11 Ayurvedic Steps to Maintaining Vata Balance this Fall
To remain healthy, we must make some changes in attitude, lifestyle, and wardrobe in order to start vata season fresh, cleansed, and vital.
Ayurveda defines rutu sandhi as the transitioning between two seasons. Some seasonal changes come naturally, like wearing sweaters and vests and switching from iced drinks to warm beverages, while other changes like limiting raw foods and vigorous exercise may require guidance at first.
During the fall season, the vata dosha is prone to imbalance. When Vata is provoked a person can feel anxious, nervous, stressed, scattered, or fearful and may notice constipation, gas, and bloating, dry, hard stools, joint pain, low back ache, ringing in the ears, tingling in the skin, and difficulty sleeping.
Ayurveda teaches that like increases like and opposites balance. When the qualities of the season are similar to the qualities of the dosha, the tissues of the body become aggravated and lead to blocked bodily channels. Yuck. To offset the sameness of the dosha and the season, it is imperative that we adopt a diet and lifestyle that counters the negative effectives of increased vata. To do this, we must implement warm, moist, stable, smooth, and oily qualities into our life.
Here are 11 Ayurvedic steps to help you maintain your balance this season.
1. Experiment with a vata pacifying diet
Seek foods that taste sweet, sour, and salty as these tastes soothe vata with the fire, earth, and water elements. Enjoy cooked grains including oatmeal, cream of wheat, amaranth, or quinoa for breakfast. Grains are warming and contain more essential fatty acids and protein than most carbohydrates.
Eat a satisfying lunch around noon that includes lentils, rice, steamed vegetables with ghee, coconut oil, sesame oil or olive oil. Sweet potatoes are especially beneficial because they are sweet, heavy, and nutrient dense. Avoid raw foods when possible. Salads aggravate vata and commonly cause constipation during the cooler months.
Dinner should be around 6 p.m. consisting of warm soups and stews, steamed vegetables, and rice. In general, eat more nuts, grains, soups, meats, and oil to ensure proper storage of protein and fat for the winter. In the fall and winter your digestive strength is naturally stronger because the internal furnace heats up to keep your body warm!
As long as you are not overeating, don’t worry about weight gain. In fact, the more hydrated you keep the body, both with water and oil, fat will not accumulate in unpleasant areas like the stomach and thighs. . . . instead it will move through the system with ease as bodily channels remain clear. Vata is also deeply connected with the nervous system, delivering messages to every corner of our body. Just as the wires in our home need insulation to carry messages so do the “wires” of our body, eat fat and get thin (and smart!).
Try this preparation for breakfast to promote vitality and immunity. . . .
- Soak 5-10 black raisins, 1 date, and ½ a fig in ½ a cup of water overnight
- Add ½ cup of boiled and then cooled milk to your soaked mixture and enjoy!
2. Incorporate warming spices into your cooking
Cook with warming spices: ginger, cumin, cinnamon, salt, cloves, mustard seeds, black pepper, cardamom, and fennel are best. Fill two empty spice jars with a sweet mix made of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and dash of salt and a savory mix with cumin, mustard seeds, black pepper, fennel, salt, and turmeric. That way you limit clean up time by having just one jar on the counter instead of seven.
Add your sweet mix to breakfast grains or on top of toast with ghee. Cook vegetables with your savory mix or add to soups, stews and rice for additional flavor. Cooking with spices doesn’t have to be a science. . . . you can experiment with more of less of the mix. If you like cinnamon a lot, add more cinnamon to your sweet mix, if you’re a hot yogi and you sweat a lot, add more rock salt to your savory mix, or if you’re overweight and/or lethargic. . . . add some cayenne pepper to the mix.
Have fun and pay attention to what works for your body.
3. Pay close attention to digestion
If you’re not eliminating daily, it’s a problem. Constipation creates toxic waste and affects the mind leading to negative thinking. When the leaves are drying up outside. . . . your colon (without proper care) is also drying up inside. Stagnation in any area of the body creates unpleasantness and an unclean feeling in the body. When foodstuff lingers too long in the colon, it turns toxic, enters the blood stream and circulates throughout the body.
Triphala is a wonderful herbal supplement that helps cleanse the bowels. It is an intelligent combination of three fruits, so it is pacifying for all three doshas. It works to remove free radicals from the plasma serum, treats inflammation, infection, obesity, and provides the body with natural anti-oxidants. Take triphala an hour before sleep with a cup of warm water during times of constipation.
4. Avoid stimulants
Coffee, tea and tobacco all provoke vata. Eliminating caffeine from your morning routine could be the single most effective dietary change you can make to pacify vata. Caffeine is an adrenal stimulant and digestive irritant; it gets into the bloodstream within minutes. It effectively boosts energy by increasing the blood pressure and respiratory rate. It improves muscle strength by constricting blood vessels in the brain, an interesting trade off.
Starting the morning with coffee because you’re exhausted feeds a vicious cycle of chronic fatigue. It’s important to realize that the best treatment for exhaustion is rest. For vata, sleep is medicine. When we rely on adrenaline and stress hormones to keep us alert instead of letting our bodies and brains rest, we become jittery, anxious and unproductive. Resist the temptation to work through the dips with stimulants. . . . instead: take a break, go for a walk, talk to a friend, rest your eyes, and meditate before you find yourself burnt out, depressed, and sick.
5. Slow your breath
A human being breathes twelve to fifteen times per minute. If you can change the breathing pattern, you can shift your focus from whatever is causing unpleasantness, anxiety or fear in your life. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight. You can sit in a chair, on the floor, cross legged, or however you like. . . . just maintain an erect spine and stillness. Let your attention slowly grow still, and remain here for 5-10 minutes daily.
Your breathing will gradually slow down. This process is not about aerobic activity, it is about a gradual improvement of your lung capacity. As you focus the breathing, you are working to increase the elasticity of the lung tissue. Once you achieve a slowed breath cycle, your system can evolve to a state of stability, free from stagnation and confusion. Pure bliss.
6. Self-massage with oil
The Sanskrit word sneha means both “oil” and “love.” Ideally, vata is best pacified when completely bathed in oil, when completely bathed in love. With ¼ a cup oil, massage the body with warm sesame or almond oil using slow, calming strokes. Do this before taking a shower and the steam and hot water will open the pores driving the oil deeper into the skin. If you’re new to applying oil to the skin, you can ease into the practice. Start by massaging the feet with a warm sesame or vata-pacifying oil.
If you find specific areas in your body are stiff and inflexible, apply oil in circular motions around the joints. The main site of vata is the colon. Try taking a few minutes before getting in the shower or before going to bed to rub some warm oil in the direction of the colon, starting from the right side and making circles around the abdominal cavity. Rubbing a small amount of oil in the low back/sacrum area is a wonderful way to quickly soothe a distressed vata individual.
7. Go on a news fast
Negative news sells. Drama creates buzz and excitement, it stirs things up. High vata does not need to be stirred! At least one day a week this season, abstain from reading any and all news. Vata is hyperactive and can easily be thrown off balance by too much stimulus and bad or frightening news. Media outlets reporting violence, death, and disasters catalyzes feeling of anxiety and worry. Limit exposure feel more peaceful and serene this season.
8. Alternate nostril breathing
Breathing follows a natural pattern. There are times throughout the day when left nostril breathing is dominant and times when right nostril breathing is dominant. Left nostril breathing is cooling and right nostril breathing is heating. Left nostril breathing activates the logical brain and right nostril breathing activates the intuitive brain. A person can only feel true balance when both the right and left side function at full force. Becoming aware of this brings calm to vata. As we begin to see that chemical energy is not moving at random throughout the body, rather it has established channels, the mind becomes more at ease.
9. Find a balanced routine and take a time for self-care
Enjoy down time. As a society, we’ve become addicted to busyness. Vata needs a routine to find solid ground. Resist the urge to do everything, all the time, without rest. Allow yourself time to unwind, relax, and enjoy. Find yourself in a routine that provides regularity in sleeping, waking, and eating. That way the body does not have to be on high alert wondering when the next meal will come, or when you will allow time for rest.
10. Surround yourself with the colors red, orange, and yellow
We experience the world through our senses. . . . and much of our perception is done through our eyeballs. Not only should we wear warmer clothes as the temperatures drop, but we should also wear warmer colors! By dressing in colors to pacify vata, we promote better circulation, a grounded feeling, cheerfulness, digestion is stimulated, cerebral activity is regulated. . . . and the mind is awakened.
11. Snuggle up to keep warm
Vata consists of space and air. Unlike fire, water and earth the elements of vata are ever expansive. . . . with no container. Being held, supported, and loved is deeply calming to someone suffering from vata derangement. When vata is provided with a container, anxious nerves are quickly soothed. So snuggle up! Sleeping under heavy blankets and placing a pillow on top of the low abdomen also helps to calm anxiety and ease feelings of stress and worry.
With the study of Ayurveda, you are required to take nothing on faith. Experiment with your mind and body. As you experiment, you will find what works and what doesn’t for your individual constitution. Our problem is largely that we have too much information and not enough attention!
There is no recipe that comes out exactly the same, even when followed precisely. . . . and as human beings, we are no different. Move through the season with trial foods, spices, and self-care routines that aim to balance the qualities that you feel in your body.
Lad, V. (2002). Textbook of Ayurveda, vol 3. Albuquerque, N.M.: Ayurvedic Press.
Vasudev, Jaggi. Inner Engineering: A Yogi’s Guide to Joy. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2016. Print.
Meet the author, Melanie Dolan, Ayurveda Health Counselor