Recently I had my first encounter with vertigo – the sense that the room is spinning and inner equilibrium is disturbed for no apparent reason. I woke up and before I even opened my eyes, I could sense that something was off – or rather, everything was off. When I stood up, the room pitched around me like I was standing on a boat in high seas. If it weren’t so utterly disorienting, it would have been fascinating.
It’s hard to think of a symptom more indicative of vata-gone-wild than vertigo. The ground is completely lost. The main vata qualities or gunas present are lightness (as my body seemed to float and spin in midair), mobility (yep), and subtlety.
Subtlety is not an easy quality to point at – it helps to consider its opposite, which is described in the ancient texts as “gross,” meaning tangible or perceivable. Subtlety, then, is that which is NOT tangible or concrete. It was evident in my knowledge that the room was not in fact spinning, while the very convincing input from my proprioceptive faculties said that it was. This “subtle” guna, apparent also in hallucinations or phantom pain, is a dramatic sign of aggravated vata.
After a few minutes standing up, the vertigo subsided, and I went about my day. However, the next morning it appeared again, an unbidden guest in my body and mind. One of the most unsettling aspects was the way it made my own senses unreliable.
At every change of season, there is a surge in vata as the weather and other planetary energy patterns shift into a new setting. Here in North Carolina, our weather has been a bit on the cool side, while pollen has been raining down like, well, rain. Spring is here but hasn’t quite settled into its full pattern. We have been “on the cusp” – a perfect storm for vata imbalance.
This moment of seasonal shift can bring up all sorts of vata symptoms – hiccups, bloating, insomnia – perhaps mixed in with the dosha of the season we are moving into (in this case, Spring’s Kapha and its deluge of mucus). If you experience vata symptoms at the time of seasonal changes, it can help to address vata as much as the other active dosha.
Here are some of the things I did to try to help my vata settle down: I drank fresh ginger tea. Ginger is renowned for its grounding, downward action. I ate some hot oatmeal (with more ginger in it) – food can be profoundly and immediately grounding, especially if you’ve been fasting, including the overnight fast before “break-fast.” Hot food helps offset vata’s inherent coldness.
I got very still physically sitting on the ground. I practiced this visualization: with each breath, I brought the inhale in through my crown, passed it through the river of my spine, and exhaled it down into the earth. I pictured myself as a slab of bedrock, heavy and stable on the earth. I even held rocks in my hands and practiced Dr. Lad’s famous 5-senses earth therapy, hitting the rocks together by my ears to infuse my hearing with the sound of earth.
I also gave myself an abhyanga or self-massage with warm oil. Pressing my body with my hands was reassuring and soothing to this primary site of vata. I put a drop of oil in each ear, another vata site, and massaged the ears and the mastoid bone behind the ears. The ears contain many marma points (Ayurveda’s acupressure therapy) that help regulate vata and vertigo specifically.
And finally, I reached out to others for support and advice. Often when vata is aggravated, it can feel isolating and even frightening. Connecting with others and remembering your support community is important medicine for vata. Prayer and connecting to my faith that all would be well was also important.
In my case, after a few days, the vertigo left as mysteriously as it had arrived – another hallmark of vata imbalances. It was a perfect teacher and reminder of vata’s needs during times of seasonal change. With foresight for these vata tendencies during seasonal change, we can take more preventative care of ourselves, keeping the practices that root us especially strong.
May your transition into spring be filled with stability, joy and clarity.