If your prakriti or original constitution has more Vata in it, you will exhibit many of the characteristics and qualities of Vata when you are in balance than people who have more Pitta or Kapha in their make-up. But if the qualities become extreme, or more pronounced than usual at a given time, then the Vata in you has in all likelihood become aggravated or imbalanced, and needs to be brought back into balance.
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In addition, if a predominantly Kapha or Pitta person starts exhibiting many Vata qualities, that indicates a Vata imbalance in that Kapha or Pitta body type. In both cases, it is then time to follow a Vata-balancing diet and lifestyle to help restore the level of Vata in the physiology to its normal proportion.
Factors that can cause Vata dosha to increase in the physiology include a diet that contains too many dry or raw foods, over-consumption of ice-cold beverages, exposure to cold dry winds, a variable daily routine, too much travel, and mental overexertion.
Ayurvedic texts recommend the principle of opposites for reducing the level of a dosha that has become aggravated. Since the characteristics of Vata include dryness, coolness, roughness, lightness and constant motion, qualities that are opposite to these in diet and lifestyle help restore balance to Vata dosha.
Include foods that are liquid or oily in your daily diet to balance dryness, some "heavy" foods to offer substance and sustained nourishment, foods that are smooth in texture to offset roughness and foods that are warm or hot to balance the cool nature of Vata. Here are some specific dietary tips:
- If you need to balance Vata, a fat-free diet is not for you. Include some oil (for example, olive oil) in your diet everyday. Olive oil cannot be heated to high temperatures without destroying its healing value, so drizzle olive oil over fresh soft flatbreads, cooked grains, or warm vegetable dishes.
- Avoid too many dry foods such as crackers, dry cold cereal and the like.
- Cooked foods, served hot or warm, are ideal for balancing Vata. Pureed soups, cooked fruit, hot cereal, rice pudding and hot nourishing beverages such as nut milks or warm milk are excellent "comfort" foods and help pacify aggravated Vata.
- Avoid or minimize raw foods such as salads and raw sprouts.
- The three Ayurvedic tastes that help balance Vata are sweet, sour and salty, so include more of these tastes in your daily diet. Milk, citrus fruits, dried fruit or salted toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds make good snack choices. Eat less of the bitter, pungent and astringent tastes.
- Nuts are wonderful Vata-pacifiers. Soak ten almonds overnight. Blanch and eat in the early morning for a healthy burst of energy. Walnuts, hazelnuts and cashews make good Vata-pacifying snacks.
- Carrots, asparagus, tender leafy greens, beets, sweet potatoes and summer squash such as zucchini and lauki squash are the best vegetable choices. They become more digestible when chopped and cooked with Vata-pacifying spices. Vegetables can be combined with grains or mung beans for satisfying one-dish meals. Avoid nightshades and larger beans.
- Basmati rice is ideal for balancing Vata. Cook it with a little salt and ghee for added flavor. Wheat is also good-fresh flatbreads made with whole wheat flour (called atta or chapati flour and available at Indian grocery stores) and drizzled with a little oil combine well with cooked vegetables or Vata-balancing chutneys.
- Most spices are warming and enhance digestion, so cook with a combination of spices that appeals to your taste buds and is appropriate for the dish you are making. Ayurvedic spices such as small quantities of turmeric, cumin, coriander, dried ginger, black pepper and saffron offer flavor, aroma and healing wisdom.
- Drink lots of warm water through the day.
Suggested Food Choices for Vata dosha
The following list of suggested foods is by no means all-inclusive, but offers starting guidelines if you are new to Ayurvedic dietary principles.
- Grains: Rice, wheat, quinoa, oats, amaranth, all cooked until tender
- Vegetables: Asparagus, tender greens, carrots, peas, green beans, white daikon, zucchini, lauki squash, parsnips, sweet potatoes, all cooked
- Fruits: Avocado, pineapple, papaya, peaches, plums, grapes, mangoes, oranges, cherries, all kinds of berries, limes and lemons, apples if stewed, coconut, fresh figs, raisins (soaked)
- Lentils: Mung beans, urad dhal, mung dhal, masoor dhal, toor dhal, red lentils, all cooked until butter-soft
- Dairy: Whole milk, cream, butter, fresh yogurt (cooked into foods), lassi, cottage cheese
- Oils: Ghee, olive oil, sesame oil, cold-pressed nut oils such as walnut
- Herbs: Fresh ginger root, cilantro, curry leaves, parsley, fresh basil, fresh fennel, mint
- Nuts and Seeds: Almonds (soaked and blanched), cashews, walnuts (soaked), pistachios, hazelnuts, pecans (soaked), pine nuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds
- Spices: Ajwain, dried ginger, asafetida (hing) in small quantities, fenugreek, turmeric, cumin, clove, cardamom, coriander, fennel, black pepper, basil, Chinese cinnamon, nutmeg, mustard seed, mint, rosemary, thyme, lemon and orange zest, oregano, rock salt or sea salt, black salt, dried mango powder, pomegranate seeds or powder
- Other: Rice milk, soy milk, poppy seeds, Sucanat, turbinado sugar, raw honey, and tofu in moderation (diced small and cooked with spices).
- Since Vata dosha is characterized as restless, constantly in motion and irregular, the primary lifestyle recommendation for balancing Vata is to maintain a regular routine. That means rising and going to bed at roughly the same times each day, eating three meals at about the same times each day, and following a similar pattern of work and rest from day to day.
- Do not skip meals. Eat a nourishing lunch at mid-day and lighter meals at breakfast and dinner. Sit down to eat each meal, eat in a peaceful atmosphere with your attention on your food, and sit quietly for a few minutes after your meal. If your digestive fire is irregular, practicing these eating habits will help make it more regular.
- Daily elimination is very important to prevent ama from accumulating in the body. Triphala Rasayana helps promote regularity as well as toning the digestive system. Since Triphala is gentle, not habit forming and not depleting, it can be taken indefinitely to maintain regularity.
- To pamper dry skin, to promote circulation and to nourish and tone muscles and nerves, indulge in an Ayurvedic massage every morning before you bathe or shower. Use almond or jojoba oil for your massage. If you like, you can add 3-4 drops of a pure essential oil such as lavender or sweet orange to 2 oz. of massage oil. Mix well before use. Two or three time a week, massage your scalp with warm oil, and let the oil stay for an hour or two before you shampoo. After your shower or bath, apply a generous coating of a pure, gentle moisturizer all over your body to keep your skin feeling smooth all day long.
- Protect yourself from the cold and wind. Stay warm and toasty in cold weather by wearing several layers of clothing. Wear a cap and scarf when you go out to protect your ears and throat. Wear lip balm to prevent lips from getting dry and chafed.
- Walking is the ideal exercise for balancing Vata. Walk in the early morning, for about 20 minutes every day.
- It is important to get to bed early, so that you can get adequate rest each night. A cup of warm milk, with a pinch of nutmeg, can be helpful before bedtime.
- Set aside about 30 minutes each day for meditation, to help calm the mind and enhance body-mind-spirit coordination.