Understanding Vata Digestion
Ayurveda teaches that cultivating strong agni, or digestive fire, is an essential key to promoting health. Understanding and supporting digestion with diet, lifestyle, herbs, meditation, and yoga creates a strong body-consciousness allowing a person to live in harmony through daily and seasonal changes.
Each of the three doshas can predominate in a person's digestive system. Vata-type digestion is delicate and variable. The individual is prone to loss of appetite, irregular bowel movements, and constipation. A pitta-type typically has robust agni and a good metabolism, allowing the person to have an excellent appetite and consume large quantities of food. Pitta rules all the digestive enzymes and secretion of acids in the gastrointestinal tract used in the transformation of food into energy. Kapha-type individuals tend to have slow and steady digestion, generally good agni, though a tendency towards overeating and excess weight gain.
The autumn is upon us and vata dosha is naturally provoked through the increase of cold, dry, windy weather. Vata relates to wind, the principle of movement governed by the elements of ether and air. It is the energy of vata that governs all movements of digestion including peristalsis and excretion of waste products. Just as the wind is subtle and changeable, the energy of vata dosha in the body is variable and strongly influenced by changes in the environment, diet, and lifestyle choices.
When vata dosha predominates, there is an increase in the dry, rough, and cool qualities of our external and internal environments. In excess, dryness can begin to disturb various tissues and organs. Most noticeably, dry skin and lips are examples of this excess. An internal drying can also be occurring particularly in the colon or large intestine, where vata is prone to first accumulate. Though we all notice the seasonal effects of autumn, people whose constitutions are vata-predominant and the elderly who are in the vata stage of life are most susceptible to this change.
Foods that are in season such as root vegetables and winter squash will help nourish and balance the body. Try carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, acorn, butternut, delicata, and buttercup squashes. These have the qualities of sweet, heavy, smooth, dense, and moist and are most balancing for vata. Favor the tastes of sweet, sour, salty in your diet, while limiting bitter and astringent tastes, to help pacify vata dosha.
Some sweet grains to include this season are basmati rice, wheat berries, brown rice, and sushi rice. Also, whole wheat pasta and or buckwheat udon noodles can be especially grounding for vata. Include ghee and other healthful oils such as almond, sesame, or sunflower for internal oleation, kindling agni, and increasing absorption.
When preparing food, use warming spices such as black pepper, dry ginger, cinnamon, and asafoetida to help to stoke the digestive fire. Casseroles, soups, and stews are easily digested and can be very nourishing for vata, warming the body from the inside out.
Our daily activities have a profound effect on our health. A routine, practiced daily, is stronger medicine than an occasional remedy. Consistency is of particular importance as we enter into vata season. When the cool, fall weather arrives and the holiday season is upon us, it can sometimes be difficult to maintain a peaceful, grounded state of being. Having a routine to follow restores balance throughout the day, everyday, safeguarding against the anxiety and stress associated with increased vata.
According to Ayurveda, abhyanga, or oil massage is an essential component to a daily routine. This practice nourishes and strengthens the body, encourages regular sleep patterns, stimulates internal organs, enhances blood circulation and can significantly reduce vata. For more information on abhyanga, please visit our guide.
Herbs can offer great support to vata's delicate digestive system. Try herbal teas of peppermint, ginger, fennel, or licorice. Simply chewing a few fennel seeds after a meal can help promote proper digestion. Banyan Botanicals Vata Digest herbal tablets are specially formulated for alleviating indigestion due to high vata conditions. Containing a synergistic blend of cumin seeds, ajamoda, black pepper, pippali, black cumin, ginger root, mineral salt, and asafoetida, it is based on a traditional Ayurvedic formula to ease common symptoms of indigestion including flatulence, constipation, hiccups, loss of appetite, and malabsorption.
Ayurveda considers Haritaki to be one of the best herbs for balancing vata dosha. As a natural laxative and purgative, it removes undigested food and accumulated natural toxins from the gastrointestinal tract. It strengthens and nourishes the tissues and supports proper function of the colon, lungs, liver, and spleen. Haritaki is traditionally used as a remedy for all vata-related imbalances.
When vata is in excess, psychological symptoms such as insecurity, fear, anxiety, and confusion can arise. Invite calm and relaxation into the body for a few minutes each day. Be still. Direct your attention inward. Notice your breath. Allow this practice to act as a protective shield to the destabilizing influences of the external environment.
Knees-to-chest, or the wind relieving pose, helps to expel air collected in the colon, aid constipation, relieve tension in the lower back, tone the spine and massage the stomach and intestines.
When we are feeling swept up in the fast pace of life, slowing down and taking a few deep belly breaths will do wonders to help relax the nervous system and calm vata dosha. Allow the belly to fill like a balloon upon inhalation and then allow the belly to naturally sink in towards the spine with the exhalation. Mental counting can be a guide to help slow the rate of respiration. To increase the relaxation response in the body, allow the exhalation to be double the length of time of the inhalation. For example, try inhaling for the count of four and then exhaling to the count of eight.
How you care for yourself during the autumn will determine your body's ability to maintain health through the winter. Ground yourself by supporting your digestion with Ayurveda's ancient wisdom. It is time to keep warm, nourish yourself and protect your vitality in preparation for the months ahead.
“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.”
The information provided in this newsletter is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, but only to apprise the reader of basic Ayurvedic lifestyle information. The advice of a qualified health professional is recommended before making changes in diet or exercise routines.