Vata dosha is the energetic force in the body that relates to the Air and Space element. Vata governs over all movement including circulation, respiration, and perception. Unfortunately, being the only dosha which possesses the ability to move, Vata is typically the easiest and most common dosha to become elevated or imbalanced.
If you are experiencing a Vata imbalance, it may manifest in a number of ways. Here are some common disorders that show an increased state of Vata in the system.
Common Vata Disorders
- Gas and bloating
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Difficulty sleeping through the night
- High anxiety, worry, and fear
- Quickly fluctuating emotions
- Restless mind
- Extra sensitive nervous system
- Dry, rough skin and hair
- Poor circulation (cold hands and feet)
- Popping or cracking joints
- Menstrual irregularities
- Low back pain
The first line of treatment for any imbalance is to REMOVE THE CAUSE. If you have a Vata imbalance, these tips will help to alleviate the symptoms. However, without removing the initial cause, the imbalance will remain. Here is a non-exhaustive list of some common instigators in the provocation of Vata.
Common Causes of Vata Imbalance
- Anxiety, worry, fear
- Lack of sleep
- Eating too little for your body type
- Too much movement (i.e. jumping, jogging, racing around)
- Too much talking
- Dry, light, cold, and raw foods
- Spicy, bitter, and astringent foods
- Leftover food
- Lack of a daily routine (i.e. sleep times, meal times)
- Going to bed too late
- Caffeine and other stimulants
- Refined sugar
- Suppressed urges (i.e. flatulence, burping, sneezing)
- Too many activities, overexertion
- Over-stimulation (i.e. prolonged loud noises, bright lights)
- Prolonged exposure to cold and/or windy conditions
Once you have discovered the cause, you can then work on removing it. Unfortunately, the longer the provocation, the stronger the imbalance will be. This simply means that the treatment time will increase for more chronic disorders. Whether your Vata imbalance is lifelong or just manifested, these simple yet powerful tips will help your body and mind find a state of balance.
How to Balance Vata
1. Oil, Oil, Oil!
Since Vata is dry by nature, oil is an essential part of many Vata reducing regimens. This includes both external and internal applications. Externally, it is recommended to perform Abhyanga or a self-oil massage. This can be a full body application or simply oiling the forehead and feet before bed. If constipation is present, it is recommended to massage the abdomen in a clockwise, circular rotation before bed. Another amazing external oiliation option is known as Shirodhara (seen in the picture above). Internally, one should use a healthy oil in cooking. The best oil for Vata will be sesame oil or ghee. Add one to two teaspoons to each meal to reduce Vata and enhance digestion and absorption.
2. Eat warm, well-cooked, and spiced foods.
Vata, being cold, rough, and dry by nature, needs warm and mushy foods for easy digestion. Eating raw, cold, and dry foods will lead to excessive Vata, causing gas, bloating, and constipation. This recommendation is even more important during the fall and winter months when Vata is at its strongest (due to the climate). This includes cold smoothies and raw juices which are very Vata provoking and, therefore, not recommended during a Vata imbalance. In general, some good meal options include: Soups, meat or bone broth, stews, oatmeal, porridge, non-processed whole grains, casseroles, crock-pot meals, and kitchari.
Recipes for Vata:
- Vata Kitchari Recipe
- Rejuvenation Kitchari
- Ojas Increasing Oatmeal
- Sweet Potato, Kale, and Brown Rice Scramble
- Vata-Soothing Root Veggie Stew
- Sauteed Kale and Golden Tahini Sauce
- Rejuvenating Ojas Drink
- Golden Milk
3. Establish a healthy, daily routine.
Having a consistent routine is vital for Vata and any Vata imbalance. This includes regular sleep times (i.e. 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.) and regular eating times (i.e. 8 a.m., 12 p.m., 6 p.m.). In order to establish health and balance, these times must become a daily habit. When you can get your daily activities regulated and organized, this will create an internal calmness and naturally pacify the Vata.
4. Slow down!
Vata is the master of movement and, therefore, when Vata is increased, one must slow this movement down. This can mean different things to each individual but includes:
- Eat slowly, sitting down, and with awareness. Do not eat on the go!
- Take deep breaths throughout the day
- Avoid stacking your plate too full
- Do one activity at a time
- Avoid excessive work
- Avoid excessive exercise (especially intense cardio)
- Avoid excessive talking and social activity
- Avoid staying up too late
5. Begin a daily meditation.
Beginning the day with a simple and short meditation can make a huge difference for calming the mind and decreasing Vata. Each morning, take 10-15 minutes to sit quietly, take some deep breaths, and process any racing thoughts. This morning routine is an amazing way to check in with yourself and start off the day with a strong foundation. Even if you have never meditated before, simply find a comfortable seat, close your eyes, stop all external movements, begin to take long, slow, deep breaths, and watch the mind and thoughts. Do this for 10-15 minutes. If you need to quiet the mind, bring the focus to each inhale, each exhale, and the quiet pause in between.
6. Nadi Shodhana Pranayama.
Also known as “alternate nostril breathing,” this simple yogic breathing technique is powerfully balancing to Vata (and all doshas!), anxiety, restless thoughts, exhaustion, an over-sensitive nervous system, and so much more. Practicing Nadi Shodhana for 10-15 rounds each morning, and again in the evening, will have profound effects on establishing balance in your life.
7. Do not skip meals.
Skipping meals is never a good thing, but is especially harmful to Vata types and Vata imbalances. Eating three healthy meals a day at proper times is crucial for reducing Vata after it has been increased. Skipping meals will inevitably lead to anxiety, spaciness, dizziness, low energy, depletion, restless thoughts, sleep issues, and other Vata disorders.
8. Stay Warm!
Vata, being cold by nature, makes it essential for bundling up and dressing for the season. If it is fall or winter, not only should you have layers and a warm jacket, but a hat, scarf, and gloves as well. If it is cold or windy outside, it is vital to cover the extremities along with the head, ears, and throat. Avoid staying out too long in the cold, and make sure to keep a comfortable indoor temperature. ***If you experience multiple seasons in one day, as we do here in Boulder, it is very important to be prepared with layers!
9. Take a warm bath before bed.
Vata provocation can lead to constriction throughout the body including in the muscles, GI tract, colon, and circulation. Taking a warm bath at the end of the day is a great way to reduce the systemic Vata, release the constriction, increase circulation, and reduce overall stress. Adding a ginger/baking soda blend, Epson salts, or calming essential oils will enhance these effects even more.
10. Take a gentle yoga class each week.
Gentle or Restorative Yoga is a powerful tool for reducing Vata. Vata needs slow, steady, grounding movements, and this style of yoga is sure to bring the kinetic energy down. Find a gentle yoga class in your area and go to this class each week. In order to see results, it is essential that you are consistent and attend at least one class per week. Once you get the hang of some of these calming postures, feel free to practice them at home. Some great postures include supported forward folds (i.e. paschimottanasana, janu shirsasana), reclined “butterfly” pose (supta badhakonasana), and “legs up the wall” (viparita karani variation).
Basti is the Ayurvedic term for an herbal enema. This may sound strange to our Western culture, but this practice is the number one treatment for Vata dosha. An herbal enema is typically done on a day when the food is simple and light (preferably kitchari) and can be performed first thing in the morning or in the evening 4 to 6 hours after the last meal. The traditional decoction of herbs is a Dashamul tea. This can be accompanied by sesame oil or ghee, if appropriate. Once performed, this powerful Vata reducing decoction is inserted into the colon, which is the “home” of Vata, and therefore will target Vata directly.
12. Vata reducing herbs.
Vata reducing herbs tend to be heavy, sweet, and unctuous by nature to soothe the light, astringent, and dry Vata. Some of the most well-known herbs for reducing Vata include Ashwagandha, Vidari, Bala, Yesthi Madhura, Dashamul, Shanka Pushpi, and Jatamansi. These grounding herbs can be taken with ghee to increase their effects and enhance rejuvenation and absorption.***Please note that these herbs should only be taken when under the guidance of a knowledgeable Ayurvedic Practitioner. Taking herbs “blindly” can lead to further imbalance if one does not look at the whole picture.
13. Get outside in Nature.
When it comes to grounding the body and mind, nothing works like Mother Nature. Going outside each day to take some fresh air, go for a nice walk, sit in the grass, walk in the woods, or sit by the water, is an optimal and easy way to instantly calm Vata. Vata, being of Air and Space, will naturally be pacified when you introduce a daily dose of the opposite elements, i.e. Earth and Water. This comes in many forms, so be creative with your environment. This can be even more essential in the winter months when we tend toward staying indoors all day. Going out for a gentle walk after lunch can do wonders for the mind and the mood.