Managing the Vata Dosha for a Healthy Constitution
Profile of Balanced Vata Constitution: Picture a person with lean, toned muscles, a bounce in her step, a productive worker, and astute conversationalist. She awakens with a smile on her face and has regular, pleasant trips to the toilet each morning. Balanced vata is a peaceful, happy, adaptable, lover of sun, warmth, and–you could probably guess–sex. She’s open to change and self-expansion.
Profile of Unbalanced Vata Constitution: Imagine someone bundled in wool sweaters, shaking, worrying incessantly about whether she turned off the stove before she left the house. Her skin is dry and rough, her head hurts, and her tummy is bloated from frequent bouts of constipation. She sits, unmoving and unable to decide which Netflix pic to go with so she chooses nothing at all because the choices are so overwhelming.
Sound familiar? Don’t worry vata, I know what it’s like too. You don’t have to change your whole life; there is relief within easy solutions for re-establishing balance and managing this powerful dosha so she doesn’t end up in this place too often. But first, we need to understand vata’s energy.
The Dosha of Movement and Expansion
Vata is the strongest of the doshas. It pervades the body and is responsible for movement, nervous system activities, and elimination. It is the only dosha comprised of ether, without which fire, air, earth water, or cosmic matter could not exist. Similarly, air is prana which is the core of all life. It flows throughout the body and must be balanced for physical and mental health. If ever you feel ‘stuck’ somewhere in the body, a vata imbalance is probably to blame. Managing this energy is easy with the right breathing techniques, food, and lifestyle practices. I know all about this as my constitution is almost entirely vata.
Managing the vata dosha, or any of the three doshas that comprise our being and constitution means mitigating any of the qualities that comprise a particular dosha. Vata is rough, dry, cold, light, ungrounded, and irregular so acting to reduce those qualities and managing them appropriately is our primary concern if an imbalance occurs. We can accomplish that through the way we eat, breathe, move our bodies, and the times of day we choose to rest or be active. I find grounding activities particularly important for balancing my tendencies toward flightiness and insecurity, so I included some ways for managing that below.
Side note: If you’re anything like me, you’re probably thinking, OMG, the more I learn about the fascinating world of Ayurveda, the more I realize its magnificent depth, and I could spend a lifetime studying it!
Pancha Pranas: The Five Types of Vata Dosha in the Body
Managing this dosha with the goal of a healthy, balanced constitution, also means understanding its different seats within the physical body and learning to guide and control the breath therapeutically. Like the pitta dosha has five fires, vata dosha has pancha pranas, or five types of air, or vayu, situated throughout the body. If you are experiencing an imbalance, consider where your body feels stuck and then use the accompanying tips for managing a specific imbalance.
Apana Vata – Seated in the pelvis, apana vata is also the site of the muladhara chakra–our root chakra. Comprised of the earth element, it is responsible for feelings of groundedness, and it governs elimination as its direction is down and out, but it also retains things. Imbalance of this sub-dosha may manifest as bowel issues, menstrual or sexual problems, and affect bone density.
TIP: To balance this sub-dosha, concentrate on exhalation and suspension. Pull your breath into your belly and direct it toward your feet. Hold while focusing on the pelvic floor/muladhara chakra. Exhale.
Samana Vata – This sub-energy is comprised of the fire element and is seated in the solar plexus and manipura chakra. It unites apana and prana and moves from the periphery of the body inward. An imbalance may cause poor digestion and bloating.
TIP: For simple managing of this sub-dosha, inhale, retain the breath momentarily, and contract your abdominal muscles as you exhale. You may also want to try uddiyana bandha, or an abdominal lock, heeding all stated precautions.
Prana Vata – There is an Ayurvedic proverb that mortals eat food with apana, while the Gods eat food with prana, meaning spiritual growth requires control of apana through prana. (A goal of yoga is to unite prana and apana in the navel to achieve balance). This sub-dosha is seated in the heart/chest and the anahata chakra. Its element is air, and thus, prana is our basic driver in life, necessary for the health of the whole body. It is responsible for intake and moves down from the head. Imbalance may lead to issues of mind, such as fear and anxiety, or problems with respiration.
TIP: To balance this sub-dosha, pull the energy of your inhalation through your sensory openings (nose, eyes, ears, and mouth) and release the energy of the exhalation through the third eye (ajna chakra).
Udana Vata – This sub-dosha moves upward and is thus, responsible for growth, will, effort, and speech or sound production. It is seated in the throat and head (vishuddha and ajna chakras), and its element is ether. An imbalance may manifest as an inability to article ideas, speech issues, shortness of breath, and emotional repression.
TIP: To balance this sub-dosha, concentrate on the quality of your exhalations while assuming hansi mudra (gesture of the swan). In a seated position and using both hands, touch the tips of your forefinger, middle finger, and ring finger to your thumb, leaving your pinkie finger pointing up. Stay in this position with your eyes closed for at least 10 minutes a day, longer if you can.
Vyana Vata – Seated in the center of the heart and the svadisthana chakra, this sub-energy permeates our whole body and corresponds to the water element. Opposite to samana, it moves from the center of the body outward to its periphery. It governs the distribution of vital nutrients and is involved in cardiac activity, circulation, and nervous system activities. An imbalance may result in edema, poor circulation, or heart problems.
TIP: Managing this sub-energy with the breath requires a deep inhalation and pause to retain the breath for a few seconds. Release slowly. Practice heart-opening asanas, such as bridge pose and standing mountain pose.
Five Essentials for Achieving Balance
Having a primarily vata constitution, I’ve listed five necessary factors in managing this powerful, moving dosha. As we know, any one thing will not usually make all the difference. You’ll probably find that practicing a combination of the five tips (and the tips above) will bring you closer to a healthy, balanced constitution than just observing one or two.
ROUTINE is especially important because of the vital role this dosha plays in maintaining functions of the body. Managing your routine means waking up at the same time every day and sticking to routine eating times to regulate your system and align with your natural circadian rhythm. You’ll feel a closer connection to nature and experience mental fog and indecision much less frequently. Women will also find that their menstrual cycles are more regular.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT FOODS. It requires some discipline but you can do it if you set your mind to it Vata. Sweet, salty, and sour tastes are your best options. Reduce pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes as they increase this dosha. For countering the inherent cold attribute, eat warm, cooked foods that are easy to digest so your energy is reserved for vital body functions like cleansing the blood and repairing tissues. Learn more about the best foods for you in this detailed overview of the vata dosha.
KEEP WARM. Managing your internal temperature is essential to physical and mental health and concentration. Cold vata doesn’t move but instead remains stagnant somewhere in the body, and may manifest pathologically. Vatas are averse to cold and love the sun. But we can’t always be in warm, sunny places so dressing to stay warm by bundling up in cool temperatures is essential to retaining body heat and preventing a chill.
STAY GROUNDED. Vatas have a tendency to feel ungrounded, which is not surprising given that the air and space that comprise this dosha hold no tangible substance like earth, water, and fire. When I’m struggling with a vata imbalance, I always start with grounding activities such as gentle, slow yoga, walking, and swimming in warm water (feeling safe and warm is essential for a healthy, balanced dosha). Yoga that stimulates apana vata, or the muladhara chakra, (earth element) is particularly good for this dosha because it promotes groundedness and security. Earthing and meditation that focuses on the base of the spine while chanting “lum” are also great techniques for vata disorders.
SLOW DOWN ON SEX. Vatas tend to have traditional values around sex so having sex in the context of love and romance is essential for keeping Vata interested and aroused. If necessary, plan a time to engage in sexual intimacy with your partner and leave your worries outside the bedroom door. Too much thinking can turn you off very quickly. Similarly, too much sex can be very unbalancing for this dosha. As much as you may want a good daily romp, an excess can create more problems than pleasure for your constitution.
Managing a Healthy Constitution Starts with Knowledge
A search online for tips on managing a vata imbalance will result in numerous quick fixes. Most of them are valid and easy to do, but understanding why an imbalance occurs and how it manifests in the physical body is fundamental to not only treating it properly and maintaining a healthy constitution, but also preventing more serious health conditions. Because this dosha is the strongest of the three energies, managing it from a place of understanding of how wind energy (vayu) moves through the body is essential to the health of the whole body and a balance of the tri-doshas. Lifestyle practices and diet are the most practical ways of managing this dosha, so an imbalance of this dosha may be a good time to try out some different activities to support your inherent tendency toward self-expansion and make some changes in the way you eat. An Ayurvedic diet is the key managing your constitution–learn about the forgotten language of food here.
Most importantly vata–stay warm and breathe. You are destined to meet your higher self.