Regarding the dietary discussion in this post, please also refer to the updated note at the end.
How do you go about balancing your doshas, especially if you are an oh-so tricky vata dosha? How do you ground that airy, high-spirited, out-there, mercurial constitution long enough to find your way about in a physical body…and then stay there in a way that feels comfortable and sustainable? Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
Starting the day right…then staying grounded
The obvious approach, as commonly regaled in every Ayurevedic source, is through diet and I have been following the warm, sweet, salty, moist diet that is most suitable to balance vata for a number of weeks now. The most appropriate food for vata is cooked, soft, flavoursome, relatively oily and with sweet undertones (think beets rather than cane sugar). For me, the results of making this change have been quite remarkable; I really DO feel so much more grounded in my body than I can ever recall before; or at least since my mother cooked the warm, sweet, comforting dishes that were the staples of childhood. It was quite astonishing to have to consider how I had largely withheld such food from myself for most of my adult life, under the misguided belief system that plentiful salads and less-oily, even raw, foods were far healthier for me.
The key to starting the day well is eating a warm/moist breakfast. Years of pecking unenthusiastically at dry muesli and granolas in cold milk or eating dry/warm toast never seemed to start my day well or with a sustainable amount energy and I have always had a tendency to “crash” midmorning. Sometimes I would even have a desperate craving for porridge (yes, usually during vata season in the autumn) but I never seemed to get the consistency right and it tended to make me feel nauseous.
The recent need to persist at this has encouraged me to perfect the right way to cook porridge at long last…and my stay in a hotel helped. The kitchen there produced the best porridge I had ever tasted in my life; the oats were huge and the milk creamy and sweet though I knew they had used only soy milk and there was no added sugar (on my request), so how did they do that? There was none of that mucusy consistency that usually made me gag, which years of bad experience had taught me came from over-cooking the grain.
Once I was back home, I bought organic jumbo oats and slowed down the cooking process; first gently warming the almond milk (in the proportion 1:1 to the oats) and adding it the uncooked oats to soak for five minutes; then warming it all together, slowly, over a moderate heat until it had bubbled through. Back in my bowl, the milk was left creamy and plentiful and the oats tender yet not mushy and holding their shape (unlike the flaked porridge oats I used to buy); much nicer. The big key to perfect porridge, I learned, was adding a few grinds of Himalayan salt whilst cooking, which transforms the flavour far beyond what is achievable by adding anything sweet. Then I add a spoonful of the best honey I have at the very end once the porridge is off the heat-source (honey should never be cooked), along with cinnamon, pecans or anything else I want. Vatas don’t get on with dried fruit so I don’t recommend adding this at the end but it can be soaked in the milk near the start if required.
This start to my day is the perfect one, leaving me feeling grounded, energised and so replete that I go for hours without craving another snack. The energy release from this dish is slow and sustained over many hours so there no sudden sugar crash half an hour after eating and my brain feels far more active and clear.
The other food staple for a vata-type is warm dahl which, in our Auyurvedic hotel, was offered for breakfast. At first, I thought this was weird (basically, curry for breakfast) but then I loved it so much that I started eating it every day and it made me smile at how it was just like the days of eating left-over takeaway for breakfast (one of my favourite things in my early twenties). Similar to porridge, this dish grounds the body and releases slow-burn carbs at a pace the body’s engines can make best use of.
The recipe is similar to the kitcheree that my Auyurvedic practitioner recommends only I particularly like it the way the hotel made it. The recipe calls for “lentils” but vata-types are advised to stick to red lentils or, preferably, yellow split mung beans as many lentils can be wind aggravating (vata is already “too” windy/airy by constitution). Basically, I soak yellow split mung beans for 2 to 4 hours to make sure they are really moist and soft (even if the packet says no soaking required). Then I simmer a teaspoon of turmeric, powdered ginger, a pinch of nutmeg, a dash of cinnamon and maybe a clove or two (you can also use cumin and coriander but these are on my intolerance list) in a glug of oil. Add a carrot, celery stick and a leek, diced very finely, plus the mug beans, add hot water to generously cover and bring to a steady simmer with the lid on, seasoning with salt and pepper at the end. Once the water is absorbed, with the beans still holding some shape but fairly mushy, the dahl is ready and can be served with basmatti rice. At home, I prefer this dish as a warming and stabilising lunch or as an evening comforter rather than a breakfast dish but you can actually eat this for three meals a day for two or three days as a great health reboot somewhat like a fast (since fasting without food is not recommended for vata-types).
There are so many warming meals that can be easily prepared for lunches (whereas I used to make do with a bowl of salad or a couple of dry crackers…) that I would be here all day listing them but a staple is quinoa cooked in home-made veg stock with warming additions such as grated ginger and with grilled veg on the top. Vegetable spaghettis – cooked gently, not served raw – provide the basis for many other meals too; or a dish made with potatoes, veg and oat milk can be a wonderful and satisfying grounder.
Another trick provided by my Ayurvedic practitioner is to eat raw ginger squeezed with lemon and sprinkled with salt before every meal when you are travelling or eating out. This helps fires up the stomach and allows you to more-easily digest food that may not be such a perfect vata-match as you would like; especially if the only dishes available are dry or served cold, which the vata digestive system really does not like. This useful survival trick was easy to achieve on holiday; I kept the ingredients in my hotel mini-bar or asked for them as an appetizer (our hotel was more than accommodating and would have my sliced ginger, lemon and salt ready for me before every meal). I can even carry the prepared ginger in a small container in my bag and discretely munch on it before the first course if I am planning to eat out. Raw ginger is now one of my very favourite things and I look forward to it before many of my meals, even at home.
Stabilising routines and the benefits of self-care
To the air-borne and impulsive vata-type, strict and heavy routine is their very nemesis, which is probably why I have always gone for jobs that were highly unpredictable or, preferably, worked for myself for most of my life. The one time I was forced to stick to a daily commute and a sedentary desk-job, my health started to crash within 6 months!
On the other side of that coin, some routine is what helps a vata-type to steady themselves and keep their feet on the ground and so there is a balancing act to be achieved when it comes to making routines…the difficult factor being that they have got to want to succumb to them or it will be a complete waste of time. I don’t like appointments, weekly classes or anything else that ties me down so how on earth does a vata-type entice themselves do do anything on a regular basis?
The point is to introduce routines that come with tangible benefits and some of these can be focused upon health and wellbeing so that there is always the reward incentive to keep at them. For me, the most obvious of these is my daily yoga ritual, which I stick to every day, whatever else may be going on. Even when we were forced to get up in the middle of the night to catch a flight last week, I was on the dark verandah doing my yoga long before the first glow of the rising sun peeped over the mountain; and this start to my day is just too important to my wellbeing to skip. This has been my daily practice for exactly three years as of this month and I am very proud of the fact I have been able to display this much commitment to something which, I confess, is a challenge some mornings…and I never regret getting on that mat.
The kind of mundane routines that I struggle with the most include tooth care and yet – with receding gumlines and the kind of dental issues that (I now know) are very typical of vata-types, I understand more than ever that diligent care of my mouth is of paramount importance to all of my organs (in Ayurveda, there is a known connection between each tooth and a region of the body). I now have many more ways of tackling this health challenge up my sleeve as a result of this new-found knowlege; in other words, my intellect has been piqued, which is one of the best incentives I know.
Since starting the Ayurvedic path, I have introduced daily tongue scraping (hugely beneficial to overal health), oil pulling and gum massaging with sesame oil and am about to introduce an Ayurvedic tooth and gum paste that is made of triphala and neem. Warming and purifying substances like this added to the gumline help to flood the gums with blood supply and bring back the plump and firm tissue that allows the mouth to self-heal and so I am more than happy to spend the time on this new routine for my long-term benefit. The self-care that I now perform in the mornings feels like a ritual that slips me back into my body, encouraging me to look carefully at myself in the mirror and to love and appreciate myself as I self-nurture my way into the day after a night of astro-travel. There can be no rushing such a ritual or making it into “a chore” since it is the prerequisite to a good start. Experience has taught me that any creative thoughts that are waiting to land are much more likely to come through with ease once I have performed these ablutions, plus my yoga, than if I tried to dash straight to my task.
Clean house, grounded mind…and everyday mindfulness
Whilst we vatas are great lovers of flitting around keeping busy, we are often prone to the kind of aches and pains, triggered by our super-sensitivity, that make us more sedentary than we should be; becoming the catch-twenty-two of our situation. We also get deeply involved in our creative tasks…for very long periods of time…which makes us forget to breathe let alone get up from our sitting position! Therefore, reminders to get up and move around are so important to us and providing good incentives to do so will help make this happen. Having a dog to walk has been one of my life-savers this last decade. Encouraging myself to potter around the house and do regular tasks…by making those tasks seem desirable and satisfying, perhaps as part of a broader project that I am eager to progress…is another way that I provide that incentive.
Again, as a vata-type, a low boredom threshold (we thrive off variety and the unusual rather than what is so terribly pedestrian or domestic), added to various aches and pains, have not made housework my favourite thing over the years. Far too mundane to hold the interest of anyone with their head so high up in the clouds, the thought of hoovering or cleaning up the kitchen is the very last thing to inspire us. In my case, the kind of nerve pains that make using an electric vacuum cleaner impossible combined with muscle pains that make sustained physical activities a genuine challenge, often putting me out of action for days if I make the attempt (a poor trade-off in return for a clean carpet), have been a massive hindrance when it comes to performing housework. Until a year ago, I felt like the situation was spiralling out of control; and a messy house is like living in “the vata-zone”…its about as ungrounded as it can be. The more messy my house became, the more I felt overwhelmed by the tasks I couldn’t perform…and so we decided to get ourselves a cleaner. For less than we used to spend on the wine that we used to drink at the weekends, we now have someone come in to clean our house for two hours every fortnight and the difference this has made to our lives has been immense. The bizarre thing is that it has enabled me to do more housework for myself since I am no longer overwhelmed by it; which has been hugely beneficial to my health!
Now that the decks are cleared, I feel far more able (and inspired) to start make-over projects in my house that involve performing the daily tasks that keep me mobile in between bursts of creative writing, painting a canvas, messing with my photography, going out somewhere I really want to go or taking my dog out for a long walk in nature (all potentially ungrounded pursuits). By intermittently “getting mundane things done”, I make steady headway with tasks that are extremely grounding…since the domestic routine, the comfort and nurture-factor, the personal satisfaction, the sheer practical necessity of them, plus the opportunity to zone out into a sort of meditation as you perform domestic chores…makes this kind of activity one of the most grounding things you can do in small bursts. Think about it…when you dash hither and thither in your busy life but fail to keep on top of your routine tasks, you can feel very ungrounded and out of your body; as though your messy house is starting to look like the inside of your chaotic head while you, quite literally, have nowhere left that you can comfortably land for a rest. Conversely, getting them done has the opposite effect, not only serving to reattach you to your body whilst addressing its comfort needs but helping to anchor you to your home and those deeply personal spaces where you spend a lot of time (hopefully) relaxing. Since calling in some help with the more physical chores so that I could pick up my side of the bargain with relative ease, I have initiated so many home-improvement projects that I have fallen in love with my home all over again and this has had an extremely stabilising effect.
Seasons and environments vary hugely…so work with that
Some seasons work in our favour; others are downright triggering to a vata! Autumn, being the transition phase when vata is dominant as those cooling winds return and the summer’s drying heat is quickly replaced by a distinct chill in the air, means a “one plus one” for your constitution if it is already vata-dominant. Historically, September-October has always been my most challenging time of the year and, through getting to know Ayureveda, I now know why.
Once you get the “why” of it, you can at least work with diet and environment to make the most of it. Grounding through warming meals (three times a day…not just at dinner time), warming spices and drinks, warm socks, maybe a scarf around your neck (even in the house) can make all the difference when you know what triggers you. Have you always been one of those people who gets a sudden acute neck pain when the car fan is left switched on or a window left open at this time of the year? Me too! Preventative behaviours make a massive difference. Oily foods, oily massages, oil applied to the skin, even to the nostrils, ears and gums (sesame is a wonderfully warming oil to massage into all three)…these all help to rebalance the drying effects of autumn. Knowing, too, that summer’s pitta can be an aggravant is key to surviving the summer season and holidays in high temperatures so an understanding of each of the seasons – and how they can affect you – is key.
Light that replicates the sun can be life-changer in the darker months. SAD lamps and full-spectrum light bulbs in dark corners of the house (though not in the evenings as they mess with melatonin production) can make a vata-type feel very different about seasonal changes and help with energy and pain levels too.
Saunas and steamy baths for moisture, warm and cosy but natural/breathable bedding and blankets at arms reach, natural fibres worn in layers on the body…such a lot of this is common sense but as a vata you will need to apply this know-how diligently to get the benefit you need in cold/dry seasons. Don’t compromise and always be prepared speak up; if you go to the hairdressers and they are blowing cold air at you, tell them to stop rather than gritting your teeth and saying nothing. In your family, your needs may need to take priority over those of a warmer constitution who don’t suffer with their health since yours is the more-fragile one and needs the extra TLC.
You might find (and seasons will impact this) that you can’t always be around wi-fi, beneath the kind of strip lights they have in shops or where there are air-conditioning units switched on. Mobile phones and bluetooth used in cars may seriously aggravate you or your symptoms; so tell people this and ask them to stop using them when you are on board. If you are affected, following the “correct” vata-pacifying diet will help you to mitigate the effects while you are forced to be in these places. Cold salads and raw foods will only make you more sensitive and less grounded so think about this if it’s a business scenario or you need to sustain your energy and mental abilities. Learn to carry something warm and sustaining with you, such as soup or a dahl in a vacuum flask, if the day ahead is going to be long and especially draining. Carry nuts as a go-to snack since the natural oils will help fuel your engines more-so than anything dry or sugary. As above, always, start your day with the right foot forwards; porridge or dahl, even on a summer’s day, will see you through better than a slice of toast or a bowl of granola. When you are being assaulted by high-speed technology and highly-wired people on all sides, you will start to notice how the right fuel put into your engine at the start of your day buffers you from the effects, keeping you upright (literally and metaphorically); something I really noticed in airports and hotels on my recent travels compared to how I used to feel desperately depleted by the onslaught on my previous trips.
Landing our spaceship…then having a good belly laugh
Vatas are high-speed talkers and even higher speed thinkers. We are so far ahead of the game that we get impatient with other people’s so-called inability to keep up; meanwhile, we are often to be found jumping ahead finishing their sentences, talking over them or growing impatient at their long and rambling explanations. And we get oh-so disillusioned when no one seems to understand what we are talking about…I know all this since this is me to tee. In the outside world, I have had to curb these traits for politeness sake. At home, I know, I curb them less and it irritates my daughter the most…even though she should know by now(!) that it’s not that I’m not interested in what she has to tell me but that I already know what she’s about to say before its even come out of her mouth and wish she would do it in a more concise way. Maybe, at some level, we do know what people are about to say…as in, we tune into people’s thoughts and the words are just a case of “going through the motions”…but it can come across as extreme arrogance and lack of interest in others when we allow these traits to take over.
The key to rebalancing this vata trait is to slow down, to take time, even make some time by scheduling ample opportunities to talk to other people when you’re least distracted…and to make eye contact (I’m terrible at that; in case it might encourage the person to take even longer to say what I already know they are about to say). I’m so fearful of things slowing down and dragging along that I tend to whip-crack situations along and its a trait that only one thing ever slows down for me; which is the act of painting, which simply cannot be huried. Which is why painting is so very good for me. So, if you are vata, I strongly recommend you seek out your version of whatever it is that slows you right down and do it (often) as a life-saver and dosha rebalancer; you won’t regret it.
I also know I need to make more effort to connect with others, even if it’s just a case of going out alone where more people tend to congregate and observing them from a distance. Its important…because the longer we spend time on our own, the more we get to live life on our own terms, at our own particular speed (which is supersonic) and this makes it ever harder for us to engage with other people when they come back into our zone. We alienate ourselves from others, forgetting how much we need their interaction (and to land back on planet earth, at least occasionally). For that reason, holidays and other reasons to travel are some of the most grounding, healing times for me since they force me to people watch and to pace myself to the crowds, the queues and the speed at which people talk to each other in shops, restaurants and other passing places. I don’t get to do that an awful lot in my “ordinary” life at home; and I can spend days or weeks in my own way-out head. My husband always laughs at me when I’ve been deeply in my own head; I garble, I don’t let him get a word in edgeways, I “get on my soapbox” and I tell him weird and wonderful stuff with such gusto, enthusiasm and arm waving, like some sort of mad boffin-scientist dropped in from an intergalactic spaceship…but there’s no room for what you could call a conversation. I’ve even been known to draw him diagrams like I am delivering a lecture…I can be like that when I go to my appointments too; my therapist spends the first ten minutes (at least) simply calming my energy down to the speed where she can work with me.
All of this is very funny but…at the more serious level…this kind of high-speed performance in our head (and in our energy field) can exhaust the body and we vatas need to make time for deep, slow relaxation at least once every day. Mindfulness and deep breathing can help enormously. Achieving what Heartmath refer to as heart coherence improves longevity as well as clear thinking and anxiety control. If we plan to stay in our bodies for the longer term…which means keeping those bodies healthy…we need to do this work when it comes to modulating the relative speeds at which our human and our “higher” minds operate. There needs to be a bridge between them or we blow our own circuit board; finding out, too late, that we have no health (or friends) left to work with. Meditation, of course, and time spent in nature is great for slowing things down…but we need to put in the homework where it comes to engaging with other people too. I used to be such a disparager of television but, lately, I’ve been cherry-picking some programs to watch because they remind me how people engage with each other and what they engage about. We vatas have a tendency to become such introverts and, whilst I accept this as a most valid way to be (if it happens to be your natural constitution), there is no need to get utterly lost in it as though we are living all alone as a community of one inside our heads. Even some occasional “pulp fiction” has been a valuable grounding device for me this summer and it has really helped me to come back to earth…and to make fun of myself, just a little; since humour is also an extremely grounding force to make use of. Stopping taking ourselves (and life) so seriously can be such a pleasure when we are doing it for our health and, being such a uniquely earthbased trait, provides us with one almighty reason why we really want to be here (and things don’t get any more grounding than that).
Please note that the Ayurevedic diet only suported me to a certain extent and then started to feel counter-productive to my healing path, especially over the winter months. The occassional, seasonal, use of Ayurevedic principles is something I am likely to retain but the ruling out of a whole sub-section (such as raw, cold etc) of food-types not to mention many powerfully healing fruits and vegtables because of my dosha and because “Ayureveda says so” is not something I am likely to repeat after several months experiment with this. For more information on this, refer to my later posts Deep-diving the Medical Medium’s healing plan and Health or hindrance: do IgG tests throw us off track?
Photo by Marta Boixo on Unsplash