By Karen Evennett
Ayurveda is based on a belief that everything in the universe is composed of five elements: earth, ether, fire, water and air. These combine to form three internal forces, or doshas: pitta, kapha and vata.
Here's what you need to know about the energetic vata dosha. Want to know which dosha you are? Take the quiz.
Where pitta's element is fire and kapha's is water, vata's is air. The word that sums up vata is 'changeable'.
Vata people are unpredictable and less stereotyped than either pittas or kaphas. It is considered very vata to love change, seek out excitement, and eat and sleep erratically. You're also likely to experience – and express – bursts of emotion.
Physical traits of vata
Physically, a typical vata is the thinnest of the three doshas, and you're likely to have narrow shoulders and hips. Especially in early adulthood, you may be slender and supple, or you could find it difficult to reach a healthy weight.
The vata personality
Ever the erratic dosha, vatas are notorious for starting new projects – but failing to see them through. A sign of vata being out of balance is if you shop compulsively, but actually fail to buy anything. Or you talk and talk – going round in circles with your arguments, without coming to any conclusion.
Out of balance, everything about you is restless – from the way you eat to the way you think, talk, act and sleep. Most vatas are also chronic worriers when they're stressed.
But, in balance, the typical vata is vivacious, imaginative, infectiously happy, enthusiastic, and full of energy. The downside, if you're predominantly vata, is that you will let over-excitement spill into over-exertion, leading to exhaustion, fatigue or low mood.
Vata normally goes out of balance before the other doshas, so if vata is anywhere in your mix, you must nurture yourself with plenty of rest. It is rest and a regular lifestyle that help to keep vata in balance and prevent the health problems associated with it.
Pitfalls of vata
Vatas tend to be at the doctor's more than the other two doshas, and a lot of their problems arise from the erratic and haphazard lifestyle that they cling to and often believe to be stimulating.
Vatas crave change and variety, but eating on the hoof and burning the candle at both ends are bad for any dosha – and particularly so for vatas, who desperately need the regularity they loathe to bring themselves into balance.
The health problems that result from an erratic lifestyle will usually include headaches, backache, insomnia, menstrual cramps and low-level anxiety.
Vata increases in all of us as we age – and ageing can bring out the worst of vata: low appetite, lack of interest in food, poor digestion, and long sleepless nights. The good news is that the imbalance behind these problems can be prevented, and balance restored, with a more regular lifestyle.
The vata diet
Vatas feel the cold and are unbalanced by it; it is also a naturally dry dosha. Therefore, a warming and hydrating diet is recommended. Instead of too much dry fruit, make the most of fresh bananas, coconuts, apples, figs, grapefruits, berries and avocados. Drink plenty of warm water (not cold), and enjoy hot stews and soups, and warming spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, ginger, cloves and garlic.
Avoid cold foods (salads and raw vegetables), and, above all, try to eat regularly – spreading four half-size meals throughout the day instead of two full-sized ones.
Vatas should enjoy warming stews and soups, with spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, cumin and ginger.
The vata sleep cycle
Vatas are poor sleepers. You may recognise yourself as someone who is resigned to being an insomniac – but sleeplessness exacerbates a vata imbalance, so it's something to be tackled head on.
Loud music and a lot of TV can overstimulate vata late at night, so avoid these. If you still have trouble calming your mind and body and winding down for sleep, invest in a weighted comfort blanket to make you feel more grounded.
Keep your room and bed warm and cosy, and have some lavender oil on your bedside table. Rub it over your heart area if you wake in the night. Taking a few deep breaths, snuggled under your weighted blanket, should help you get back to sleep.
Vata's need for rest doesn't stop with a good night's sleep. You are naturally very active and tend to exert yourself. But you can easily overdo it, so make opportunities to rest throughout the day.
Even if it is a mental activity that is taxing you, stop and rest for a few minutes to recharge your batteries. Meditation is highly recommended for all doshas, and for vata it is especially important as it will aid deep relaxation. In fact, just a few minutes of meditation can help a vata emerge feeling thoroughly settled and refreshed.
Vata-pacifying herbs include ashwagandha, cumin, fennel, dill, turmeric, and cinnamon, explains Dr Prasanna Kerur, Ayurvedic physician at the Ayush Wellness Spa in Jersey. "These are in line with the vata-friendly salty, sour and sweet tastes." The pungent, bitter taste of black seed oil (also known as black cumin) is also good for balancing vata.
Read more about Ayurveda here.
"Always seek medical advice before taking a herbal remedy if you have a known medical condition, or you are taking other medicines."
Karen is a freelance health journalist and author/editor of 14 health books. She is a member of the Medical Journalists' Association and her features have appeared in various publications including Woman's Own and the Guardian.