Vata’s elemental makeup consists of air and ether. The common translation of vata is “that which moves things.” Vata is often referred to as the vayu (wind) in the body, and it is the primary motivating force of the doshas—without it, the other doshas are unable to move.
According to ayurveda, vata is responsible for our mental and physical adaptability. It is the energizing force of the body and mind, and it governs our nervous system, our bones, and our senses of touch and hearing.
Qualities or Attributes of Vata Dosha
- Subtle (as opposed to gross)
- Mobile (agitated movement)
Characteristics of Vata Dosha
When vata is in balance for our prakruti, or constitutional nature, we are coordinated in body and mind and in our response to stimulation. When in balance, vata allows us to seamlessly navigate our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Our ambulation is easy, our sensory integration and mental processes flow, and we feel spacious, creative, and energized. When our vata is in balance, our breath supports our nervous system, and there is homeostasis between tissues and organs. The movement of our life force (prana) is regulated by vata, and this function allows us to “inspire” (inhale) easily and to surrender (exhale) with ease as well.
The Actions of Vata Dosha in the Body and Mind
- Heart function
- Menstruation; delivery of baby
- Elimination of wastes (urine, feces, sweat)
- Movement of thoughts and feelings, and the general functioning of our nervous system
- All physical movements
Characteristics of Vata Dominance in Appearance
- Light-colored eyes, smaller in shape or irregular in shape and/or spacing
- Light frame; either very tall or very short
- Hypermobile joints
- Veins can be easily seen under skin
- Hair is fine in nature
- May have large upper body and small lower body or vice versa; lack of symmetry in frame
- Skin is often dry
- May have irregular hair pattern
- Nose may appear too big or too small in relation to other facial features
- Lips may be irregular or thin
- Delicate features overall
Examples of Vata Dosha in Excess or in an Imbalanced State
- Dry skin
- Irregular appetite; “grazer”
- Cold hands and feet
- Dry cough
- Hoarse throat
- Restless legs
- Tapping fingers, pulling hair, tics
- Stiff muscles and joints
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Difficulty remembering
- Trouble staying asleep
- Trouble getting to sleep
- Fearful dreams
- Cracking joints
- Shortness of breath
- Bone density issues
- Trouble swallowing
Dietary Tips to Support Vata Balance
Foods that are great for balancing vata are, in general, sweet, sour, and salty in taste. Ayurveda considers these tastes to be medicine to increase qualities of warmth, moisture, and heaviness/groundedness to promote even digestion—which helps to balance vata. Generally, all six tastes (sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent) are recommended for healthy digestion.
Foods That Help to Balance Vata
Fruits and vegetables
- Ripe bananas
- Meyer lemons
- Butternut squash
- Sweet potatoes
- Spinach (warm or wilted)
- Cooked carrots
- Caramelized onions
- Creamed corn
- Zucchini and yellow squash (steamed or sauteed)
- Whole wheat
Nuts, seeds, and legumes
- Most nut butters
- Nut “milk” or juice (such as almond milk, coconut milk, or juice)
- Soaked or salted nuts in general (almonds, pecans, peanuts, etc.)
- Sunflower seeds
- Sesame seeds (only when salted and warmed)
Dairy and fats/oils
- Yogurt (in moderation)
- Soft cheeses
- Soft boiled whole milk from a happy cow
- Sour cream (in moderation)
- Olive oil
- Sesame oil
- Honey (in moderation)
- Stevia (in moderation)
- Rice syrup
- Maple syrup
(Of all the doshas, vata needs the most hydration.)
- Teas: licorice, mild chai, vanilla, tulsi, yerba mate
- Room temperature water with lemon or lime
- Sweet wines (in moderation)
- Sour wines (in moderation)
- Sour fruit juices (in moderation)
- Sweet fruit juices (in moderation)
(Only when needed, and in moderation)
- Saltwater fish
- Red meat (in very small amounts)
Foods to avoid or consume only moderately if your constitution is predominantly vata
Foods that can increase vata are, in general, bitter, astringent, and pungent in taste. These tastes, when in excess for the vata in your prakruti (constitution), can create rough, dry, and irregular digestion, and eventual vata imbalances.
Examples of Foods That Can Aggravate Vata Include:
Fruits and vegetables
- Dry, light, astringent, and bitter veggies and fruits such as cucumbers, potatoes, peas, green beans, cauliflower, broccoli, dark leafy greens, radishes, onions, turnips, garlic, raw veggies in general, plantains, turnips, cranberries, pomegranates, apples, and raspberries
- Popcorn and any puffed cereal or dry-roasted grain
- Yeasted breads
Seeds and legumes
- Sesame seeds
- Mustard seeds
- Black beans
- Black-eyed peas
- Cold milk
- Hard cheeses
- Refined sugar
- Honey (okay if used in moderation, but can be drying)
(If you need to eat meat, some may be okay in moderation.)
- Teas: black tea, dandelion tea, nettle tea
- Gin, vodka, and most liquors
Vata should avoid cold foods in general.
Lifestyle Tips for Balancing Vata
- Start simple daily routines for the morning and evening.
- Do a deep relaxation practice every day.
- Meditate daily.
- Practice gentle, flowing yoga, yin yoga, or restorative yoga.
- Swim, dance, or try tai chi.
- Go for walks in nature.
- Laugh and smile with friends.
- Eat three meals a day.
- Always eat your food warm and moist.
- Try having soaked, peeled almonds and chai as your afternoon snack.
- Give yourself a full-body warm oil massage (abhyanga) regularly.
- Gently oil your ears every day.
- Take a 30-minute nap during the day.
- Enjoy a warm shower or bath.
- Use calming or warming essential oils (such as vanilla or lavender) in your warm bath.
- Try a quick steam bath in winter.
- Practice kirtan or sing along with soothing and calming music.
- Practice mantra meditation.
- Surround yourself with warming colors of nature such as soft yellow, orange, green, and rose.
- Turn off screens 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Sleep with weighted blankets.
Yoga for Balancing Vata
- Belly breathing or three-part breath
- Nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing)
- Add in mantra (such as om) on the exhale
- Child’s pose
- Cat/cow (moving on the breath)
- Downward facing dog (with head on block)
- Mountain pose
- Sun salutes, slowly, moving on the breath
- Standing forward bend
- Prasarita padottanasana (standing wide-legged forward bend) with head on ground or block
- Pyramid pose
- Revolved chair pose
- Warrior I with hands touching overhead or on waist
- Agni sara
- Locust pose
- Frog pose
- Rabbit pose
- Supine hand-to-big-toe pose
- Jathara parivartanasana
- Seated twist
- Maha mudra
- Revolved janu sirsasana
- Supine twist with knees bent
- Bridge pose, moving on the breath
- Legs-up-the-wall pose with sandbag on soles of feet or blanket over body
Are you vata?
Take our dosha quiz here.
Kathryn Templeton, MA, RDT/MT, E-RYT 500, is an Ayurvedic practitioner who has devoted her life to the health of others. A psychotherapist for more than 30 years, Kathryn is a master teacher in the field of Drama Therapy and continues to work both clinically and as an educator specializing in the treatment of individuals with complex trauma. As an E-RYT 500, NAMA Certified Ayurvedic practitioner and senior Para Yoga teacher, Kathryn has worked to develop specialized treatments integrating the... Read more>>