Vata is considered the leader of the three Ayurvedic doshas and is made up of the elements Space & Air. Pitta and Kapha cannot move without the presence of Vata therefore keeping it in balance key! The vata dosha is roughly translated as air or wind, or ether in the Greek system. It is the principle of movement in the body and the energy that governs biological movement in the body. It is formed of two of the five elements: ether (space) and air. Vata regulates breathing, all movements of the muscles and tissues, the heart muscle, and all biological movements intra and extracellular, including the single movements of the nerve impulses.
People with a vata constitution are generally thin, with flat chests, and have noticeable veins and muscle tendons. They tend to have dry, cracked skin. Vata people are very creative people who have active, alert, and restless minds. They talk and move quickly, but also fatigue easily. They are quick to grasp things mentally. Their will power is weak, and they tend to be easily knocked off center. They are not mentally stable and tend to be nervous, anxious, and fearful. Their animal archetype is the rabbit, dog, rat, goat, camel, or crow.
When there is an imbalance of vata, it is often recognized on the psychological level as nervousness, fear, anxiety, insomnia, pain, tremors, and spasms. A vata imbalance may also manifest as rough skin, arthritis, emaciation, stiffness, constipation, dryness, thirst, insomnia, excessive sensitivity and excitability, and physical pain. There is a tendency to large intestine disorders such as excess gas, low back pain, sciatica, paralysis, and neuralgia. Vata personalities are adversely affected by cold, windy, stormy, and rainy weather, which can directly imbalance their nervous system. For example, the author once helped a person with a predominant vata dosha stop her insomnia by having her turn off her fan at night. The wind from the fan was causing a vata imbalance. In general, anything that causes excess, such as strenuous exercise or mental labor, extreme diet, grief, anger, suppression of natural urges, severe weather conditions, or any practices taken to the limit will cause an imbalance in vata.
Vata people enjoy sweet, salty, and sour tastes. They are often thrown out of balance by taking bitter, astringent (dry), or pungent foods. Sesame seed oil on the skin, a little oil in their food, and a stable, calm, soothing environment help to bring the vata dosha back into balance.
In Chapter 25, which discusses how to balance excess prana and vata that may arise from eating live foods, the author defers to this chapter for a more in-depth discussion of vata. The key understanding about vata is learning how to balance one’s lifestyle. The idea is to calm and soothe the vata and the prana without having to reactively go to tamasic antidotes such as drugs, like alcohol and marijuana, or flesh food. The answer to this starts with the awareness that as we go on live foods, it requires more thoughtfulness because we are definitely increasing the prana and the possibility for a vata imbalance. The more obvious ways to prevent excess prana and vata is to go slowly and respect the changes your body is going through. Many people on the spiritual path, particularly when they first go on live foods, have a tendency to move too fast and try to go 100 percent before their psyche and physiology are ready. The result is a definite increase in energy, but often more energy than people can handle in a balanced way. There is also a potential for a great release of emotional toxins if one moves to a 100-percent live-food diet too quickly. This can make for a bumpy ride. The main prevention of vata imbalance and a prana excess is to go slow and easy, with a certain amount of sweetness in one’s movement, in one’s diet, and toward oneself. It is about gentleness toward oneself rather than harshness. This includes avoiding the tendency to over-exercise and push oneself beyond limits. Excess pranayama practice can lead to imbalance because pranayama does not have discrimination – it will just increase prana. If your body is already experiencing increased prana secondary to the diet, excess pranayama may increase prana more than the body is ready to handle. The secret is in being peaceful with yourself: avoiding excess exercise, over-effort, over-scheduling, irregular hours, and not getting enough sleep, which should be between seven and eight hours per night. All these simple practices tend to balance the prana and the vata. When the prana is increased, and the Kundalini is awakened, there is a tendency to burn ojas (life force) faster than we are ready or prepared for. One reason the author strongly suggests the Six Foundations is that they build ojas and, with proper eating, also build the adrenals so that one, in general, builds the internal structure of nadis to be ready to handle the increased amount of live food going into the system.
One of the key principles of this is to eat in a way that balances the vata. Vata is balanced by eating food that tends to be sweet. This is not necessarily a high-glycemic sweet. It could be low-glycemic fruit, such as berries and cherries, or blended foods that are oily and creamy and of a slightly sweet taste. Many of these high ojas- and vata-calming foods include: bee pollen; live foods high in oil content such as avocados or soaked nuts and seeds; sprouted or soaked grains; slightly warm blended greens; raw soups; and blended vegetables. All should be at least room temperature. Herbs that add a certain amount of heat to the system are helpful for balancing vata. These herbs include: ginger; sweet spices such as cardamom, fennel, and cinnamon; asafoetida (hing); and cumin. The idea here is that these herbs tend to minimize gas and bloating, are slightly heating, and specifically balancing for vata. A little bit of pungent spices such as cayenne can be okay. Blended foods are very helpful, as well as raw nut butters, tahini, and oils such as sesame and other slightly heating oils. Sweet vegetables such as beet and carrot (not the juice, but the whole vegetables) are good. Sweet and watery vegetables include: asparagus, cucumbers, dulse, ginger, hijiki, kelp, kombu, all the sea vegetables, okra, sweet potatoes, and sprouts (a certain amount really work well for balancing vata). Finally, certain grains, particularly barley and wild rice, can be included. If one is not on a 100-percent live-food diet, wheat is considered a sweet grain, which can also be balancing, but with wheat there are increased risks of allergy and candida. The author suggests that one stay away from beans as they tend to create gas and therefore aggravate vata, but hummus, for example, can be balancing for vata in mild amounts. Soaked seeds and nuts, particularly in the form of seed and nut sauces and seed and nut milks are excellent for balancing vata. The key taste for vata is sweet, because it satisfies and calms the system. The Ayurvedic system has taught that sweetness is the taste that is closest to the gods. Salt taste adds a little heat. Sour tasting foods add a touch of acidity, which helps to balance issues. So warm, oily, sweet, salty, watery, “creamy,” and soupy cuisine is going to help balance, soothe, and calm vata.
Foods that aggravate vata include: cold foods, carbonated drinks, ice water, an excess of dehydrated foods, salads with light salad dressings, but vata may have the full range of vegetables and salad, particularly if they are combined with high-oil-content food such as avocados, soaked nuts and seeds, or seed and nut salad dressings. Vegetables that tend to produce gas, such as the brassica family (cabbage family) and even nightshades, should be taken in moderation and with an experimental attitude to see if one is affected by these foods in a negative way. Excess roughage should be minimized, or blended into raw soups. If one feels the need for the healing power of cabbage, a little bit of fermented cabbage such as sauerkraut or kimche can be useful. Moderate and low glycemic fruits, including berries, avocados, tomatoes, pears, and a little applesauce, are helpful for balancing because they have a certain amount of sweetness. Excess dry fruits tend to be imbalancing because they are too sweet and because their dryness aggravates vata. Astringent foods, such as unripe persimmons, cranberries, and pomegranates, should be taken in moderation. Apples and pears may have a slight drying effect but can be neutral in their effect on vata if they are taken with warming spices such as ginger or cinnamon. Fruits that seem most balancing for vata seem to be apricots, avocados, berries, cherries, coconut, figs, citrus, melons, nectarines, and plums. Classically some high-glycemic fruits such as bananas and melons have been recommended, but, if you understand the Rainbow Green Live-Food Cuisine (see Chapter 27), the author does not recommend them on a regular basis.
Activities that aggravate vata include over-exercise, drug use, forcing Yogic practices or other spiritual practices, excess pranayama, and lack of sleep. Once we understand these principles of how to calm vata –with moderate or comfortable living that is peaceful and modest in terms of stress, combined with sweet, salty, or oily, watery, soupy cuisine, and not moving quicker than the body is comfortable with in the transition to live foods – we have the best prevention. The author feels that the optimum diet is a 100-percent live-food diet, but feels that people on the spiritual path need to be moderate in reaching that as a way of Being and would best be served by stabilizing at 80 percent and working out a certain amount of balance at that for a period of time before proceeding to more intense levels of the diet. With this practice of moderation, we would see far more people becoming successful with live foods. A small percentage of people, because of their psychological addictive tendencies, need to be on a 100-percent live-food diet to be successful, and those people should do that approach as the number one alternative. If you make it to 80 percent, which so many people can do, you can be successful on a live-food diet with increased chances of minimizing the pitfalls of excess prana and vata imbalance. Although classical Ayurvedic teachings from India do not recommend a 100-percent live-food diet for vatas, by applying the Ayurvedic principles for balancing vata and the use of the full, delicious spectrum of a live-food diet, the author has seen hundreds of vatas be successful on 100-percent live food. One key to this is realizing that live foods in India meant primarily leafy greens, fruits, and raw nuts and seeds, and not the incredible array of smoothies, spirulina drinks, seed and nut milks, soaked nuts and seeds, seed sauces as salad dressings, blended foods, sea vegetables, and bee pollen, which create a powerful vata balancing live-food diet.