, and it was after reading ‘I Quit Sugar’ that I began delving into it. So Thankyou Sarah!

  • Nikki

    Hi,
    I am Vata except my skin is very oily and last couple years I’ve been getting cystic acne. I was always vwru skinny but over the last couple uears have gained weight and i need to loose 25 pounds. I was wondering which diet should i follow the Vata or Kapha?

  • Surbhi

    Hi, I know I’m a bit late jumping on the boat but I was wondering if it’s okay for my vatta dosha to do abhyanga wiht coconut oil that has been heated up? I have lots and lots of coconut oil but no sesame oil. Also where can I get good cheap sesame oil? I use the coconut oil from Costco that’s organic and amazing and it costs 16 dollars for 54oz

  • Hannah

    If Vata dominates your body, how could you stop eating sugar? From everything I’ve read, and being a Vata myself, it’s most important to eat sweet, sour, and salty! How could you cut out one of these suggestions!!

  • I think i am vata. I was doing raw foods and did like a detox and then I went vata nervous. They said I need more nuts. I like what you wrote I actually did more cooked foods or dehyrated. I can’t always handle the raw cold it’s like I get wired.

    Now I think I’ll stick more to vegan or dehydrated or only some cold or raw. Plus its winter time right now where I live. I think now I might be doing like a maintenance diet. I’m not sure it’s from David Avocado Wolfe. He likes raw foods but he does talk about vata.

    I’m glad I found your post. I love all warm things, cozy things and grounding things. I think my kids are like that too. We all like cozy, warm things and baths.

    Thanks for helping me discover what I need for grounding. I was thinking root vegetables. Thanks 🙂

    Thanks for the post.