The second part of this Ayurvedic series looks at the Vata dosha, and how it governs all aspects of movement in our body.
In a previous article, I gave a brief overview of Panchamahabuta (PMB), how it becomes the foundation of Ayurvedic philosophy, and how it is the basis for customised solution. I notice that when most people talk about Ayurveda their focus is on the doshas i.e. Vata, Pitta and Kapha. However, these doshas are based on the attributes of the PMB, and are easy tools for identifying balance or imbalance in one’s health.
What are Doshas
There is no transliteration for this word. Ayurveda says ‘Dushayanti iti doshah’, meaning ‘that which causes vitiation/aggravation/fluctuation (dushana) is dosha’. Dosha is that which can affect the agni (transformation process), damage other tissues or organs, or even other doshas. It is not static, but in a dynamic state that can move in any direction based on various factors. According to Ayurveda, a disease is created when there is an imbalance in dosha, and our aim is to keep our doshas in balance through diet and lifestyle.
Doshas are none other than the combination of PMB attributes and that is why understanding the PMB is vital to Ayurveda. I would like to reiterate that Ayurveda is a deep scientific philosophy and requires years of study to understand the workings of PMB in order to manage our health.
In this article, a simplified version of the Vata dosha is provided below.
Vata Dosha: Space + Air – the Principle of Movement
Vata dosha is a combination of the the PMB, Space (Akash) and Air (Vayu). So, at a structural level, Space can be perceived as the cavities of our bodies—mouth, nostrils. respiratory tract, etc. Air/Movement is the movements in our body—pulsation of the heart, movement of muscles, expansion and contraction of lungs, etc. Together, they combine to form the force called Vata, which governs the Principle of Movement in body, mind and emotion. Bear in mind that Vata is not the movement itself but the force that propels the movements.
Each Bhuta has its own attributes. For example, Space is spacious, expansive, vast, unobstructive, non-resistant, subtle, etc. It is through Space that we see pure potential. It serves as a foundation for the other bhutas to manifest. Air is movement and has drying qualities. When we combine Space and Air, we get a collection of attributes like spacious, cold, light, dry, irregular, rough, moving, quick, changeable, etc.
So, Vata basically represents a collection of attributes from Space and Air, and governs the overall aspect of Movement. Being the principle of movement, all bodily movements—both voluntary and involuntary—are powered by Vata. This includes locomotion, blinking of eye, peristalsis, heartbeat, urination, gestation, including all nervous system movement, and more. This is why the majority of nervous related illness, both mental and physical, are associated with aggravated or imbalanced Vata.
If we break the Vata function further into smaller levels such as the cellular level, Vata moves nutrients and wastes in and out of cells. At the digestive level, Vata governs peristaltic movements, assimilation of nutrients and expulsion of waste. At the mental Level, Vata retrieves and stores information from old and new memories.
Within the concept of Vata, there are further sub-divisions—there are altogether five different types of Vata located in different parts of the body—and different types of movement are further given different names. So Vata has both generic function and specific functions, and depending on the context, the physician will know which Vata is aggravated and how to balance it.
The quality of ‘dryness’ is the distinctive attribute of Vata because Pitta and Kapha share the ‘oily’ attribute of the PMB. So Vata type of food and lifestyle is also referred to as ‘reducing’, and will cause more ‘dryness’ in our mind, body, and soul. Those that eat only Vata type of food may feel the ‘detox’ or dryness effect and feel good in the beginning, but if prolonged it can lead to Vata aggravation and long term neurological disorders. It is for this reason that one has to balance Vata, Pitta, Kapha (VPK) in their diet.
Vata is also known as the leader of the doshas and for these reasons, it is absolutely vital to have a balanced Vata in our diet and lifestyle. Excessive Vata can ‘drag’ the other two doshas off their natural place, and cause further aggravation of the doshas.
Vata is force that governs the potential in a person. Since Vata has Space, we have the potential to create anything within that space. A person with a balanced Vata can be considered to be creative, quick thinking, and effective. However, the movement in that space must be balanced for us to use that space positively. Excessive movement within the space can cause stress, anxiety, and worry. which can aggravate Vata and cause Vata related disorders such as Parkinsonism, nervous disorders, and more.
We need to understand that every aspect of our environment has the PMB in terms of attributes. For example, if the weather is cold and dry like during winter, Vata is said to be pre-dominant. Even in our lifespan, VPK has its own pre-dominance. Even in a daily cycle there is predominance of VPK at different times of the day. In old age, Vata is the dominant dosha and catabolic rate is greater than the anabolic rate, thereby leading to decaying body.
That is why there is no ‘one solution fits all’ in Ayurveda. If a Vata body type (Prakruti) person is travelling to a cold dry country as opposed to a Kapha type person, then both of them will need to have different meals and lifestyle based on how the travelling have affected their bodies and minds. Likewise, a 20 year old Vata Prakruti person and a 50 year old Vata Prakruti person will also be prescribed different diets and lifestyle.
It is for all these reasons that Ayurveda places great emphasis in understanding the PMB and doshas, and learning how to balance the three doshas as the primary method of healthcare and preventive medicine. Only when the doshas are balanced can the other aspect such as digestion, tissues etc. be balanced. An imbalanced dosha leads to disease.
In the next article, I will explain the Pitta dosha with examples.