Vata Dosha is the biological intelligence behind movement. From an Ayurvedic standpoint; every organ, every system, every cell in your body, like the members of an orchestra, are being guided by a single conductor.
Life on Earth comes in many shapes and forms. Creatures that use senses and motor organs to enable them to move about do so thanks to a very complex orchestration of delicate and refined biological elements. According to Ayurveda, this incredible phenomenon is governed by an intelligent form of “life force” called Vata.
Vata Dosha is a kingpin. So much depends on its efficient flawless coordination. Vata is also incredibly fragile or prone to disturbance. One reason might simply be that fact that, in terms of evolutionary time, the “work of art” created by Vata is the most recent, and therefore the least perfected.
If you want to talk about disease prevention and longevity, Ayurveda would suggest you first turn towards Vata, making sure that Vata is managed and kept in a reasonable state of balance.
Part of the art of managing Vata (Vata Chiktsa) is to understand which lifestyle factors tend to aggravate Vata when experience too often. The Bhavaprakasha (one of the classic Ayurvedic texts) explains that certain factors cause Vata to undergo unstable increase or aggravation through the law of Samanya-Vishesha (like increasing like).
Vata-Vriddhi-Karana (factors that increase Vata Dosha)
(Vata Dosha expresses these attributes: dry, light, cold, subtle, mobile, unstable, rough, hard, irregular. When these same attributes are dominant in our inner or outer environment, our Vata tends to increase).
Foods or substances which are pungent (spicy), bitter and astringent (in decreasing order of importance). Very small amounts of foods with these tastes are appropriate for everyone. But for Vata-Prakriti, these tastes must only be used in very small amounts.
Foods or substances which have a cooling energy (attenuate metabolism). These are foods that tend to be bitter or astringent or sweet/neutral. For example, cold water, salads, yoghurt (without additional spices added, as in Indian lassi), raw/cold cheese.
Foods or substances that are drying in nature. This includes diuretic items, like tea, coffee, barley, dandelion leafs, as well as more obvious things like alcohol, or dry items like rice cakes, crackers etc.
Foods or substances which are light in nature (digest very quickly). Especially fruit, vegetables (especially the lighter ones, like cabbage family etc.). These foods need to be seen as supplementary to a base of more nourishing foods like whole grains, nuts, seeds, perhaps some animal produce like ghee, milk, cooked cheese and meat.
Eating too little food. Vata-Prakriti is already undernourished in a sense. And whenever there is Vata Vikriti, sufficient nourishment is required, though this follows to a larger extent the Prakriti of the person. Skipping meals for example, will strongly increase Vata Dosha. Note, however, that overeating will also overwhelm the Agni of a Vata-type and cause Vata to increase! It is a fine balance for Vata, which is in some ways the hardest Dosha for all people to manage.
Improper eating habits. Such as not chewing your food properly, gulping food down, eating whilst standing, walking, driving a car, or talking excessively. Skipping meals, eating at irregular times of day, etc.
Fasting or under-eating. Only in relatively small doses is fasting a useful tool for Vata Prakriti, and rarely for Vata Vikriti. In fact, a total fast (no food or drink) is never used for Vata Vikriti. Since Vata is the embodiment of ‘emptiness’, fasting generally serves to increase Vata.
Eating again despite having indigestion. After you have digested your last meal. Vata begins to increase as the food we have eaten leaves our stomach, passes through our small intestine and enters the colon, some 4-6 hours after a meal. Basically, as hunger begins to increase, Vata will be accumulating. Neglecting to eat will increase both Vata and Pitta.
Heavy or prolonged exercise (such as long hikes). Vata-Prakriti has to be very attentive so as not to overexert themselves in all manner of physical activities. And for all people, when Vata Vikriti is strong enough, only the mildest forms of gentle exercise are advised.
Physical shock (such as a fall) and trauma from accidents or being attacked etc.
Most forms of transport. Since transport is always mobile, or quick. The more vibration, or speed, the more Vata increases. The classics quote horseback ridding. Today, air travel is the worse. But even ground transport can do a good job of increasing Vata Dosha.
Loss of tissues (through under-nourishment, for example, or loss of blood).
Insufficient sleep (sleep is unctuous – it pacifies Vata). This is one of the most neglected of the body’s natural urges in our modern age—failing to honour the call of sleep.
Obstruction to channels. Ayurvedic anatomy includes a concept that the body is imbibed with many networks of ‘channels’ within which Vata moves. This includes the circulation of blood, lympth, as well as more subtle things like breath, Prana (lifeforce), as well as the reception of food, drinks, air, and the elimination of stools, urine and sweat. Anything that moves from A to B does so thanks to a ‘channel system’. Every tissue has its own companion channel system that provides it with nourishment and a way out for metabolic wastes. No matter what the cause, if one of these channels becomes blocked in some way, Vata increases.
Excess loss of sexual fluid. Too much “rumpy pumpy” may not good for you, according to Ayurveda. More precisely, the excessive loss of sexual fluid depletes the Shukra Dhatu (reproductive tissue) which is important in supporting all other tissues through its production of a very subtle, positive substance called Ojas. No matter what the substance—urine, sweat, faeces, breath (through excess speech)—Vata will always tend to increase the more things that come out of the body, since Vata increases following any loss of structure. This is a vast and somewhat controversial topic which I’ll write on soon, promise !
Suppression of natural urges (urination, passing wind, defecation etc.)
Excess cleansing therapies such as therapeutic vomiting, purgation, colonics etc, as these therapies are all reducing in nature. Especially dangerous these days is the use of colonics. Colonics involve washing the rectum and colon with large quantities of (usually) water. The goal being to remove toxins and putrefying matter. However the net result of the procedure is that it tends to shock Vata (who’s Mulashṭhana is the colon). And unless the colonic is followed with an oily enema (called Basti in Ayurveda), Vata will definitely increase. This often creates more problems than it solves. Especially if the person is of Vata Prakriti and is following a series of colonics.
Muscle depletion. Through under-nourishment, excess activity, or even under-activity. Muscle is used to keep many movement functions working smoothly. The diaphragm, intestines, stomach – these are some of the less obvious muscles whose performance, when depleted, will be compromised, resulting in irregular or deficient movements.
Excess worry, grief or fear. These are cold, dry emotions. But in general, any highly emotional state will also upset Vata.
That time of day ! Vata will naturally undergo some increase (which will add to any other Vata-increasing factors currently present) at certain times of day and night i.e. early morning (midnight through to sunrise), late afternoon (especially sunset), the moment of sunrise and sunset.
Changes of the seasons and the weather. Especially the transition between summer and autumn. In fact, any sudden change to any aspect of our life, whether it be something external (like some a change in weather) or something internal (like a sudden change of attitude or change in behaviour) can upset Vata.
During the cold, dry, seasons, i.e. autumn and late winter.
During cloudy weather.
Strong winds drive Vata nuts. Anyone who live in the part of France where the “Mistral” winds blow can vouch for this. Vata increases so rapidly it can often cause madness in the less firm of mind.
Additional (modern) factors that increase Vata Dosha
The above list is more or less a direct extract from the Bhavaprakasha which was written round about 16th Century A.D. A lot has changed in our diets and lifestyles since then, arguably for the worse. This next list gives some ideas of modern factors that are considered to be of particular nuisance to Vata Dosha.
Stagnant body / Overactive Mind Behavioural Factors. Many professional occupations and leisure pursuits involve relative physical mobility combined with sensory over stimulation. This creates a subtle kind of Vata aggravation where the mind and senses are over-stimulated while the “gross” body is left to stagnate. This engenders a mind-body disconnect which creates the building blocks for many modern diseases
Allopathic Medicines & Highly Refined Foods. Both these substances are relatively new on the evolutionary block so to speak. Our bodies have not learned how to process them. This causes biological confusion on numerous levels. Vata can’t cope with the task at hand and quickly becomes deranged on a very subtle level. With chronic use, Vata becomes aggravated in a more tangible ways.
Chemical Pollution. Pollution has many forms. Similar to the argument of the previous point, Vata Dosha is confused when hormone-like substances interfere with our delicate endocrine systems.
Particulate Airborne Pollution. Pollen counts are on the rise due to modern intensive agriculture and global warming. Automobile and coal power-plant emissions are still significant factors. In some areas, massive forrest fires add to the tole. Vata Dosha is affected by all these types of pollution.
Electromagnetic Radiation Pollution (EMR). Controversial subject! Since EMR is extremely subtle, it is likely to influence Vata Dosha. It seems that certain people are more sensitive to others.
Consumerist Multitasking Speed Culture. Most of the above modern factors relate to some extent to the underlying “do-more, fast-food / fast-fassion / fast-everything” culture we are all now experiencing whether we like it or not. It takes little insight to understand how the overall style of our modern world is driving us further and further away from our stable inner centre towards an increasingly unstable dispersive exteriorised wasteland. Strong words? Perhaps… but take a look around you. Vata becomes aggravated when we over spend our precious inner resources.
Haste Makes Waste !
Stop for a minute and ask yourself:
“Do I feel an underlying sense of being unhurried, peaceful and stable? Do I have time and space to just be; time to be idle, time to be present? Do I take pleasure in being slow and steady in my senses and actions?”
If the answer is “no, not that often” then you are in danger of being caught up in a lifestyle of dispersion and distraction. Your Vata Dosha, if not already misbehaving, will surely do so in the near future.
So take a leaf out of Jimmy Reed’s book and TAKE IT SLOW. You Body and mind will thanks you. Your friends and family will thank you. Mother Earth will thank you.