How to tame your “vata”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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)?