Let’s talk about what happens to Vata in Winter and how it relates to the qualities of the elements Air and Space, or Wind and Ether (as in etheric) that the Vata dosha is a manifestion of.
Ayurveda describes the ways in which different kinds of foods, climates, activities, exercises, relationships attitudes, mental training, cultural ethos, stages of life, and times of year and the day can either elevate (increase, vitiate, aggravate) or pacify (balance or reduce) one’s dosha.
Dosha elevation is always pathological, because dosha’s natural tendency is to increase. Fire continues to burn until the fuel runs out unless something is done to quell fire. Wind will blow and blow until the storm ends. Water floods quite naturally when there is too much of it.
For a dosha to be elevated is for it to be unbalanced. In Ayurveda your doshas are like wild horses whose job is to lead you to disease, indeed the word dosha is derived from a Sansrkit word meaning fault. It is true that each dosha has its wonderful strengths and positive characteristics, but they manifest best when the dosha is pacified, kept from exerting its natural extremes. This is done by a diet, lifestyle, and mental cultivation that pacifies the naturally cold dry spacey nervous, irregular quality of windy Vatta, the naturally hot, wet, intense, penetrating, persistent fiery quality of Pitta, and the naturally cold, wet, immobile, dense, withdrawing quality of watery, muddy Kapha.
The seasonal and daily rise and fall of the doshas is called chronobiology. It exists in science, chinese medicine, and ayurveda. In the morning cortisol is elevated and at night its lowered. Night is dominated by Yin and daytime by Yang. Pitta is at highest at noon, Kapha in the morning, and Vata at midnite.
The time of year in which Vata is naturally elevated is the three month period centered on the Winter Solstice, called Late Autumn/Early Winter in Ayurveda. This is the period, more or less, from November 7 thru January 18. This is a time characterized by long nights and short days, no matter what the local climate.
Long nights and extended darkness, or, if you like, shortened amounts of light and sun, reduce the influence of Pitta and elevates Vata physically and psychologically. The source of Pitta, the sun, is furthest away at this time of year. The sun is at its lowest, the shadows at their longest. During the Vata time of year everyone’s Vata is elevated, even disturbed, but if you are Vata dominant or subdominant, you are much more at risk of ending up with a Vata disease.
Vata season is a time of year in which we become naturally philosophical, we turn inward, its a period of silence and reduced activity. Animals hibernate, the birds have flown south, the insects are gone or quiet. There is, in winter, a greater experience of space, if you will. This elevates Vata. You look out into the sky at night and even the milky way is gone, clear darkness. You can make this a strength, by keeping Vatta pacified through an appropriate diet, lifestyle, and mental culture. To me, winter is a very spiritual time of year. Yes, a time for celebration, but also a time for taking stock of the previous years gains and losses.
Vata is a physical manifestation in the body of the elements Air and Space. Everything you can say about Air and Space in Nature describe the physical and psycho-emotional characteristics of Vata in human beings–light, dry, cold, ethereal, immobile, philosophical, prone to anxiety and fear.
Vata is like Wind-its cold and dry.
Vata, as Air, manifests itself as Wind, both literally, in nature, and metaphorically, in lifestyle (and in the effect of certain foods) Why is Vata wind? Because wind is moving air. And what is the effect of wind in nature? It makes things cold and dry. Wind chill factor. When is 10 degrees in Chicago, with the wind chill factor it feels like 20 below. You hang your clothes out to dry, and if its windy they dry really fast, even without sun. Cold air is itself drying. We freeze dry certain foods. You leave a steak in the freezer unwrapped and it dries out like leather.
Vata is like Wind–its mobile and irregular
Vata makes things cold and dry, because of its property as wind, which is moving. So experiences and foods that are cold and dry and irregular and moving like the wind will increase Vata. The stronger the wind the more Vata elevates. The colder the food, the dryer the food or climate, the great the irregularity of lifestyle and the movement. The more fears are left unexamined, or the need for a calming lifestyle ignored, the more Vata elevates.
Everyone likes a little wind, but when its too windy, for too long, it gets on folks nerves, and we look forward to what? We look forward to the wind calming down.
Vata’s Needs: Warmth, Moisture, Grounding, Calming.
A lifestyle full of over stimulation, such as most of us in the modern world suffer from, dramatically increases Vata, because stimulation is a kind of wind–its movement–to be exact, excessive movement in the nervous system, which is one of the places in the body Vatta resides. Whether its coffee and sugar; excessive noise, light, and travel; or the over scheduling that suburban soccer mom’s and their progeny often suffer from, the result is elevated Vata (and often Pitta, as pressure builds). Its really no big surprise that the number one drug prescription in the USA today is for anti-anxiety drugs, because or Vatta elevation is so common and extreme.
Vata is elevated by cold. Cold weather, food, people. Cold weather, even when there is snow, is drying. You get chapped lips and hands in cold weather. If you leave food in the freezer too long it dries out.
Cold is cooling and drying, so all cold things elevate Vata.
Vatta needs cooked food, moderately warming spices, soups, hot beverages, and warming foods like meat. Vatta has to avoid like the plague salads in winter, even salads in general, but can have some salad in Pitta season, when Vatta’s naturally weak digestive fire strengthens.
The sweet, salt, and sour tastes are each warming, so Vata should have plenty of those flavors. Kale smoothies for example are anathema to Vata. Possible in summer, at noon, with ginger, modified by something sweet or salt or sour or all of the above, with something oily or heavy.
Dry elevates/disturbs Vata. Vatas need moist food. Rice and curry. Italian food. Chinese Food. Afghani or Persian or Arabian food. Really any Asian food unless its too spicy. What is awful for Vatta is dry food. Salad is dry and cold. Exactly wrong for Vatta. In summer its ok, but even then Vata tends to need a dressing, something tasty.
Healthy fats and unctuous presentations of food are moistening to the gut, as in stews and the above examples. All Asian foods come in some kind of sauce or liquid, don’t they?
A warm moist unwindy climate is ideal for Vata. As would be a warm, moist, unwind relationship.
Vata is badly elevated by stimulating foods, especially foods that have a drug effect, like coffee and sugar. Again, Vata needs the naturally calming affect of starchy foods like rice or wheat (unless they have wheat/gluten issues, like Vatta Kaphas often do), and of natural sweets like fruit and dairy. Also, as Vata is light, she benefits from the grounding effect of heavier foods like dairy.
Vata is increased by situations that created insecurity, but especially by unskillful reactions to those situations. Vatta are quite capable of creating their own mental emotional wind in response to very small levels of stimuli.
That is why it is so vital for Vata types to have a regular meditative practice. I recommend both Tai Qi, with its slow, regular movement, and Mindfullness Meditation.
Vata and Travel
Our bodies were not designed to hurtle through space in fiberglass boxes at 75 miles per hour, let alone through the lower atmosphere at 500 miles per hour in a metal tube. In fact, travel of all kinds, from stagecoach to boat aggravates/elevates Vata. At best, it leaves you tired out.
Sometimes we have to do it, such as on vacation. Other times we are forced to do it, such as commuting to work or traveling by air for work. Repeated traveling by air through space for work is the most deleterious for Vata (speed in air and space increase speedy air/space) .
If you are a Pitta-Kapha type it will affect you less than if you are a Vata-Kapha or Vata-Pitta, especially if you are more physically Vatta.
Air travel involves long hours in cold dry airplanes. The simplest remedy is to drink lots of hot tea while traveling, and to stay hydrated with fresh fruit and good food. Bring your own. I always bring a few bags of Pro Vata tea (see next post) on the plane and drink a few cups over the course of the journey.
Vata and Mind
Vata dominant types, when balanced, are energetic, open to new ideas, flexible, creative, cheerful, vivacious, expressive, funny, philosophical, and artistic. But when Vata gets to high they can be fearful, anxious, manic, and with minds that are hard to focus. These are the folk that say their minds never stop. That is why insomnia is often a Vata disorder.
You can aggravate mental conditions with the wrong food, but you can’t cure them with food alone. You treat the disease at the level it occurs. You treat mind with mind; the best medicine for the mental aspect of Vata is silence, meditation, taking actions that make you feel safe and secure, such as working through emotional and relationship problems, but above all having the kind of daily practice that takes you into states of profound deep relaxation, such as Tai Qi and Mindfulness Meditation. Its almost impossible to keep Vata balanced without that if you are Vata dominant, if you are human.
This is what Buddhism calls mental culture. It is part of becoming human, in the deepest sense of the term. As we age, we lose our youth; the compensation is wisdom, that is why old age is the Vata period of one’s life, it is the the time to step back and assess as if looking at things from the vantage point of distance, as in space.
copyright eyton shalom, san diego ca jan 2014 all rights reserved use with permission only.