Vata as it manifests in the body and the mind
Thin physique, flexible, non-symmetrical, lanky, tendency toward cold, dry skin and nails, variable digestion, small channels, small facial features, pale skin, artistic, imaginative, ability to think outside the box, enjoys snacking and eating smaller meals.
Common vata disorders
Malnourished, rigid or too flexible without strength, poor circulation, brittle nails and hair, tendency toward channel infections, gray skin, anxiety, nervousness, indecisiveness, dry constipation, forgetting to eat or take care of oneself, tendency toward debilitating disorders or nervous system disorders.
Vata in Nature and the Physiology
Air is movement. When air moves, it is very variable. When you feel it against your skin, it can be cold. When it blows all around you, it can be drying. Ether, on the other hand, is nothingness — or space. When we put the two together, we get the quality called vata.
Physiologically, vata represents movement and is responsible for circulation, respiration, elimination, musculoskeletal movement, and the cavities in the body. Its major purpose is to create mechanisms for moving and transporting things in the body from point A to point B such as breathing and blood flow.
The Vata Body and Mind
The vata body and mind are flexible, with a tendency toward non-symmetrical, lanky bodies and small facial features. Their skin is often pale, cold, and dry, as is their hair and nails. Vatas have variable digestion and enjoy snacking and eating smaller meals. You can usually tell someone with a vattic digestion because their taste buds are variable. Their preferences tend to swing across the flavor profile spectrum, sometimes loving spicy food and sometimes having a hard time with it. Have you ever heard someone say that ketchup was too spicy? They were probably a vata!
Of course, not everyone who avoids spices is a vata, and this is especially true of children with undeveloped taste buds. One of my earliest memories is of inviting my Canadian classmates over for lunch on my birthday. I requested pizza, and my mom volunteered to make it from scratch. In typical Indian fashion, she added cumin and coriander to the tomato sauce. Little did she know that most children in 1980s Newfoundland had a different palate, having never been exposed to spices other than salt and pepper. To my horror, the wailing started when the first kid bit into the pizza and bemoaned that it was too spicy to eat. The party was a disaster, and I was so embarrassed.
Mentally, vatas are natural storytellers, artists, inventors, and dreamers. They are imaginative and have the ability to think outside the box. They find their self-realization through non-attachment and seeking freedom from the ordinary, so to speak, to shift their perspective and discover new ways to look at the world. This brings about a change in the mind that leads to a greater understanding of the Self, allowing those with vata predominance to find unique solutions to problems.
Left to their own devices, vatas would rather not follow a routine. If I recommended a diet for a vata patient that involved eating the same breakfast every day, they would never come to see me again. When balanced, vatas see the value in routine and how it helps them stay grounded, but they still need variety to explore all their inner possibilities. Give them wings and let them fly.
Vata at Work
Vatas tend to be artistic by nature. They gravitate toward occupations where they can be creative — jobs such as painting, sculpting, landscape architecture, or design. But they are also attracted to professions that may seem too rigid for the vata constitution at first glance. Engineering, law, and medicine can be great vata professions because they ask the worker to push for alternative ways of thinking. As long as the job provides space to create, reform, rebrand, or find new solutions to old problems, it is probably well-suited. In general, vatas do not thrive in the nine-to-five office setting; however, in some cases that setting can be balancing for a vata and allow flexibility later in the day.
Vata in Love
It is important to remember that, when we talk about the doshas and how they move through the world, we are providing general guidelines that may help you understand how you or your partner interact in a relationship. While our capacity to be in a relationship is related to our constitution, it also has so much to do with our childhood and the things we bring forward from our past experiences.
Vatas tend to be the kind of partner that is very flexible and even bordering on indecisive. When two vatas are paired together, their relationship may lack structure, but they will have a lot of fun exploring the world together, traveling, and creating new experiences every day. Vatas pair best with kaphas, even though some consider the two constitutions to be opposites. The kapha partner provides groundedness for the vata while the vata helps the kapha step outside their own stagnation. When it comes to vatas and pittas, there is a story that says these two constitutions have been fighting since the beginning of time. One wants to enjoy life by stopping and smelling the flowers while the other is more interested in ensuring security and stability for the partnership. The two can work well together if they acknowledge what each one brings to the relationship.
If you are with someone who is vata by nature, remember to give them the gift of flexibility, the ability to travel, and space when they need it.
Vata and Exercise
Vatas like to dance, do Pilates, and practice yoga asanas that take advantage of their naturally variable, flexible bodies. Sometimes dancing can perpetuate vata, but I would never ask a vata to stop doing it, because that would be like clipping their wings. If they lose their passion and love, what is the point of exercising? I do generally recommend that vatas find some linear activity to add to their weekly routine, like cycling, rowing, or swimming. Weight training is excellent for this constitution as it balances them, and I also recommend grounding and stabilizing exercises such as hatha yoga.
Specific Dietary Principles for Vata
When considering which foods to consume for vata constitutions, the most important thing to encourage is consistency. Vatas should eat a sufficient amount of food at the same time each day. Warm foods and drinks are key, as are foods with plenty of moisture, oils, and fats. Vatas should avoid a vegan diet because it would eliminate many of the sweet tastes (which are grounding to vatas) from the diet. Saturated fats are critical for bringing stability to the vata body and mind.
Vata imbalances can happen to anyone — that is to say, someone who is pitta or kapha can have a vata imbalance. Sometimes it is as simple as the wind picking up and everyone becoming vata in nature. If this happens, you may feel aggravated or have the urge to go inside. Flying can increase vata, and I commonly see patients who tell me they become constipated only when they travel. Anyone who has had a sudden loss or change in life has felt the onset of a vata imbalance brought on by trauma. You may feel as if you do not know what to do next, or you may become confused about where to go.
When imbalanced, vata manifests its cold, dry qualities. Everything becomes constricted, leading to poor circulation, constipation, urinary tract infections, or ear infections. The body can become malnourished, rigid, or too flexible without strength, the hair and nails brittle, and the skin gray. Mentally, you may forget to eat or take care of yourself, and anxiety and nervousness can increase.
I do not have a lot of vata in my constitution, and I have always lived my life in a more pitta or kapha way. I did not have much empathy for the vata constitution until I experienced it firsthand with the tragedy of the sudden loss of my husband. I became disoriented in the weeks following his death, driving my car somewhere and forgetting why I wanted to go there in the first place, or forgetting what I was saying mid-sentence.
To find restoration from a vata imbalance, the simplest thing to do is stabilize the person with routine and food. This method calls for consistency — creating a routine around what time you wake and go to bed each day, the foods you eat and when you eat them, and the activities you perform. Someone who is vata in nature may not want to create a routine, but it is important to act in the other direction to correct the imbalance, even if just for a little while.
As for diet, food must be warm and cooked with good oils and fats to help stabilize the body. Balancing vata requires increasing macronutrients like complex carbohydrates, proteins, and fats that the body needs for proper function. When I was disoriented by the sudden death of my husband, I allowed myself to gravitate toward the remedies that would pacify the natural increase of vata. I did not fault myself for shifting my diet, eating heavy foods such as macaroni and cheese, ice cream sandwiches, or fried foods that are not normally suited for my kapha predominance. While this may not be viewed as a “healthy” approach, it was the natural path toward becoming grounded in a time of uncertainty. They are called comfort foods for a reason.
When vatas are imbalanced, it is good for them to perform the normal activities that their constitution enjoys (like Pilates and yoga) while taking a break from anything too haphazard (like unstructured dancing or other free-flowing activities). Linear activities (such as bicycling, walking, or weightlifting) are better for the out-of-balance vata, as is swimming (if the weather is permissible and it does not introduce excess cold). Hatha yoga or restorative yoga is best for those with increased vata, but hot yoga is not recommended. This may seem counterintuitive because vatas are cold, but the practice can be aggravating. (If you think about the elements behind vata, imagine how fire dries out the air.)
Ayurveda also encourages oil therapies. These include abhyanga self-oil massage, nasya oil nasal therapies, and massaging warm oils into the scalp or the bottom of the feet. When my husband passed away, one of the best things I did for myself was to soak my feet in warm water every evening, putting a thin layer of ghee on the bottoms of my feet afterward to help me sleep and settle my restless mind.
The principles state that a sitting meditation practice is best for vatas, but in my experience, vatas find it very difficult to sit and meditate. In this case, it can be necessary to break the rules a little bit and allow the vata constitution to find meditation in different ways, like using a walking meditation to clear their mind. I once had a vata patient who had a full-time job, took care of her ailing mother-in-law, and had three children, one of whom had a disability. Others had told her to slow down and meditate in order to be at peace with herself, but she could not find the time. During our conversations, I discovered that the one thing she did for herself every day was to go for a run to clear her mind. Although running aggravates vata, it was her sole form of “meditation”. If her circumstances were more conducive to sitting and resting, traditional meditation might have been well-suited for reducing the aggravation of the stressors in her life. That said, I would never force a sitting meditation practice on someone who was already stressed until they were ready.