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Posts Tagged ‘Vata dosha’

In my last Ayurveda Foundations post, I described the main qualities of Vata dosha (the energy of Air and Space): dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, mobile and clear.

In human beings, Vata’s primary responsibility is to coordinate movement and communication. When Vata is in balance (i.e., when it is maintained at the original baseline level set at an individual’s birth), then that person’s movements and communications are effective and healthy.

However, when Vata dosha gets elevated above an individual’s unique “norm,” then signs of Air and Space emerge: cracking joints, dry skin, constipation, weight loss, insomnia, poor circulation, pain, stiffness, tremors, irregular heart beat, fatigue, and ringing in the ears.

In the mental-emotional realm, aggravated Vata can create fear, anxiety, worry, forgetfulness, and an inability to focus. “Spaciness” is a sure sign of excess Space element, a component of Vata.

What causes Vata dosha to get elevated? According to the law of “like increases like,” exposure to Vata’s qualities will cause Vata to go up. Some common culprits include windy weather and eating leftovers (incarnations of the dry quality), high altitude and caffeine (light), cold weather and frozen food (cold), crunchy chips and granola (rough),  repetitive thought patterns and recreational drugs (subtle), excessive exercise and travel (mobile) and staying up late (clear).

Since Vata is responsible for movement and change, it plays a critical role in maintaining overall balance – and it is often implicated when balance is lost. According to the ancient texts, more diseases arise from an excess of Vata than from the other two doshas combined.

During the particularly changeable and dry seasons of autumn (and sometimes winter), Vata is high, as it is in our elder years. Considering our cultural tendency towards constant movement (with air travel, commuting, and multi-tasking as our norms), most Western city-dwellers consistently experience high Vata. The persistent influence of cyber-“space” doesn’t help.

Therefore, it is wise to take extra steps to keep Vata dosha from getting aggravated.  The best antidotes contain the opposite qualities to Vata: oily (moist), heavy, warm, smooth/slimy, gross (substantive), and stable. Bring on the oatmeal with ghee, slow walks on the earth, and a steady meditation practice!

In the next post, we will dive into the intricacies of Pitta dosha, the energy of Fire.

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Tuesday, June 26, 7-8:30pm CDT

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As explained in the previous Foundations post, according to Ayurveda there are three organizing forces (or doshas) in Nature called Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Each dosha is made up of two of the major elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether/Space) and expresses the qualities of those elements.

Vata – The Energy of Air and Space

The Sanskrit word vata is related to the verb vah, meaning vehicle, to carry or move. This meaning underlines the importance of mobility in describing Vata’s character. Like the Air element, Vata moves easily as it is light-weight and insubstantial. We can feel Vata’s presence in the wind and in the movements of our bodies and minds.

When Vata is present, it expresses its inherent qualities, causing the things around it to take on and reflect those same qualities. The qualities of Vata are dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, mobile, and clear. When these qualities are evident, we know Vata is involved.

For example, if someone has a thin body with dry skin, cold hands and feet, rough and irregular digestion, quick-moving thoughts and they can adapt easily to new environments, we would say Vata dosha is dominant in that person. If the weather is changeable or the seasons are transitioning from Summer to Autumn, Vata is dominant in the environment.

In the human body, Vata is responsible for all movement, circulation and rhythm. Its functions include speech, nerve impulses, flexibility, respiration, coughing, the heart beat, peristalsis, elimination, menstruation, labor, orgasm, clarity, and joy, to name just a few.

Vata brings forth the desire for change and is expressed in variability, ranging from a change in clothing style to a change in career, done so simply to keep from feeling bored. Vata detests routine, tending towards spontaneity and exuberant expressions of creativity. Vata is the life of the party, always ready for the next adventure – and perhaps a little spacey at times.

Stay tuned to learn what happens when Vata dosha gets out of balance.

(And until then, Happy Father’s Day!)

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It seems everywhere I turned this week, someone was announcing the arrival of Transition. On Friday we passed the autumnal Equinox when the sun appears to cross the equator from north to south heralding the first day of fall. Even in Texas, recent days have brought a palpable change in the temperature and the quality of light. At these times of seasonal transition, the buzz is that we are experiencing a moment of shift, a time-sensitive opportunity to let go and to prepare for the next season of our life – out with the old and in with the new.

I’m the Transition poster child, here in my new hometown with my new nephew, building a new house and a new private practice – I’m even physically in transit as I type this, writing from 30,000 feet in the air. And in truth, it seems everyone I know is in the midst of some fairly large transitional turbulence – a new marriage, a new job, a major remodel, a father’s death, an imminent relocation. Either I’m hanging out with a self-selecting crowd of transitioners, or there is a larger trend at work here. Being in transition seems to be the new black.

The implication of all this transition talk is that it’s somehow contained: we’re passing through a discreet blip on the calendar, an unsettled moment sandwiched between some larger, more serene moments. Pretty soon, we’ll get through it and be on the other side. We’ll be in the MIDDLE of autumn, in the full swing of the school year, firmly established in the second year of home-ownership. Things are gonna settle down. Any minute now.

What struck me today is that this sense of turbulence isn’t remotely unique to this spot on the calendar. The transitions just keep coming. There isn’t a period up ahead when life promises to stop delivering tectonic shifts. While I have caught myself blaming this condition on our modern lifestyle (“…we’re so addicted to speed and excess information and multitasking and hasty decisions prompted by marketing campaigns, no one makes time for stillness any more…”), in reality, it’s a fact of the human experience, just part of the package. The ancient Buddhist teachings on impermanence underline the ever-present nature of change. The only constant really IS change, and that was true even back when Heraclitus first said it in the 5th century B.C.

As common as it is, that doesn’t diminish how uncomfortable it feels (to most of us) to be in transition for long. According to Ayurveda, as I wrote in my last post, transitions (even “good” ones) aggravate vata dosha, which can lead to a variety of discomforts like stress headaches, constipation, joint pain, indigestion, feeling off-center, ungrounded or outright panic-stricken. Teaching us how to pacify vata is one of the great gifts of Ayurveda as a health system, helping us to tolerate the turbulence of life’s passage with greater ease.

As I prepared to get on this plane (one of the most vata aggravating activities out there), I reminded myself what would help me feel grounded and comfy in my skin in the days ahead:

  • Stick to my routines – to the extent possible, get up at the same time, eat at the same time, do my morning routine as usual.
  • Eat vata-pacifying foods – warm, moist, soft comfort food. (Soup and oatmeal are good bets to seek out in the slim pickings of an airport.)
  • Ask myself regularly, “Am I thirsty?” and then drink something, preferably something warm. At the very least, avoid ice.
  • Stay warm. Keep a scarf in the car. Cover my head, and ears in particular, when it’s windy out.
  • For God’s sake, don’t stop abhyanga (applying oil to the skin before showering) – this is an easy one to let drop by the wayside while traveling or feeling time-deprived, and all the more potent at those times.
  • Create some mental stillness. People-watch instead of trying to accomplish something during my connection. Close my eyes and breathe. Look out the window and daydream.
  • Think of something I’m grateful for, and then tell the responsible people. Dwelling in gratitude is the best anti-anxiety medicine there is.

So, welcome to autumn, my friends. Welcome to this time of transition – and to the one that’s coming right after it. Plato’s surprisingly timely words of advice remind us that humanity has been engaged in this turbulence all along:

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

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