We live in a crazy world, in a time when it’s increasingly difficult to find true happiness and health.
Overloaded with demands, bombarded by ads reminding us what we lack, pressured to live up to unrealistic standards, overwhelmed by news of all the chaos going on in the world today, we are suffering from stress-related illnesses at an alarming rate.
And so the never-ending chase for happiness continues. Often, we don’t even know what we’re looking for, but oh, we’re looking. Numbing emotions we don’t have time or tools to process; buying things we don’t need, with money we don’t have; consuming foods and substances we know aren’t good for us; spending too much time in front of screens, not enough in nature or with those we love.
Yes, we live in complicated times. And while I wish I could tell you there’s a quick fix, there isn’t. But what I’d like to share are small changes we can make, small actions we can take, to help reclaim our power and health.
Based on the spiritual tradition of Vedic science, Ayurveda, a 5,000-plus-year-old, holistic self-healing method from India that covers physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health and offers tools to help to our struggling society.
Also known as the sister or healing branch of yoga, Ayurveda aims to create balance in our internal and external world, for optimal health, happiness, and longevity.
Because our nervous system impacts each breath, feeling, decision, and experience in this life, Ayurveda practitioners believe it’s crucial to maintain harmony within this complex system.
In order to find this elusive balance, Ayurveda offers various “self-healing” or “balancing” practices through diet, herbal remedies, exercise, and lifestyle regimens based on one’s unique dosha makeup.
What is a dosha, you ask? A dosha can be best described as the energy which governs one’s physical, mental, and emotional state. It’s said that we are born with a genetically determined dosha—known as our prakriti—influenced by our mother’s state during conception, as well as a dosha related to our environment—known as our vikriti.
There are three main doshas—kapha, pitta, and vata—and individual constitutions can be any combination of the three. And let me tell you, there are many combinations. In fact, it’s said that there are as many constitutional variations as there are humans on this planet.
Translation: there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to health in Ayurveda—and really, as much as clever marketers like to fool us, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to pretty much anything in life.
Instead, Ayurveda encourages us to tune into the present moment and our present state and to learn how to best work with our unique makeup, through a wide variety of simple balancing practices.
One of my favorite things about this approach to health is that it allows for flexibility and experimentation and aligns with the concept that every small action we take in life has the power to make an impact on our lives and in the world.
Since first discovering Ayurveda, I’ve been experimenting with different foods, herbal remedies, and daily practices to help pacify the excess of vata and pitta in my dosha makeup—and it’s been interesting, to say the least. Interesting and struggle at times, in this world where one (especially vata) can become overwhelmed by the multitude of options available in all that we do.
For someone with vata in their constitution, choosing a practice—or five—is easy. They likely all sound great at first, but exercising the discipline necessary to commit to these practices despite whatever else is going on is where the challenge lies.
Why? Vatas are known to be super enthusiastic about something to start, but also quick to lose interest and move on to the next shiny object—especially when results aren’t immediate.
Sound familiar? Quite possibly, for, in general, it’s said that today’s fast-paced, modern world is highly “vata-genic.” Vata is also said to be the primary force of our nervous system, influencing the other two doshas, which is why I’ll start by talking about vata.
What does this even mean? Vata (otherwise known as prana or energetic life force) can be described as air and space, always moving, always changing with the wind. Vata is said to be responsible for our nerve impulse, breath, speech, circulation, and digestion.
If vata predominates in your constitution, you’ll likely tend to be an on-the-go, spontaneous kind of person, adaptable to change, with an energetic, creative mind when your energy is balanced.
Vatas are known to be rebels who are quick to learn, easy to forget, spiritually perceptive, talkative, and happiest in nature, as they are said to have a heightened sense of touch and appreciation for beauty.
When in excess, vata energy brings about an overactive, racing mind, difficulty making decisions, fear, restlessness, anxiety, constipation, poor digestion, joint problems, and difficulty sleeping.
If these characteristics sounds like you, it may be beneficial to introduce a vata-balancing practice into your life. While vatas are known to want to see and do it all, I highly suggest (from experience) starting with one practice and committing for at least 40 days, in order to reap the slow and steady benefits.
Why 40 days? “According to yogic technology it takes 40 days to change a habit—to retrain the mental process and nervous system. Practicing anything for at least 40 days allows you the opportunity to incorporate it into your being, turn on, wake up, transform!” (Paramjot Singh Khalsa)
Yes, I said it. Slow and steady. While I know this is not what a vata, pitta, or most of us in this fast-paced world want to hear, I’m sorry to say, Ayurveda is not a quick-fix approach. Instead, it believes slow and steady adjustments to our daily choices, thoughts, and actions have the power to prevent future health concerns and alleviate current issues over time. Yes, time. So get ready to practice that patience.
What’s also important to note is that while one balancing practice works for a friend with a similar constitution, it may not be what resonates with you. The key is to find practice(s) you can commit to, in order to create the stability necessary to benefit the mind and nervous system.
Thankfully, there are many simple and nourishing practices to choose from.
Here is a list of some of my favorite vata-balancing practices:
1. Routine around eating: Three nutrient-dense meals a day at approximately the same time each day, without snacking in between.
2. Morning rituals—or any regular daily routine—lighting of incense, making of bed, sweeping of floor.
3. Meditation, restorative or gentle asana practice with longer holds (grounding postures: Tree pose, Mountain pose, Warrior I and II, Savasana). Even just 10 minutes a day of consistent practice.
4. Mantra: Repetition of Om or Ram 108 times, or any other grounding mantra, silently in your mind, or out loud to start, until you get more comfortable in your practice.
5. Grounding via gardening or gentle to moderate walks in nature—preferably barefoot.
6. Listening to slow, soft, relaxing music or mantra.
7. Herbs: Ashwagandha (rejuvenating herb that calms nervous system, promotes deep sleep, fights stress, improves memory, strengthens immune system), Triphila (herbal formula that helps with digestion and nutrient absorption, promotes regularity, cleanses internal organs).
8. Self-massage (Abhyanga), with Ayurvedic medicated oils or high-quality sesame oil (touch is important for vata, so receiving massage from someone you love is also a great practice).
9. Increase of grounding foods and spices, such as cooked asparagus, beets, carrots, cauliflower, pumpkin, cucumber, green beans, taro, leafy greens, peas, avocados, coconut, bananas, mangoes, dates, pineapple, kiwi, papaya, figs, garlic, oats, quinoa, mung dal, red lentils, rice, soy milk, ghee, olive oil, sesame oil, coconut oil, warm soy milk, tofu, full fat Greek yogurt, cashews, macadamia nuts, peanuts, pistachios, chia seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, tahini, fennel, cilantro, cardamom, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, mustard seed, basil, asafoetida, oregano, sage, allspice, nutmeg, paprika, saffron, thyme, rosemary, honey, and molasses.
10. Vitamin/food supplements as needed: calcium; copper; iron; spirulina; aloe vera juice; bee pollen; amino acids; vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12; folic acid; magnesium; and zinc.
11. Regular sleep schedule. Sleeping by 10 p.m. each night, waking between 6 and 7 a.m. or same time each morning.
12. Nighttime routine. Taking time to wind down and relax for an hour before sleep, avoiding active, stimulating activities (TV, computers, smartphones, work), opting for quiet and relaxing activities (meditation, gentle breathwork, bath with sandalwood or lavender oil, self-massage).
13. Focusing on one thing at a time. The brain can’t actually multitask, so trying to only creates further vata imbalance in your mind-body system.
While these balancing practices are key to Ayurveda, it’s equally important to note the importance of love in our daily living. And a big part of this is self-love—which can be challenging for those of us with high vata in our constitution, for we are known for being hard on ourselves.
What does self-love look like? Devotion. Devotion to oneself. Devotion to well-being. Oh, and devotion to not beating yourself up on days you don’t make balanced choices—remembering that you’re human and life happens.
Yes, you will most likely eventually fall out of any healthy practice you adopt—so don’t be so hard on yourself when it happens. Instead, choose to re-commit to the practice whenever you can, with compassion.
Compassion is key. Compassion and kindness to yourself and to those around you.
Remember, we are all doing our best out there. A practice, indeed.
Practice on, vata friends.