How the sensitive Vata Dosha, determined by space and air element, comes easily into balance and elegantly maintains it with the perfect couple Ayurveda and Yoga.
To understand why and how Ayurveda and Yoga complement each other wonderfully, a little philosophical background knowledge is needed. This makes it understandable in which way a constitutionally attuned yoga practice supports Ayurveda therapy in a sustainable manner. What brings us out of balance and what brings us back into balance has not only to do with personal life circumstances, but also with our basic constitution.
Like Ayurveda, classical yoga is based on the philosophy of Samkhya. This model of creation assumes that the whole visible world originates from two basic principles: On one hand from the female principle, the primal matter Prakriti. At the beginning still unmanifest, three forces rest in it, these are the Mahagunas, which are understood as instincts, tendencies, qualities or influencing factors: Lightful Sattva, moving Rajas and manifesting Tamas.
Purusha is accompanied by Pakriti. Purusha, the pure clear consciousness, can be understood as the male principle. Due to the nearness of Purusha, resting Prakriti became unbalanced and began to dance. Three forces became connected with each other and further principles emerged:
Buddhi, awareness, Ahamkara, individual identification and Citta or Manas, the mind. Furthermore, Mahabhutas were created: the elements space, air, fire, water and earth. We may perceive the characteristics attuned to those elements – as the basis of nature and they have an impact on the entire cosmos, in all physical and non-physical beings. The elements represent one of the fundamental concepts of Ayurvedic science. They each are associated to one of the three bio-energies, the doshas: Space or ether is connected with the element of air to form vata dosha, fire and a minimal amount of water form pitta dosha, and water and earth together form kapha dosha.
From an Ayurvedic point of view, doshas are responsible for the mental and physical condition of the individual constitution and for all positive and negative changes in the body. Their different combinations and emphasis determine the uniqueness of each constitution. The principles of Vata, Pitta and Kapha function in every cell, organ and tissue. Their physical and mental balance is responsible for the individual state of health.
General characteristics: Light, clear, dry, cold, rough, fast, moving, changeable, all-permeating and fine.
Body: Thinness, mostly very tall or short people with delicate joints, Motto: I have an idea!
Occupations: Thinktank co-worker, artist, journalist, copywriter, inventor, tour guide, therapist, psychologist
Function: Impulse giver, mediator, spare-man, all-rounder
Abilities in the field of perception: Is open to new things, perceives subtle signs, can be inspired, intuitive perception, looks between the lines and realizes the coherence, lively, very nimble, quick grasp of things
Abilities in the field of action: Creative, full of ideas, can adjust very fast, is noncommittal, brings new ideas, has imagination, perceives the nuances, is a good networker, speaks and moves quickly
Obstacles: Chaotic behavior, little structure, unsettled temperament, prone to nervousness and irritability, weak endurance, getting cold easily, even after meals, prone to allergies, dry skin, joint pain, sensitivity of digestive organs, especially during stress and mental strain Signs of imbalance: Concentration, sleep, speech, digestive disorders (constipation), painful state, especially erratic pains that affect well-being, disturbances in hearing (tinnitus), appetite, food intake. Visible signs in appearance, such as weight loss, dry skin, brittle hair and nails, cracking joints, pale complexion and restless gaze. Impairments such as anxiety, panic attacks and lack of life perspectives, which greatly affect the quality of life.
Balancing/Prevention: Pitta interventions promote clarity, and Kapha force provides structure, grounding, and confidence (down to earth approach), fatty, oily food, root vegetables whose digestibility is aided by spices that strengthen digestion, moisture (moist food, warm humid climate, oil massages), warmth (warm food and drinks, fine, warming fabrics for clothing, and warm climate), rest (relaxed eating, meditation, and nature), slowness (avoiding a hectic pace, eating slowly), avoiding mass events, relaxation techniques, regularity in daily life and especially in eating, constitutionally appropriate yoga practice, and sattvic lifestyle, locations that reinforce dosha: Windy mountain tops, constant change of location, unsettled life situations.
Perception via: Sound: music, voice modulation, selection of speech.
Indoor climate: Sensitive to drafts and fluctuations of temperature.
Intuition: sensitive perception like “there is something in the air”.
Sensuality: Using hands to make feel something, sensual perception.
Action via: Creativity, imagination, language: telling stories in words and pictures.
When Vata dominates
People who have the typical characteristics of the unsteady wind element and the boundless space element particularly pronouncedly develop in themselves, dance light-footedly through the day. Some parents must have had their challenges with these whirlwinds when they swept through the house. Perhaps they often dreamed to be in fantasy worlds, are still full of ideas today, and if you ask them something, it bubbles out of them.
They hear the grass growing and perceive new movements earlier than anyone else. They like to travel and love variety. If you were to condemn them to monotonous archival work, they felt like being punished. These creative, sensitive beings are inspired by everything possible and are more than happy to temptations that leave the old and turn to the new. Letting go is not their problem, but first they should be able to hold on to something.
Bioenergy Vata corresponds to the space-giving, airy principle. It controls all forms of movement in the spiritual and physical world. As a subtle energy, it is responsible for directing biological processes, both mentally and physically: Every movement that takes place in the body is controlled by Vata, be it heartbeat, circulation, breathing, speech, eye blinking, digestion, excretion, menstruation and the impulses of the nerves.
Due to its close connection with the autonomic nervous system, Vata dosha reacts very quickly and most sensitively to positive and negative changes in all circumstances of life. For this reason, it is also called the king dosha, since the regulation of the nervous system in the Ayurvedic system of medicine and in yoga form the basis for the start of the healing process.
“Vata people are full of ideas.”
The more harmoniously the bioenergy Vata unfolds, the more vital the life energy Prana flows. Sattva and Ojas, the life forces, are nourished and the self-healing forces are supported. It is important to recognize as early as possible when the Vata energy leaves its harmonious paths. In case of disturbances, harmonizing measures of Ayurveda and Yoga should therefore be taken as soon as possible to regulate Vata energy, in order to soothe the imbalance and strengthen the quality of life.
Therefore, Ayurvedic therapy makes use of opposite qualities. Vata is considered light, clear, dry, cold, rough, fast, mobile, changeable, all-permeating and fine. For that purpose, therapies of grounding, moistening, warming, calming, regular, structuring measures are necessary. In diet and drinking habits, warming, moisturizing, easily digestible, digestive and regular food intake should be preferred. Lifestyle and choice of clothing should also correspond to these criteria.
Yoga, on the other hand, assumes that in all the hustle and bustle of creation, the clear consciousness principle identifies with the material principle – and this is where the problems arise, because through this identification, the three mahagunas of sattva, rajas and tamas often act without control and shape our character or behaviors. We then become the capricious shining lights, the unsteady lighthearted persons, the explosive hotheads, solid as rock or persons who are very weepy. If we can consciously use these instincts working within us for our development, it is a gift; if we are controlled by them, it becomes unpleasant. This is where classical yoga enters:
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras explain how we function, why we suffer, and what we can do to break free from this circle: Let the mental processes, citta, come to rest. Then it can be realized that consciousness is always pure, clear and without attributes and that it is only matter which is constantly changing.
As an asana, Patanjali only mentioned the sitting position: it should be pleasant and stable. The exact instructions for the poses have been handed down mainly from the tantric movement of yoga, Hatha Yoga.
The body – temple of the soul
The body is the temple for the soul and for pure consciousness. Without it, experience and development are not possible at all, so a long and healthy life is strived for. This makes sense, because just having problems with digestion can greatly affect the quality of life; sitting stably and comfortably may become agonizing, prana may not flow freely. So, first of all, purification of the gross and subtle body is focused. In the writings we also find recommendations on food and which exercises are suitable to balance an excessive element. The close relation to Ayurveda is clearly expressed in Hatha Yoga.
In both yoga movements, however, classical and Hatha Yoga, a sattva quality is strived for in all our actions. This Mahaguna enables us to develop ourselves and that “a light can dawn on us.” Even when we strive for ethical behavior, we deal with sattva quality.
It depends on What and How
Individuals who already show Vata dominance, or when Vata energy turns up and down, can observe the influence of the Mahagunas on the psychological level: If Vata works in the balanced, light-filled Sattva quality, it is shown in a flexible adaptable, communicative and positive thinking behavior.
If the rajas quality gains too much influence, it can can be expressed in indecisiveness, overactivity, distraction, nervousness, anxiety, superficiality, restlessness and talkativeness. If the tamas influence is too strong, behavior may become dishonest, timid, or secretly animalistic.
“Consciousness is always clear.”
The first two stages of classical yoga start here. Through regular exercises of awareness and mindfulness, it is possible to critically reflect on one’s behavior. By this it becomes apparent where or how we are currently ‘on our way’. When there is an excess of Vata, yoga also advises structure. It makes sense, for example, to calmly visualize the day in the morning, take a tea break at noon and reflect on the day in the evening before going to bed or practice a yoga nidra sequence.
To rest and to do something good for yourself is needed now.
“An asana should be stable and pleasant”.
Patanjali’s recommendation is to be taken seriously when it comes to physical exercises. Come down and ground yourself in a pose, no matter which asana you make. Then rather stay a little longer in one pose than constantly change to a new one. If the Vata dosha dominates, special care should be taken to avoid the feeling that the practice is “annoying” during yoga practice. It makes no sense to irritate the Vata dosha even more. To make long inhalations and exhalations have a calming effect. Those who have mastered Ujjayi breathing can lead the breath in strict measure and remain in the asana until breath, mind, and body form a unity and the whole environment fades into the background.
The eight-fold path
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra speaks of an eight-fold path.
These are the hints:
1. To deal with the environment: Yama
2. To deal with oneself: Niyama
3. To physical exercise: Asana (here, there is only the stable, comfortable sitting pose!)
4. For breath and energy work: Pranayama
5. For centering and dealing with inner conditions: Pratyahara
6. For concentration: Dharana
7. For meditation: Dhyana
8. For contemplation: Samadhi. In case of excessive Vata, periods of rest are advised.