Recognizing Common Vata Imbalances

 

As the bridge between summer and winter, autumn is a season of transition.  It is a bit erratic by nature and it is characterized by dryness, lightness, cool weather, abrasive wind, subtlety, mobility, and emptiness – all qualities shared by vata dosha.  Ayurveda teaches us that like increases like, so autumn will inherently tend to increase vata, especially if vata is a key player in your constitution.  (If you are unsure of your Ayurvedic body type, try this Banyan Botanicals questionnaire to help you determine your Ayurvedic Constitution).

You can protect your health this vata season by learning to recognize the common signs and symptoms of vata accumulation, which empowers you to respond to imbalances as soon as they arise.  Mild signs and symptoms will typically occur in the early stages of vata imbalance, may come and go for some time, and are relatively easy to remedy.  More severe imbalances are generally the result of long-standing vata aggravation, are more established in the tissues, and are usually somewhat chronic in nature.  The following list of imbalances is organized by the tissues and systems most affected and is separated into mild and more severe manifestations.  Keep in mind that the earlier you can address an imbalance, the easier it will be to correct.

Signs & Symptoms of Vata Imbalance

In the Mind

Mild Imbalances

Changes in your mental state will often be one of the first indications that an imbalance is beginning to manifest.  For vata, signs of aggravation include anxiety, nervousness, fear, loneliness, insecurity, restlessness, hyperactivity, giddiness, spaciness, and/or confusion.  Excess vata in the mind can also leave you feeling high-strung, like you can’t calm down, or as if you’re perpetually “on edge,” even jumpy.  Excess vata can also cause a racing mind, interrupted sleep, a lack of groundedness, a fear of commitment, and forgetfulness.

More Severe Imbalances

If vata accumulates in the mind unchecked, it will lead to chronic insomnia, delirium, mental instability, blackouts, and severe vata-type depression.

In The Digestive Tract

Mild Imbalances

The digestive tract is one of the first places that aggravated vata will make itself known.  Early signs of vata imbalance include burps, hiccups, gurgling intestines, excessive thirst, gas, bloating, and constipation.  Excess vata in the digestive tract can also cause an irregular appetite, mild weight loss, pain in the flanks, pressure under the diaphragm, a dry taste in the mouth, mass peristalsis, diarrhea, dry feces, and/or hemorrhoids.  When vata is high, you are also likely to crave meat and fatty, salty, sour, or spicy foods.

More Severe Imbalances

Long-standing vata in the digestive tract can cause the stools to become hard, dry, dark, small, and bullet-like in shape.  It can also lead to emaciation, irritable bowel syndrome, as well as anal fissures and fistulas.

In the Circulatory System, Skin, Nails, Scalp & Hair

Mild Imbalances

Signs of imbalance in the circulatory system, skin, nails, scalp, and hair can indicate when aggravated vata is starting to spread.  Excess vata in these areas may cause goosebumps, dryness in the skin, lips, or hair, split ends, cracking skin, heels, nails or cuticles, and dandruff.  Excess vata can also cause pallor, lusterless skin, poor circulation, cold hands or feet, insufficient sweat, eczema, and psoriasis.

More Severe Imbalances

Signs of more severe disturbance in the blood, skin, nails, scalp and hair include severe dehydration, brittle nails and hair, deformities in the nails, dark discolorations of the skin, collapsed blood vessels, aneurysms, blood clots, and varicose veins.

In the Muscles, Bones, Joints, & Nervous System

Mild Imbalances

Lack of coordination, weakness, muscle fatigue, quivering thighs, tightness, stiffness, and muscle aches, are all signs of excess vata in the musculature.  Cracking, popping, or pain in the bones and joints indicates that there is too much vata in these delicate spaces.  High vata in the neuromuscular system can also cause ticks, tremors, tingling, numbness, sciatica, nerve pain, a stiff neck, pain around the pelvic girdle, and vague or generalized pain.

More Severe Imbalances

Long-standing vata disturbance in the muscles, bones, and joints can lead to muscle wasting, muscle rigididity, atrophy, joint dislocations, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, osteoporosis, scoliosis, kyphosis, lordosis, prolapsed organs, fibromyalgia, spontaneous bone fractures, and incontinence.  Severely high vata in the nervous system can cause convulsions, seizures, paralysis, fainting, changes in thyroid function, Multiple Sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease.

Elsewhere in the Body

Mild Imbalances

Some people notice breathlessness, bradycardia, tachycardia, or heart palpitations as excess vata begins to affect them.  For others, early signs include yawning, fatigue, hoarseness in the voice, receding gums, toothache, dizziness, ringing in the ears, a pronounced sensitivity to loud noises.  Dehydration, excessive urination, or the absence of urination are also associated with excess vata.  For women, a vata imbalance can cause PMS symptoms including bloating, low back ache, pain in the lower abdomen, pre-menstrual cramps, insomnia, anxiety, fear, and insecurity.  It can also cause irregular, infrequent, or painful periods, painful intercourse, and premature orgasm.  In men, excess vata can lead to low sperm counts, low libido, and premature ejaculation.

More Severe Imbalances

Long-standing vata disturbance can cause severe asthma, pneumonia, cavities in the teeth, a blackish discoloration of the teeth, impacted wisdom teeth, deafness, club foot, foot drop, dwarfism, general malaise, an absence of menstruation or sperm, premature ageing, and a completely compromised immune system.

Promoting Balance During Vata Season

Adopting a seasonally appropriate vata-pacifying diet and lifestyle can help you to prevent vata imbalances from arising in the first place and serve as invaluable tools, if vata has already started to accumulate.  These tips are very useful during the autumn season, when vata is more likely to become aggravated.

The Basics of a Vata-Pacifying Diet

You can easily support vata by favoring warm, oily, well-cooked, well-spiced foods and the sweet, sour, and salty tastes.  Eat foods that are easy to digest, but also grounding and nourishing, such as root vegetables, soups, and stews.  Garnish your food with plenty of ghee.  Eat regular meals at regular times and enjoy fresh ginger tea with a little honey between meals so that your agni (digestive fire) remains strong and your appetite is stimulated prior to eating.  Drink room-temperature, warm, or hot beverages, and avoid iced drinks.  Do your best to limit your intake of raw vegetables, salads, and cold or frozen foods.  Reduce the pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes and avoid overly fiery spices, strong black teas, and coffee.

The Basics of a Vata-Pacifying Lifestyle

In general, your vata seasonal routine should aim to reduce wind in the body, protect against dryness, and calm any tendencies toward erratic behavior.  Establishing a simple daily routine is one of the most powerful ways you can calm vata.  Arrange a routine that will work for you, picking from some of the following practices.  It is best to rise early at this time of year so that you can benefit from the stillness of the early morning hours.  Brush your teeth with a nourishing toothpaste such as licorice, haritaki, or mint (1).  Hold sesame oil in your mouth and swish it around your gums for 1-3 minutes.  Follow your oral hygiene routine with a haritaki water rinse (soak 1 teaspoon powdered haritaki in warm water overnight) and feel free to swallow a bit to ground and rejuvenate vata (1).  Before you bathe, massage your skin with warm sesame oil, mahanarayan oil, or vata oil to counter the dryness affecting the skin and joints at this time of year.  Administer a few drops of nasya oil to the nasal passages to lubricate the sinuses and calm the mind.  For exercise, relax your pace a bit and favor fluid, strengthening activities like walking, tai chi, swimming, and yoga.  If you practice yoga, move at a slow, relaxed pace, and try to maintain awareness of your breath.  Favor standing poses, inversions, slow sun salutations, twists, alternate nostril breathing, and be sure to leave time for a nice, long shavasana at the close of your practice.

For more detailed information on an Ayurvedic autumn routine – with vata-pacifying diet and lifestyle recommendations specific to your constitution – click here.

References

1.  Pole, Sebastian.  Ayurvedic Medicine:  The Principles of Traditional Practice.  Churchill Livingston Elsevier, 2006.  53-54.

2.  Lad, Vasant.  The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies.  Three Rivers Press, 1998.  20-22.

3.  Lad, Vasant.  Textbook of Ayurveda, Volume 2:  A Complete Guide to Clinical Assessment.  The Ayurvedic Press, 2006.  30, 234, 242-279.