The Characteristics of VATA: Diet, Body Type and Personality

As we’ve learned, there are three doshas, or constitutions, in Ayurveda. One of the those is Vata.

 

But what is Vata? Vata means, “that which moves things.” It is known as the biological air (wind) humor and is considered the motivating force behind the other two humors that are immobile without it. It also governs our sensory and mental balance, promoting mental adaptability and comprehension.

General Features of Vata

The main attributes of Vata are: Dry, cold, light, irregular, mobile, subtle, rough. These qualities manifest in many ways. For instance, the vata person has a quick mind, and is usually flexible and resourceful. They are often ‘on the go’ and busy, both mentally and physically. They are usually thin and may have trouble gaining weight. Their bodies are narrow, particularly the shoulders and hips, and their joints prominent (read more about the vata body type below). This group tend to have dry skin, hair, and mucous membranes, with skin cold to the touch. It’s no surprise then that they love the sun. Their appetite is irregular, and they experience frequent digestive disturbances, which may account for their fluctuating energy levels and sleeping difficulties. They feel pain intensely and often feel nervous and fearful as well. These people usually have difficulty establishing routines, leading to scattered, disorganized lives. In Ayurveda, vata naturally increases with age so this type of person experiences these qualities more intensely in later years.

Their Characteristics

There is a tendency for irregularity in the vata body type, which often presents as opposing physical characteristics. These people may exhibit the following features:

  • Very tall or very short, hardly in between.
  • Irregularities such as a crooked nose or dangly arms.
  • Thin or thick bones with prominent joints.
  • Underdeveloped frames with narrow shoulders, chest, and hips.
  • Small, hard, and tight muscles, as seen in slender thighs, calves, and arms.
  • Underweight (most can eat in abundance without gaining any weight)
  • Small hands and feet.
  • Dry, cracking joints.
  • Rough, dry skin with possible cracks or fissures.
  • Tan easily and have darker-than-average skin.
  • Small, narrow head, forehead, and face, with dark, dry, and thin lips and a slim nose that is small but long and crooked.
  • Receding gums and crooked teeth, often small or too big, affect this persons mouth (buck teeth are a significant sign of some vata in a person).
  • Thin eyebrows cap small, dry, lifeless eyes that are often unsteady, and usually dark brown, slate blue, violet, or gray.
  • Their tongue is typically slender and small, long and dull, or pale and cracked.
  • Dark or black hair that is coarse, dry, wavy, frizzy, curly, or wiry, prone to dandruff and split ends.
  • Small, fine, dry, rough, cracked, and darkish nails, and a tendency to bite them.
  • Produce very little sweat.
  • Thin, shallow, and fast pulse with a broken and variable rhythm felt most strongly under the index finger, and arteries that feel cold and hard.

Digestion

Their appetite is variable and irregular. With eyes bigger than their stomachs, they often eat too quickly, preferring foods considered harmful in the vata diet, such as hot, oily, heavy, and spicy. They may feel dizzy, disoriented or lightheaded when hungry, often needing snacks between meals to stay energized. Vatas commonly feel bloated and constipated, and produce flatulence and hard, dark-colored stools. For some, gut functioning alternates from periods of constipation to bouts of loose stools or diarrhea. Good eating habits are essential for proper digestion. We’ll address the elements of a good vata diet later. This group might also wake to a bitter or astringent taste in their mouths in the morning.
girl eating pizza

Energy Levels

Energy often comes in bursts for vata-dominant people. It’s not unusual to see them charging all over the place and then crashing out when their battery runs dry. They possess low stamina for physical exercise and tend to work themselves to the limit, which is ultimately destructive. They must learn to relax and will experience considerable benefits in practices such as yoga and Tai Chi, and maintaining a balanced vata diet.

Sleep

Insomnia and awakening with a head full of superficial worries is common. Dreams may involve flying, jumping, running, being chased or some other fear-inspired episode. Keeping a dream journal will help them sort out and alleviate stresses that contribute to a restless sleep.

Temperature

As ‘cold and dry’ are its main attributes, the vata dosha is easily aggravated by cold and especially, windy weather. The body does not produce strong internal heat and is rather cold-blooded so to speak, causing a craving for warmth and the sun. They may also be over-sensitive to pain, noise, and drafts.

Voice

The voice of someone with a vata constitution is typically low, weak, hoarse, and prone to cracking. They speak quickly and with a rising pitch. They often digress in conversation and can discuss almost anything with anybody, with great enjoyment.

Work Habits

This group are efficient workers with strong initiative. However, they often get distracted and have trouble finishing the projects they start.

Financial

Money is a fleeting resource for these people. They spend money quickly and impulsively, often with regret and worry later on.

Lifestyle and Habits

Inherently non-habitual creatures, the vata person is reluctant to follow a particular lifestyle regimen. This resistance, however, is balanced by the fundamental attribute of movement, which manifests in their openness to change.

Sex Drive

They think a lot about sex! They’re sexually active beings with a satisfying fantasy life, though their sexual appetite frequently varies. Their passionate nature causes them to arouse and climax quickly and intensely. All of these tendencies means they may overindulge in sex, leading to depleted mental and physical energy. They’re less fertile than the average person. Concerning menstruation, these women tend to have very irregular cycles and may miss periods, especially if they over-exercise or their weight drops too low. Of the three doshas, vata experiences the most intense menstrual cramps.

Mental Characteristics

They are typically restless, active, and curious. They search for constant stimulation and may resort to worry and anxiety if they don’t find it. Though they’re ambitious in many aspects of life, they’re rarely satisfied. They also tend to be very indecisive. From an intellectual perspective, they grasp theoretical concepts thoroughly and are creative and innovative thinkers. Coming up with new ideas is never a problem–the challenge lies in putting them into action.

Emotional

Vata emotions are highly inconsistent. They are also quick to respond without forethought. When ‘on’ they are the life of the party so-to-speak, but often run out of steam too quickly. Their friendships are fast but frequently short-lived. Many positive emotional traits comprise the vata personality, they can be cheerful, enthusiastic, resilient, imaginative, spontaneous, sensitive, exhilarating, friendly, flexible, adaptable, stimulating, alert, and optimistic. On the negative side, they can be nervous, complaining, restless, apathetic, unfocused, spacey, depressed, impatient, fearful, insecure, unpredictable, high strung, chaotic, and quick to burn out. Jealousy, an overactive mind, and difficulty concentrating are also dominant traits.

Motivations

These people are the most likely of the three doshas to feel the urge for self-development and spiritual growth. They tend toward fanaticism and, throughout their lives, will be susceptible to indecision and constant change.

Signs and Symptoms of Increased or Aggravated Vata

Excessive vata may cause some of the following:

  • Twitches or muscle cramps/spasms
  • Dry skin, cracking joints
  • Constipation, bloating, gas, or hard stools
  • Weight loss
  • Aversion to cold and wind
  • Irritation to noises and commotion
  • Sleep disturbances
  • A feeling of spaciness or scattered thoughts
  • An inability to concentrate
  • Worry, anxiety, fear, or panic

(See ‘Attributes’ on the ‘What is Ayurveda’ page for more information).

The Vata Pacifying Diet

As a science, Ayurveda offers a variety of simple and practical solutions to improve health and wellbeing. Just a little attention and effort toward a vata diet can yield noticeable results. They may enjoy foods a variety of foods within this diet, responding best to sweet, salty, and sour flavors. They are aggravated by pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes, such as some fruits or vinegar-based snacks, which are not included in the ideal diet. Ensuring food is warm, moist, and well lubricated (e.g., soups, hot drinks, and rice with ghee or oil), avoiding cold or frozen foods and beverages, and minimizing raw foods, especially apples, constitutes a well-balanced vata diet. They also need to go easy on the beans. As important as what they eat however, is how they eat. Fasting, eating on the run, and consuming dry, frozen, or leftover foods also cause aggravation and should be eliminated from the vata diet.
ayurvedic pancakes

How to Balance Vata

For a person experiencing an excess of any one dosha, including vata, Ayurveda helps to reduce disturbances and imbalances through our diet and lifestyle, and also with specific herbal remedies. Consider these general guidelines for a healthy and balanced vata diet:

 

Food Guide

 TYPE GOOD BAD
Fruits Sweet fruits bananas, all berries, oranges, dates, etc. Dried fruits, apples, cranberries, etc.
Vegetables Cooked vegetables, especially squash, asparagus, carrots, green beans, zucchini, beets All frozen, dried or raw vegetables cabbage, peas, tomatoes, potatoes, mushrooms, etc.
Grains Cooked oats, all rice (including brown), wheat, etc. Cold, dry, puffed cereals, buckwheat, corn, dry oats, granola, oat or wheat bran, rice cakes, rye, millet, etc.
Legumes In moderation: mung beans, red/black lentils, soya milk, tofu, etc. Chick peas, beans (kidney, black, lima, navy, pinto, soya, white), lentils, soya powder, split peas, etc.
Nuts  all nuts in moderation  
Seeds Flax, sesame, pumpkin, sunflower  
Oils All are fine, especially sesame  
Spices Most spices, especially basil, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, black pepper, garlic, ginger, cloves, cardamom, turmeric, etc.  
Sweeteners All natural sweeteners, brown rice syrup, honey, fruit juice concentrates, jaggery, maple syrup, molasses, etc. White sugar
Dairy All dairy in moderation – cow/goat’s milk and their products, cheese, yoghurt, etc.  
Beverages Fruit juices and warming drinks (e.g., herbal tea), carrot and other vegetable juices, banana smoothies, fruit juices, hot dairy drinks, etc. Caffeinated, carbonated, and ice-cold drinks, apple juice, etc.

Note: The vata diet is a scientifically-researched set of food suggestions. The nutritional values of good and bad foods are not considered here. These recommendations support a vata pacifying diet.

Herbs for Vata

Herbs that have calming, nurturing and warming effects, and those that assist in digestion can help reduce a vata imbalance. Used individually or in specially-prepared formulas, several Ayurvedic herbs can prove beneficial and should be included in the vata diet. To calm the mind and reduce stress and anxiety: Brahmi and Gotu Kola, Bacopa Monniera, Ashwagandha, Shankhapushpi To promote and enhance digestion: Triphala and Pippali (Piper longum) To support female hormones: Shatavari Vidari Kanda Some common household spices also help to establish balance. For example, fennel supports digestion and regulates female hormones. Chamomile calms nerves, and black pepper, cardamom, and ginger aid in digestion. These herbs and spices should be included in the vata diet whenever possible. As well, daily self-massage, particularly with sesame-based oils or olive oil nourishes the skin and grounds this dosha.

The Vata Lifestyle

We are what we eat, but we are also what we do. There is more to health than just adhering to a vata diet. Paying close attention to our mental and emotional states at any given time, and making conscious efforts toward activities that are appropriate to our Ayurvedic constitution will improve our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing and keep the doshas balanced and harmonious. There are several things that a vata-dominant person can do on a daily basis to achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle. First and foremost,this group function best within a routine. Whenever possible, they should try to create a steady, calm, safe, and secure environment. Keeping warm, drinking warm beverages such as herbal teas, and avoiding extreme cold temperature are beneficial practices, as is moisturizing the skin on a regular basis. On the flip side, worrying and repressing feelings can aggravate vata, and emotions can quickly spiral out of control if left unchecked. This person does not respond well to chaos, disorder, or commotion either. Constant running around, crowded gatherings, and hectic schedules can encourage a hyper-aggravated state, so too can frequent long-distance travel. Lack of sleep, excessively heavy exercise, and drug use, especially stimulants like cocaine and speed also exacerbate vata.

Living A Balanced Life

Keeping the vata dosha balanced is vital to our mental and physical health, and in maintaining clarity and youthful vigor as we age. Keeping warm and creating a calm, peaceful environment whenever possible, engaging in stress-reducing practices such as yoga and meditation or nature walks, and adhering to routine both in life and at meal times, will provide a sound architecture for balance and harmony. Enjoying whole, cooked foods that are naturally sweet, sour, and salty, warm foods and spices, both energetically and in temperature and avoiding caffeine and other stimulants, create the foundation of a healthy vata diet. Follow these simple guidelines to keep vata in check and to regain and maintain health.

Check out Jiva Botanicals range of supplements that balance vata at www.jivabotanicals.com.

girl outdoors in the wild

As we embrace our passions and delve into the mystery of life, we unite with the majestic complexity of nature; and if we follow the signs, this can help us understand who we really are.

– Sebastian Pole, author of Discovering the True You with Ayurveda: How to Nourish, Rejuvenate, and Transform Your Life.

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