Vata, Pitta and Kapha are critical body energies that determine our physical and mental health. The entire concept of the science of Ayurveda revolves around the three principle doshas. The body experiences repercussions when there is any change in the balance between the doshas. Ayurveda experts in Kerala, the land where this ancient heritage is deeply revered, diagnosis and treatment of patients after determining whether an individual’s body has a Vata, Pitta or Kapha personality and whether any of these elements have become too aggressive or too passive.
While all the three doshas hold the key to leading a healthy life, the Vata is considered the most significant among them. This is because Kapha and Pitta will not exist in the absence of Vata. The word Vata means to move or to blow like the wind. It can be visualised as the air or ether that allows other energies to move inside the body. The importance of this can be understood by the fact that Kapha and Pitta cannot circulate and fulfil their functions in our body without the force of Vata behind them. Therefore, even if an individual is a Kapha or a Pitta personality, it is essential that the Vata force in our body be maintained at its optimum level.
Imbalance in Vata and its Repercussions
The ancient Ayurveda textbook, Charakha Samhita, has a detailed explanation about how Vata dosha oversees the normal functioning of the body. The six qualities ascribed to Vata are dryness, lightness, roughness, clarity, instability and coldness. Vata allows movement inside the body and therefore controls circulation of blood, mental and nervous processes, breathing, and elimination of wastes. Vata also controls our speech and is essential for the effective working of our sense organs. The driving force of Vata also makes the digestive fire, or agni, more powerful.
Ayurveda divides the entire functioning of Vata into five different aspects that are defined as the Five Airs. These are Prana, Udana, Samana, Vyana and Apana. Prana and Udana are the air inhaled and exhaled during respiration. Samana is the air that flows in the intestines and controls the functioning of the digestive system. The blood circulation in the body is controlled by Vyana air; and Apana activates the excretory system.
So what happens when the Vata force is disturbed? There are two scenarios, each having its own impact on our body; the Vata can become either too aggressive or too passive. Excessive Vata in the body is known as Vata Vriddhi and it may alter an individual’s mental and emotional behaviour. Signs of nervousness, anxiety, fear of loud noises, an aversion to cold, insomnia, confusion and a sense of detachment become apparent. Physical symptoms include dry skin, digestive problems including constipation, weight loss, lack of appetite, skin discolouration, eczema, psoriasis, muscle ache and pain, nervous disorders, urinary problems and a collapse of the body’s immune system. A decline in Vata is termed as Vata Kshaya. This state will have repercussions on the nervous and digestive systems resulting in physical symptoms. Vata balance in the body can also be disturbed when one of the Five Airs malfunctions. For example, if Prana is weaker than Vyana, it can affect the sense organs and functioning of the brain.
Correcting the Imbalance
Lifestyle changes, herbal treatments and diet can do a course correction. It is important to incorporate certain habits into your regular routine. Since Vata has qualities like instability and coldness, the lifestyle choices we make must introduce stability and warmth in our life. Exercises, meditation, self massage or abhyanga are often prescribed. Yoga exercises like Nadi Shodhana Pranayama are helpful. Setting a bedtime is a simple but effective step. The routine and discipline of these activities help to reduce stress and soothe the nervous system. They also ease physical symptoms like dryness and malfunctioning sense organs. Eating warm cooked food is important to soothe the Vata. Avoid salads and light foods and introduce oily, heavy foods in sour, sweet and salty flavours in the daily diet. Vata pacifying foods include dairy products, grains and vegetables like beets, sweet potatoes, asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumbers, potatoes, celery, carrots, asparagus, peas and sweet potatoes. Stock up on fleshy fruits like mangoes, bananas, avocados, papaya, melons and berries. The kitchen cabinet can produce several Vata balancing spices like cumin, turmeric and cinnamon. Oil, especially sesame, and ghee are effective Vata pacifying agents.
There are several herbs that have a calming, soothing impact on our mind and body. Heavy, sweet and oily herbs will alleviate symptoms. Vata reducing herbs include Ashwagandha, Jatamansi, Bala, Dashamul, Vidari, Shanka Pushpa and Yesthi Madhura. Ayurveda practitioners often recommend combining ghee with these herbs. Replace the morning cup of regular tea with ginger tea. Its warming impact will counteract the cold generated by a dysfunctional Vata.
A Vata that is out of sync can disrupt an individual’s life. In cases of extreme aggravation it can result in diseases. Understanding the dosha and taking corrective measures at the right time can soothe the aggravation and prevent the downward spiral in physical and mental health.