Balance your Air element, Vata dosha
In this post, I discuss the symptoms that manifest due to the overaccumulation of the air element also known as the Vata dosha, and how to use nutrition and lifestyle to bring the body and the mind back to balance.
According to Ayurveda, everything in the material world is made up the five elements (Ether, Air, Fire, Water and Earth). Each of the five elements represents; solid (earth), liquid (water), radiance (fire), gas (air) and etheric (ether) forms of matter which make up the outer world of experience, including the physical body.
The five elements form what is known as Tridosha (Vata, Pitta, Kapha) or three humours. Every individual is made up of a unique proportion of the tridosha. i.e. the five elements are present in each one of us in a unique ratio. Therefore, no two people are made up of the same exact proportion of the five elements.
Most people have one or two dominant elements at birth which is determined by genetics, the parents dominant elements at conception and karmic past. A person’s dominant tridosha can be described as the person’s natural tendency to exhibit more of certain qualities that correspond to the properties of certain elements. It is also commonly referred to as a person’s unique constitution or Prakriti.
Although a person's dominant birth element(s) remains relatively fixed throughout a person's life, following a diet and lifestyle that is not appropriate for one's constitution can alter the balance of the elements in the body and mind. This state of imbalance is known as Vikruti. This is a condition where the state of the a person's constitution has changed and no longer corresponds to the the dominant element(s) at birth.
Such changes in tridosha are usually an overaccumulation of certain elements in body and mind, which usually manifest as symptoms and when left untreated will eventually lead to disorders or diseases. In Ayurveda we believe that when the cause of the symptoms are removed at an early stage, more serious disorders of diseases can be avoided.
The focus of this post is the Vata dosha which is a predominance of air and ether elements. The main function of the Vata dosha in the body is movement and catabolic changes.
Ninety percent of illnesses or diseases are caused by an imbalance in the Vata dosha. Therefore it is important to understand the symptoms so that you can correct the imbalance before it becomes more serious.
Excess of Vata dosha manifests as the following symptoms:
Indigestion which may include excessive gas, constipation, and bloating
Mental and physical exhaustion
Cold hands and feet
Irritable bowel syndrome
Unintended weight loss
Insomnia or poor, disturbed sleep
Irregular or painful menstrual cycles, or absence of menstruation
Breathing problems e.g hyperventilation
Lack of concentration
Causes of Vata imbalance include:
Excessive consumption of dry, cold, light food
Improper sleeping habits
Mental or physical trauma
Ignoring natures calls
Excessive sexual activity
Erratic dietary habits
Consumption of alcohol and cold drinks
General Nutrition Recommendation:
Avoid all deep fried and refined foods.
Eat fresh and if possible organic whole foods.
Always eat warm and cooked foods.
Do not consume raw or cold foods including raw salads.
Eat 3 to 4 small (fist sized portions) meals a day at approximately the same time everyday (soups, stews and porridges are best).
Take small bites and chew each mouthful slowly making sure it is almost liquid before swallowing.
Always sit down in a relaxed atmosphere when eating. Do not get up during meals!
Eat slowly and mindfully. Don't rush!
Drinks: min 1.5 to 2 liters a day
Always consume warm drinks/water. Never cold!
Before eating anything in the morning, drink a cup (500ml) of warm water.
Drink 1 cup of fresh ginger tea. Boil fresh ginger in hot water for 10 minutes.
Avoid alcohol, black tea, carbonated drinks and coffee.
Always consume ripe sweet fruit (2 to 5 pieces a day)
Recommended: Melons (except watermelon), papaya, grapes, dates, peaches, plums, all sweet berries, oranges, bananas, tangerines, mango, pineapple, apricots, grapefruit, persimmon, kiwi, and cherries.
Soak and rinse all dry fruits like raisins and figs before consumption.
All fruit can be consumed raw except for Apples, Bananas and Pears, which should be cooked/steamed with cumin, black pepper, cinnamon and rock salt.
Recommended: (Cooked/steamed/stir-fried in ghee with at least 2 to 3 of above spices) pumpkin (butternut), carrot, leeks, beetroot, sweet potato, okra, olives, cucumbers, onions, garlic, yams, and parsnip.
Limit consumption of the following vegetables to once or twice a week. (especially in cold climates): white potatoes, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, aubergines, asparagus, peas, sweet paprika, spinach zucchini, radishes, tomato, seaweed, avocados.
40 % of the daily food intake should consist of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Recommended: oats, quinoa, whole wheat, wholegrain spelt, rice especially brown basmati rice (parboiled is a good alternative to brown rice)
Limit consumption of: Rye, Millet, Buckwheat, Corn, dry crackers.
30 % of the daily food intake should consist of whole grains.
Meat, Fish and Legumes
If non-vegetarian: Meat and Fish: (75 to 100grams a day). Recommended: Organic/wild chicken, turkey, duck and fish (wild salmon or organically farmed, tuna, mackerel, sardines) cooked in soups to improve digestion.
Avoid/do not consume: red meat (beef, lamb, pork).
For vegetarians: Most suitable are mung beans since most other legumes/beans increase Vata dosha which can cause gas and bloating. Therefore it is advised to consume all beans and legumes except mung beans in moderation and always add the above spices to improve digestion.
It is advised to consume fish high in omega 3 fatty acids at least once or twice a week.
Nuts & seeds: one handful a day
If you notice difficulty digesting nuts, they should be soaked for at least a few hours to 24 hours and then and rinsed before consuming.
Recommended: Almonds, cashew, hazelnuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts, pecans, pistachios, sunflower seeds, pine nuts, sesame seeds (tahini), hemp seeds, flaxseed.
Recommended: Ghee, cottage cheese, all cheeses, goat or cow milk, kefir, young cheese (kwark, paneer), butter, yogurt, sour cream, cream, buttermilk, and eggs.
Avoid consumption of: Ice cream
Ghee helps to improve skin tone, hair growth, and memory. Milk should be consumed warm with spices like turmeric, black pepper, saffron, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves to reduce the formation of mucus.
Ayurveda recommends fresh, organic and non homogenised dairy products in very small quantities daily.
Best for decreasing vata overaccumulation: cardamon, fennel,cumin, hing black pepper, salt and fresh ginger.
Also recommended: Anise, hing, basil, dill, cayenne pepper (very small quantities), fenugreek, cinnamon, curcuma/turmeric, caraway, nutmeg, fennel, thyme, oregano, marjoram, bay leaf, rosemary, sage, saffron.
Add a pinch of black pepper and rock salt/sea salt to every meal.
Recommended: almond, apricot, avocado, sesame, flaxseed, Ghee, butter, and olive oil.
Avoid: all vegetables oils used in deep fried products, soya, rapeseed, canola, sunflower oil.
Recommended (in very small quantities only): maple syrup, raw honey, unrefined cane sugar (sucanat), rice syrup, date syrup, grape sugar, malt syrup.
Avoid: white sugar, lactose and all other refined sugars.
Seasonings and snacks:
Recommended (in very small quantities only): vinegar, brewer's yeast, raw unprocessed chocolate, mayonnaise, miso, mustard, pickles, sojasauce, shoyu, tahini, tamari.
Avoid: potato chips, processed chocolate, ketchup, baking soda.
Give yourself a full body massage with warm sesame/almond oil at least 2 to 3 times a week before bed. If you are not up to massaging your whole body, massage your feet only.
Do everything slowly and do not rush.
Get adequate rest and sleep at least 7 to 8 hours daily.
Be asleep by 10pm ideally and latest by 11pm.
Focus on one thing at a time and do not multitask.
Practice a gentle form of Yoga and meditation daily.
Recommended Ayurvedic Herbs:
Shatavari: balances (female) hormones, and regulates menstrual cycle
Brahmi: calms the mind and improves concentration
Triphala: flushes out toxins from the digestive tract and improves immunity.
For a more accurate analysis of your specific situation and treatment plan, please contact me for a one on one consultation. Of course you may also contact any other qualified practitioner of Ayurvedic medicine.
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Frawley, D., (1999) “Yoga & Ayurveda: Self-Healing and Self-Realization”
Mehta, A.K., (2011) "Ayurvedische voedingsleer in de praktijk"
Murray, A.H., (2013). Ayurveda for Dummies. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.