First of all, you are probably wondering, “what the heck is catabolism”??
Webster’s Dictionary says this; Catabolism: destructive metabolism involving the release of energy and resulting in the breakdown of complex materials within the organism.
Basically there are 3 energies that make this universe move, anabolic energy (the building stage, think spring or Kapha qualities), metabolic energy (the sustaining stage, think summer or Pitta qualities), and finally, catabolic energy (the releasing stage, think fall / winter, Vata qualities). All three are present in all things from human life, plant life, the building of empires / towns / cities, thoughts ideas…. EVERYTHING. Everything has a beginning, a middle and finally an end. It is this “end” that is the energy of Vata Dosha. Making room for new life, new energy, new forms, new ideas.
Ayurveda is based in a five element theory; earth, water, fire, air and ether (or space). These create the world and therefore us and everything around us. Within those elements are qualities (or gunas). It is within this framework of language that we can describe and look upon ourselves and our environment.
The goal of Ayurveda is to create and maintain balance for man in his environment. To do this we must be familiar with the elements and the gunas. The elements are further organized into three doshas, or humors. Doshas are another way for us to relate to and understand ourselves and how we function in the world we live in. There are three doshas; Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
The elements that create the Vata dosha are air and ether. The qualities associated with Vata are, cool, dry, light, subtle, mobile and rough. When I think about Vata, and the qualities that define it, my mind moves to many pictures; dry crunchy leaves, the Santa Ana winds, wind blown sand dunes and Joshua Tree National Park. Vata is movement and breath. Vata is dry, cold and airy. Vata is creative, enthusiastic and always changing. Vata is responsible for all movement in the body, all breath; inhalation, gaseous exchange and exhalation. Vata is also the movement of creative impulse.
In Ayurveda there is a dosha for every season, so as the wheel of the year turns, we would just as well make adjustments to keep up. From about October to January or Fall and early Winter is the Vata time of year. This could vary depending upon where you live and that type of climate. For us here in southern California it can be subtle, although the Santa Anna’s are hot our air becomes much more dry and our nights definitely colder. This is what our Vata season looks like, the humid summer is over, our sky is more clear and crisp.
There is Vata in each of us, we couldn’t be animated beings without it. Vata in the body is expressed in our breath, elimination, nervous system and our immune system. (These are also known as the five Pranas or Vayus (Vayu is another word for Vata).) Our cells need that Vata catabolic nature; to properly break down in order for the new growth to occur in a healthy way, Vata is there. Of course with each dosha there are those who carry a dominance of one or another. A “Vata type” person is often slim with a narrow frame, long neck and long bones. They are usually thin, they move a lot or talk a lot. They can be very tall or very short. They can have a hard time keeping or putting on weight. Their personality would be spirited and changeable, creative, they likes variety, change and movement. They are the ones who are constantly coming up with ideas and they have a great short term memory. They are fast moving, fast speaking, energetic, alert and very active. They are usually gifted in the ways of being creative, enthusiastic and inspiring. They can also make excellent musicians, artists and healers. Sound familiar? I bet you know someone that fits this description, Southern California is a great place for Vatas as the climate is very warm, with not too much change, this can be soothing to Vata’s constant inner change.
Challenges: On the challenging side they can have a difficult time staying grounded (that airy – etheric quality). They are prone to constipation or irregular digestion (from the dry and rough). They can also tend toward immune challenges and weakness or sensitivity in the nervous and circulatory systems. Emotionally they can be effected by nervousness, worry and fear(the fast moving emotions, easily spun-out, stressed out, etc.). Usually easily overwhelmed under stress. Staying focused can also be difficult.
Organs, the main sites of Vata: The Vata dosha elements are air and space, which means it is a ubiquitous force that pervades all, however there are certain sites in the body that Vata is in charge of. The main site where Vata resides is in the colon, following with the lower abdomen, pelvic cavity, thighs, ears (the organ of hearing), bones and the nervous system. Any issues occurring within these sites or systems means Vata is unchecked and out of balance.
Time of life, year, day: We each have a time in our lives where Vata is more dominant. That time starts around the age of 55 years old to our ultimate transition. (For a woman our dosha transitions easily follow our womb cycles and it begins at the time of menopause.) This is when we can easily see the qualities of Vata start to manifest themselves more in our body. (Remember; cold, light, dry, rough, subtle, mobile, clear.) Our bones become more brittle, our skin drier, our hearing a little harder. Most elderly are often cold, which is why there are big retirement communities in warmer more temperate climates like Florida and Arizona. This is the ideal time of our lives to turn to a more spiritual focus. When our children have grown, we have moved on from our careers and our time is our own. Basking in the fruits of our labors, enjoying the harvest of our life.
The time of year for Vata is the Fall and early Winter season. This is, as I have described before, when the earth is drier. It is the harvest season, when we are preparing for a winter ahead. Now each locale can act different, and with our climate changing that can be different everywhere. Some places will naturally have a longer Vata season
There are also two times of the day that are ruled by Vata; 2-6 a.m. and 2-6 p.m. Traditions where meditation is a daily activity often note 4-6 a.m. the ideal time for sitting and quieting the mind and connecting with source. A Vata type of insomnia will occur between the 2-6 a.m. window as well. 2-6 p.m. is a good time of day to be creative, use more mental faculties; planning the next day, brainstorming, and meetings will be more productive during this time of day.
So now that we have outlined Vata, all her attributes, qualities, challenges and times what do we do to keep her in balance? We want to keep Vata in her house (the colon) so she does not feel the need to spread into other areas where she can create problems. And Vata does like to move! Typically it is the first dosha to move and create a problem, as well as a practitioner, it is the first one to quiet. Vata is air and ether, so she is the first and the quickest to move, however, she is also the first to move back once satisfied.
Ayurveda teaches that like creates like and opposite created balance. Vata is cold, dry, rough and subtle, to keep her satiated we want keep in mind the balancing qualities of warm, lubricating, smooth, and heavy or stable. Vata needs to be oiled or lubricated…soothed and smoothed. Keeping a regular rhythm of sleep, exercise and mealtimes is key. (I really can’t say that enough.)
Traveling, will throw Vata in to excess. Most people will express that when they travel, by plane, car or otherwise they become constipated, or experience insomnia.
Things to avoid this time of year or if you feel your Vata dosha is out of balance are, foods that are pungent (spicy), bitter, astringent (drying), light, cold and dry: such as salads, raw foods, smoothies, cold or frozen foods, iced beverages (tea, coffee, sodas etc.), chips and salsa, crackers and rice cakes.
To keep Vata calm, eat more foods that are warm, heavy, oily, moist, sweet (as in grains, not sugar), sour and salty. Foods like hearty soups, stews, steamed veggies and warm herbal teas. Adding extra ghee (clarified butter), avocado, sesame or olive oil to your soups and grains is a good way to add extra in.
A self massage or Abhyanga with warm sesame oil is very soothing for the skin and nervous system.
Signs of excess Vata in the fall and winter are insomnia, stress, worry, constipation, colds, flu and joint pain.
If you are experiencing any of these or feel your Vata dosha might be out of balance, call or email to schedule a complete consultation.