Vata and the Six Tastes
Vata is primarily composed of the air and ether elements, which make vata light, cold, dry, rough, mobile, subtle, and clear. Because of these characteristics, vata is balanced by the sweet, sour and salty tastes and aggravated by the pungent, bitter and astringent tastes.
Below, you’ll find a deeper understanding of how each taste specifically affects vata, as well as the impact that different flavors of experience can have on vata.
The Sweet taste balances vata because:
- it is primarily composed of the earth and water elements and is heavy, oily, moistening, soft, grounding, nourishing, and building.
- it has a mild laxative effect and can help to counter vata’s tendency toward constipation.
- its antispasmodic nature helps to calm twitches, tremors, and other neuromuscular vata imbalances.
- it nourishes all of the tissues in the body, and is both replenishing and rejuvenating.
- it activates downward moving energy in the body, which grounds and stabilizes vata.
- it has an affinity for the mucus membranes and can help to fend off the dry, harsh effects of vata on these tissues.
The sweet taste should be minimized when there is excess mucus, excess heaviness, excess fat, and excess sleep—imbalances that are not typically associated with vata, but that can still be present in people with vata constitutions or imbalances.
The Sour taste balances vata because:
- it is primarily composed of the earth and fire elements, which make it liquid, oily, moistening, and hot.
- it has an affinity for most tissues in the body and helps to build bulk.
- it is digestive and supports the appetite, overall metabolism, proper elimination, and also specifically helps to eliminate gas.
- it has a unique capacity to clear dryness and to expel excess vata.
- it promotes appreciation, understanding, discrimination, and comprehension—mental attributes that support vata.
- it awakens the mind and helps to coalesce scattered energy.
- its downward moving energy grounds vata.
The sour taste should be minimized in cases of congestion, excess heat, itching, skin conditions, and imbalances in the blood. While these discomforts are not typically associated with vata, they can still be present in people with vata constitutions or imbalances. The sour taste is also best minimized when the weather is extremely hot and damp.
The Salty taste balances vata because:
- it is primarily composed of the water and fire elements, which make it heavy, oily, moistening and warm.
- it supports appetite, digestion, absorption, assimilation, elimination, and is anti-flatulent as well.
- it is nourishing and promotes growth, muscle strength, and flexibility.
- it helps to cultivate courage and confidence and can therefore counter vata’s tendency toward fear.
- it is antispasmodic and has an affinity for the nervous system, where many vata imbalances play out.
- it moistens the body and helps to maintain the water electrolyte balance, which is easily disrupted by excess vata.
- its downward moving energy grounds and stabilizes vata.
The salty taste should be minimized in cases of water retention, ulcers, hypertension, aggravated blood, or excess pitta—imbalances that may not be associated with vata, but that can still be present in people with vata constitutions or imbalances.
The Pungent taste aggravates vata because:
- it is primarily composed of the fire and air elements, which make it hot, dry, light, and sharp.
- it is extremely drying.
- it is exceptionally stimulating and can cause tremors, insomnia, and muscle pain.
- it can deplete the reproductive tissues.
- it can exacerbate vata imbalances such as mental confusion, dizziness, fainting, excess thirst, malaise, fatigue, emaciation, and constipation.
- it can amplify vata’s high level of excitement, clarity, and expansiveness, which can cause exhaustion, burn out, flightiness, or giddiness.
- its upward moving and lightening energy tends to destabilize vata.
The Bitter taste aggravates vata because:
- it is primarily composed of the air and ether elements (the same elements that predominate vata) and it is very cold, light, and dry.
- it amplifies vata’s tendency toward extreme cold.
- it dries the tissues and drains moisture from the body.
- it tends to be scraping and depleting.
- it can exacerbate vata conditions like dry mouth, emaciation, weakness, constipation, bone loss, sexual debility, and depleted ojas.
- it can trigger confusion, dizziness, giddiness, and malaise.
- it can exacerbate vata’s tendency toward feelings of boredom, separation, isolation and loneliness.
The Astringent taste aggravates vata because:
- it is primarily composed of the air and earth elements
- it is dry, cold, and heavy (making it especially taxing for vata’s delicate digestion)
- it has a specific affinity for the colon—the seat of vata – and its qualities are inherently vata provoking.
- it tends to be scraping and depleting.
- it can exacerbate vata conditions like gas, bloating, constipation, dry mouth, difficulty speaking, stiffness, spasms, emaciation, insomnia, and sexual debility.
- it can trigger physical and emotional constriction, and lead to stagnation.
- it can exacerbate vata’s tendency to feel scattered and disorganized or even fearful, anxious, and nervous.
Vata and the Flavor of Experience
It’s no coincidence that we use some of the six tastes to very directly describe emotional experiences or tendencies. We associate compassion, kindness, and a caring nature with being sweet. We have a mutual understanding of what a salty individual’s personality might look like, and most of us can picture someone who has grown exceptionally bitter over the years. Because vata itself is subtle, it tends to respond very well when we make positive adjustments to the energies that surround us. When it comes to balancing vata, there are several important take away messages regarding the flavor of your life, relationships, and experiences.
- In general, relationships and experiences that are infused with sweetness are deeply pacifying for vata. Perhaps it’s an indulgent massage, taking some time to be totally present with a sweet baby or a loved one, a romantic evening with your partner, a nourishing chat with a close friend, or a loving self-care practice that you do regularly. There are many ways to do it, but intentionally seeking out a little extra sweetness in our daily experience can support vata on a very deep level.
- Vata types are often drawn to friends and loved ones who are the salt of the earth…people who are solidly grounded, consistent, reliable, and stable. These qualities serve to counterbalance vata’s mobile, subtle, and clear qualities.
- Vata may also benefit from being around a salty character who exudes courage, confidence, or sustained enthusiasm because these qualities counter vata’s tendency toward anxiety, fear, and boredom. If you don’t have friend or relative who embodies these characteristics, simply focusing on cultivating courage in yourself can be very helpful.
- On the other hand, dry humor, dry experiences, and bitterness in general will tend to aggravate vata. These would include any elements of your life that leave you feeling isolated, separate, cynical, or bored, because they have the potential to elevate vata’s cold, dry nature.
Remember, Ayurveda views taste—from the most tangible sensory experience to the subtlest energetic influence – as an essential therapeutic tool. While each of the six tastes has a vital role to play, the perfect combination of tastes can vary wildly from one person to the next. When it comes to balancing vata, the sweet, sour, and salty tastes tend to be the most supportive, while too much of the pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes can be decidedly aggravating.
If you feel like you need a more concrete understanding of any of the six tastes, or would like to see some examples of each one (in the way of foods, herbs, spices, emotional experiences, or mental attributes), please explore these introductory profiles: