A couple of weeks ago, windy and cold weather suddenly swept through the East Coast states. My husband and I were in New England for our niece’s third birthday. I was on a deadline Friday night, and was at school through the entire weekend, during which I juggled family commitments for the birthday, a book deadline, and then traveled back to NYC for a big week at work. And yet I didn’t compromise on my workouts. There is good reason I share all these details.
In New England, I noticed that between a hoodie, a shawl, a blanket, and a space heater in the AirBnB, I was still cold. A couple of days later, while returning to NYC, I experienced intense body ache. There was no fever but there were muscle spasms and tightness in my calf muscles. What started with a limp turned into an inability to walk for a few days. My sleep was disturbed, and my throat remained constantly parched. Many layers of clothing did not address the problem. My skin and lips became dry and there one eye twitched continually. I felt ungrounded and restless. My appetite was erratic.
When I shared my experience in my Instagram feed, many people commented or sent me direct messages saying they were experiencing similar symptoms. Some said they were bloated, constipated, gassy, or could not focus. A few felt unusually fidgety and anxious. What I (and many others) had was a classic case of vata imbalance.
I am fine now because I caught and managed to pacify my vata imbalance with diet and lifestyle at an early stage.
What is Vata?
One of the three doshas in Ayurveda, vata’s elemental makeup consists of air and ether. The common translation of vata is “that which moves things.” Vata is responsible for all action in the body. “It governs breathing, blinking, muscle and tissue movement, pulsation of the heart, and all movements in the cytoplasm and cell membranes,” says Dr. Vasant Lad of The Ayurvedic Institute in New Mexico. Basically, vata is responsible for all the movements of the body and mind, sensory impulses and motor regulation, breath, removal of waste, speech and the pumping of the heart.
When our vata is in balance, our breath supports our nervous system, and there is homeostasis between tissues and organs. Body movements are graceful, unimpeded, and yet controlled. But when vata is out of balance, the result is fear and anxiety. Movements become erratic, excessive, decreased, or are blocked.
Vata dosha is light, dry, mobile, cold, hard, rough, sharp, subtle, flowing, and clear. We are in the vata season – fall, or autumn. There is one philosophy you want to remember: like increases like.
For the most part, I am good with maintaining a schedule and setting healthy boundaries. I eat a balanced diet and exercise six days a week. But I had too many commitments, which overwhelmed my mind and body. My method of coping with stress is by exercising. But too many workouts did more damage than good. Also, the generous AirBnB owner had kept a basket of (vata-aggravating) goodies on the kitchen table, which I munched on during my breaks. I don’t typically eat snacks, just meals. Because we were away and seeing family, the meals got pushed from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. You see, it was not one thing that threw my vata out of balance but a multitude of them. It was a result of them all — the erratic eating, over-exercising, irregular sleep, excessive travel in a few days, the over-the-top stimulation, and the unpredictable weather.
How to Manage a Vata Imbalance
- Stick to a regular schedule. Wake up and go to bed at a fixed time.
- Don’t skip meals. Eat on time. Ayurveda recommends eating three balanced meals to pacify vata.
- Eat warm, cooked foods, which means no raw salads.
- Excessive exercise can exacerbate vata, so don’t push it during this season and opt for gentler workouts.
- Meditation is instrumental in pacifying vata since it calls for a withdrawal of the senses — or a removal of external distractions.
- Vata runs dry, so remember to hydrate your system with water and warm, herbal teas.
- Self-massage or abhyanga with warm oil like sesame oil nourishes and hydrates the body.
- Don’t add too much to your plate, to the point that you feel overwhelmed.
- Listen to your body; it holds infinite wisdom.
Anyone can experience vata imbalances, though vata-dominant individuals are more prone to them. If caught early, a combination of diet and lifestyle adjustments can return vata into balance and prevent seasonal allergies, colds and flus. With the pandemic, don’t we want to be doubly careful?
“The Ayurvedic route to great health involves two simple steps: 1. Doing less; 2. Being more.”
~ Shubhra Krishan
DISCLAIMER: Information in this article is presented for the sole purpose of imparting education on Ayurveda. The information isn’t intended to diagnose, treat, mitigate, cure, or prevent any disease. If you have a medical condition, or are pregnant or lactating, please consult a health professional. Before making changes to your diet or routine, it is recommended that you speak with your physician.