Vata dosha is the combination of Air and Space (or Ether). 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.
As a specific common pattern in nature, Vata can be described by its qualities, which are dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, mobile, and clear. When Vata is present, it expresses these qualities, causing the things around it to take on and reflect those same qualities. Thus when its qualities are evident, we know Vata is involved.
For example, if the weather is windy and dry, Vata is dominant in the environment. if someone has a thin, light body with dry skin, cold hands and feet, and quick-moving thoughts, we would say Vata dosha is dominant in that person.
In the human body, Vata is the force responsible for all movement, communication and rhythm. It governs speech, nerve impulses, flexibility, respiration, coughing, the heart beat, peristalsis, elimination, menstruation, labor, clarity, and joy, to name just a few.
Vata brings forth change and is expressed in all variability, ranging from variable bowel habits (constipation alternating with loose stool) to changes in career to avoid boredom. Vata-dominant people detest routine, tending towards spontaneity and exuberant expressions of creativity. Vata people are the life of the party, always ready for the next adventure – and perhaps a little spacey at times.
Vata Out of Balance
When Vata dosha gets elevated, then signs of excess Air and Space emerge, such as dry skin, constipation, weight loss, insomnia, poor circulation, pain, tremors, irregular heart beat, and fatigue. All of these maladies convey the gunas or qualities of Vata dosha either in excess or simply working inaccurately.
In the mental-emotional realm, elevated 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 (too much “dry” quality), high altitude and caffeine (light), cold weather and frozen food (cold), eating crunchy chips and granola (rough), repetitive thought patterns and recreational drugs (mobile and subtle), excessive exercise and travel (mobile) and staying up late (clear).
Since Vata is responsible for movement and change in a healthy body-mind, 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 naturally higher in the world around us. 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.
How to Pacify Vata
The best antidotes to Vata contain the opposite qualities: oily, heavy, warm, smooth/slimy, gross, and stable. Bring on the oatmeal with ghee, slow walks on the earth, and a steady meditation practice! A self-massage with oil is excellent “medicine” to maintain Vata and keep it in a healthy, stable condition. If one suffers from an over-busy lifestyle, simply creating a brief time for stillness can do wonders.
Routine is also incredibly important for keeping Vata healthy. Waking up and going to bed at the same time every day creates a reliable rhythm in which Vata will thrive Although it may be incredibly difficult to establish, it is well worth the effort for all of us living in Vata-aggravated cultures!