Vata dosha is a combination of the space and air elements. It is responsible for movement within the body. Its qualities, or gunas, are cold, dry, light, mobile, subtle, clear, and rough. People with a predominantly vata constitution will likely recognize these gunas in their body and mind. Those individuals are often lean, with dry skin, curly/kinky hair, cold hands and feet, and variable digestion tending toward bloating, discomfort, and constipation. Their sleep is typically light, and their lifestyle routines tend to be irregular. They move and talk quickly, and they are active, alert, restless, and creative. When unbalanced, they may become fearful, nervous, and anxious. They are prone to worry, easy to fatigue, and can be impulsive, compulsive, and erratic. They are also lively, fun, high-energy (in short bursts), quick to learn (and to forget), and creative.
Are You a Vata?
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Yoga for Vatas
A vata-centered yoga practice will be fast-paced, uplifting, and cooling, although an excess of vata in your practice may lead to restlessness and a lack of focus or direction. So how to bring more balance to vata-aggravated individuals or to the general population during vata seasons? Invite in the opposing gunas: warm, oily, heavy, slow, gross, static, and smooth. But what does that look like in practice?
The following suggestions are appropriate both for teachers and home practitioners.
The following suggestions are appropriate both for teachers and home practitioners. The protocol is based on the Ayuryoga program created by Vasant Lad, BAM&S, MASc, and has been taught at the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for more than 20 years. If you’re a teacher and you sense that your students are a bit "vata-frenzied," try incorporating these gunas into your classes. Likewise, if your own vata seems high, apply them to your home practice.
• Don’t forget pranayama (breathwork) and meditation. Begin the practice with a warming/grounding pranayama such as brahmari (bumble bee breath), nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing), or anuloma viloma (forceful alternate nostril breathing). Then move to a grounding, structured, and focused meditation, such as one that uses the mantra “so hum.”
• Next, move to your physical warm-up. When choosing a warm-up for your sequence, surya namaskar, or sun salutation (rather than chandra namaskar, or moon salutation), is generally best for vata because of the need for warming. Make sure to practice this in a slow, stable, and steady way, emphasizing stability and alignment in the pelvis, hips, and thighs.
• Within your sequence, emphasize grounding, warming, and focused asana. In general, standing poses stabilize and ground, and balancing poses help focus the mind and connect to the earth element (thanks to the added focus on rooting down). Create a strong foundation by emphasizing the use of the muscles around the thighs, hips, and pelvis—virabhadrasana II (warrior II) and vrksasana (tree pose) are good choices.
• Sequence movements so that they’re smooth and steady, rather than quick and jerky.
• Perhaps sequence in several child’s poses or other resting poses to bring more stillness, awareness, and grounding energy to the practice.
• Forward bends—like uttanasana (standing forward fold) and paschimottanasana (seated forward fold)—are considered warming for the internal organs (because of the compression). They help calm the nervous system by creating a sense of safety (similar to the fetal position).
• Prone backbends—bhujangasana (cobra pose) and dhanurasana (bow pose)—help stabilize and warm the lower back and bring heat to the entire spine through extension (through compression of the area as well as muscular engagement). Avoid too many standing backbends, as ayurvedic principles hold that they bring energy up and cool the body which goes against our goals of grounding and warming.
• Seated poses that open the hips, thighs, and low back—gomukhasana (cow face pose) and baddha konasana (bound angle pose)—are also appropriate. The grounding qualities of malasana (garland pose), balasana (child’s pose), and pavanmuktasana (wind-relieving pose) make them great options too.
- Keeping both the gaze and the arms down is grounding and stabilizing.
- Vata types can benefit greatly from the grounding energy of a routine, and practicing at a regular time each day will support balance for them.
Tips for Teachers
- In the practice space, consider raising the temperature a couple of degrees and possibly dimming the lights.
- Try slowing down both your speech and the pace of the class.
- Emphasize slow, mindful transitions.
- Keep it simple, and avoid distractions (i.e., too many verbal/physical instructions, loud/fast-moving music, bright lights, etc.).
- Bring a calm and focused awareness to the practice, especially in the pelvis, hips, and thighs, as these areas are major sites for vata.
- Vata types tend to be hypermobile, so it’s best to emphasize strength, stability, and grounding rather than flexibility.
- When teaching, use words like ground, anchor, root, strengthen, stabilize, draw in, and heavy.