By the end of January and beginning of February, those of us who live in northern climates have peaked in terms of the accumulation of Vata in our physiology. Months of cold, dry, windy weather results in an increase of those same qualities in our bodies: dryness, coolness, movement and quickness. When Vata becomes imbalanced we can experience symptoms such as trouble sleeping, aching joints and muscles, arthritis, emotional instability, high blood pressure, dry skin, increased sensitivity to the cold weather, and depression.
With months of cold weather still ahead of us, this is the time to adopt a diet and lifestyle that help settle Vata.
One of the most basic approaches to balancing Vata is to follow a regular routine—eating and going to sleep at around the same time each day. In fact, going to bed early on a regular basis is one of the most powerful tools available for balancing Vata.
In terms of diet, the key word is “warm”. Eat foods that are warming and fresh. The same goes for any liquid that we drink —and we need to be drinking lots of liquid to offset the drying influence of winter heating. Be sure to drink a number of cups of warm water and herbal teas throughout the day. Never have iced drinks or food.
During the winter you may find yourself thinking more about food than you did during the summer. This is because when the cold, dry weather of winter starts to aggravate Vata dosha, our bodies naturally begin to crave heavier more unctuous, Kapha-type foods to help counter this effect. In addition, cold weather tends to cause our internal digestive fire to increase, thus creating an increase in our appetite. As long as you don’t eat more than you can comfortably digest, larger portions at meals can help keep Vata in balance. While we don’t want to gain weight and accumulate ama over the winter months, it is not recommended to try to lose weight during the winter months.
Eat more foods that increase Kapha: those with sweet, sour, and salty tastes. Eat fewer foods with bitter, astringent, and pungent tastes. Avocados, bananas, mangoes, peaches, lemons, pumpkins, asparagus, carrots, beets, almonds, sesame seeds, quinoa, rice, mung beans, and ghee are all excellent Vata-pacifying foods.
Vata imbalances often lead to constipation. This is another reason to drink plenty of warm fluids during the day. Drinking two glasses of warm water when you wake up can help stimulate bowel functioning. Hot water with black salt can also be helpful in this area.
Oil is our friend in the winter. Using olive oil and ghee in our meals will help counter the drying effects of Vata.
Along this same line of thinking, daily oil massage with sesame oil is particularly helpful at this time of year. The warm, unctuous quality of the oil is the perfect antidote to the cold, dry qualities of Vata. If you are Pitta by nature, you may prefer coconut oil or olive oil, as sesame oil is naturally heating. Ideally you’ll want to heat your oil before applying it. Letting your bottle of oil float in hot water for a few minutes will bring the oil to a nice, soothing temperature. For optimal results, keep the oil on your skin for 5 or 10 minutes before your shower or bath.
Cover your ears and head when you leave the house. Because ears are one of the main seats of Vata, it is best not to expose them to cold and winds. Two of the main qualities of Vata are cold and dryness. Make sure the temperature in your home and work place is comfortable. If you have central heating, consider a humidifier to counter the dryness it creates. Because Vata-types are sensitive to moving air, it is best to avoid drafts or fans.
It can be easy to become a little lazy during the snowy, colder months. Try to incorporate Yoga or some kind of gentle stretching exercise into your routine, as well as other comfortable and easy exercise. Don’t strain or over-do with your winter exercise routine. Vata tends to dry up the lubricating qualities of Kapha in the body. This is why more athletes experience pulled muscles or other injuries during the winter. This is especially true for those over 50 (those in the Vata time of life). Spring is a much better season for vigorous exercise, as the influence of Kapha is at its peak and we will naturally have more strength and stamina.
If you find that diet, lifestyle and self-massage are not helping to control symptoms of Vata imbalance, it may be that your Vata imbalance has gone deep into the tissues. In this case Panchakarma, the traditional rejuvenation treatments of Ayurveda, is recommended. Panchakarma removes Vata from the tissues by using various herbal decoctions and oils, in combination with specialized treatments, to address the root of the Vata imbalance.