Ayurveda teaches that one of the root causes of illness is living out of harmony with nature. This means living in a way that disrupts the balance of the doshas. It also translates as making choices—be they dietary or lifestlye—that are out of step with the seasons and other patterns of nature. By understanding our natural tendencies and the ways in which we commonly go out of balance, we can improve our chances of making wise decisions that keep us in good health and in step with the seasons.
What Causes a Vata Imbalance?
Vata dosha is dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, and mobile. Therefore, Vata becomes excessive and imbalanced when those qualities accumulate. This is more likely to happen to those with a predominance of Vata in their constitution (prakruti). However, it can happen to anyone. In particular, Vata imbalances are more likely to happen during the fall—the Vata time of year—and during the Vata time of life (the winter years). There are a number of other factors that can lead to a Vata imbalance. Here are a few of the common culprits.
Eating food that is light, dry, and cold
Since Vata dosha is light, dry, and cold, foods that embody those characteristics will aggravate Vata. If you are a Vata-type and/or if it is Vata season, focus on foods that are heavy, moist, and warm. Cold, dry foods such as salads, dry crackers, popcorn, and dried fruit should be avoided.
Irregular eating habits
Irregular eating habits, meaning eating at odd times and at different times every day, increases the mobile and irregular qualities of Vata dosha. It also disrupts the agni, and imbalanced agni is one of the root causes of illness according to Ayurveda.
Irregular sleep habits
Vata-types need the most sleep of all three doshas. Similarly to eating at irregular times, going to bed and awakening at odd hours is sure to vitiate Vata dosha. Also, lack of sleep will aggravate the delicate nervous system of Vata types, easily leading them into exhaustion.
Mobility is characteristic of Vata dosha. Therefore, the movement involved with travel, as well as any disruption in eating and sleeping habit, aggravates Vata dosha.
Excessive exposure to technology
Vata dosha is closely linked to the nervous system and Vata-types tend to have rather sensitive nervous systems. It is especially important for Vata-types to be wary of overexposure to technology. Too much time spent looking at screens or otherwise plugged into electronics can cause sensory overload for Vata-types. These folks are prone to overwhelm and nervous exhaustion, so it is important to set boundaries around technology and to reserve some time for quiet every day.
Vata Imbalance Symptoms
A Vata imbalance can manifest in a number of ways, and some of it depends upon the individual’s weak spots. For example, there may be a genetic tendency for heart issues, circulatory issues, digestive problems, mental health challenges, etc. However, when you observe the dry, light, cold, mobile qualities of Vata becoming exacerbated, this is symptomatic of a Vata imbalance. Here are some common signs of a Vata imbalance.
- Dry skin
- Dry hair
- Dry eyes
- Bloating and Gas
- Weight loss
- Muscle Atrophy
- Cold hands and feet
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Loss of concentration
- Difficulty following through on projects
- Compromised memory
- Feeling overwhelmed
How to Guard Against Vata ImbalanceThe means for addressing a Vata imbalance are actually quite intuitive once you understand the qualities of Vata dosha. Since Vata is dry, light, and cold, bring in the opposite. Vata dosha is balanced by the moist, heavy, and warm qualities. These qualities can be enjoyed in the form of foods, beverages, herbs, and lifestyle practices. If you are a Vata-type or simply wish to guard against a Vata imbalance during the Vata time of year, here are a few tips:
- Focus on warm, cooked, moist Vata reducing foods.
- Add warm spices to your foods such as cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and small amounts of black pepper.
- Do Abhyanga daily with warm sesame oil. This is an incredibly balancing and soothing daily practice for Vata dosha.
- Aim for regular meal times. Be sure not to skip meals, and plan your meals out so that you can make good food choices.
- Practice good sleep hygiene. Go to bed and awaken at roughly the same times daily. Especially during the fall and winter, get plenty of rest.
- Take 1-2 teaspoons of Chyawanprash every morning. Chyawanprash is full of rasayanas that are nourishing and balancing for Vata dosha.
- Take time daily to calm your nervous system and quiet your mind. Yoga, meditation, and time in nature are all wonderful ways to do this.
Vata Season Considerations
The Sanskrit word kala comes to mind when thinking about the doshas and seasonal cycles. Kala means time or timing. Understanding the optimal timing is key to harmonious living. Autumn is the season ruled by Vata dosha. Therefore, as bright summer light turns to autumn gold, tune into this natural shift. The transition from summer to fall marks the transition from Pitta season to Vata season, and it is wise to make dietary and lifestyle shifts accordingly. If summer is the time for salads, fresh fruit, and cooling foods, fall is the time for root veggies, soups, stews, porridges, and warm, spicy beverages. This change from summer to fall doesn’t happen overnight. Thus, adjustments to your daily meals can also happen gradually. If you are looking for a guide, pay attention to what’s in season. You may notice that you will see more Vata-balancing fruits and veggies come into season in the fall. Sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and beets are all great additions to an autumn spread. Add nuts and good quality oils such as ghee to your autumn veggies for an added Vata-balancing effect. In closing, Ayurveda is not a one-size-fits-all system. Knowing your constitution and keeping the flow of the seasons in mind will help keep you balanced all year round.
Greta Kent-Stoll is a Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner (NAMA), as well as a writer, editor, and Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher. Her Ayurveda practice is based in Asheville, North Carolina and she is the co-owner of Iyengar Yoga Asheville.