The Doshas and Digestion: Variable Vata
Updated: Jan 7
Gas, dryness, and constipation, oh my! In my previous posts on the Doshas and Digestion, I discussed ways to alleviate burning (pitta-type) digestion and sluggish (kapha-type) digestion. Which leaves one more Dosha: Vata!
If you live in a place like Los Angeles, where the climate is arid, where people rely on cars to zip from place to place, and where life is generally pretty busy, the likelihood is at some point in your life you have experienced some level of excess vata in the digestion. Vata is composed of the elements of air and space, and has the qualities of being light, dry, and cold. It is the dosha in the body that governs all motion, including circulation, motor skills, and nerve impulses. In the mind, vata can express as enthusiasm and creativity.
When there is an excess of vata in the digestive system, its dry, light, and mobile nature can wreak havoc in the form of what is referred to in Ayurveda as variable digestion. A lack of moisture in the body causes dry stools and subsequent constipation. You may not pass stool every day and when you do, it comes out hard and in smaller pebbles. Sometimes you may be ravenous, while at other times you might not have much appetite. Excess gas is also a sign of too much vata in the digestive tract.
Does it sound like you have variable or vata-type digestion? Then, read on! Here are some ways to soothe vata in the digestive system.
5 Tips for soothing Variable (vata) Digestion
1. Eat regular meals at the same time each day
We have a tendency to want to rush through everything, work through everything, and do everything at once. As a society we're so distracted by our phones and what's hot on Tik Tok that we forget what's in front of us. As such, there can be a real temptation to eat when it is convenient for us, or to even munch on snacks rather than go for a full meal when we don't have the ability to focus on our food. This can cause dryness and constipation because we're usually eating light and dry snacks like chips, and because we're not chewing the food as thoroughly as we could be if we actually sat down to eat, our bodies need to work a lot harder to break down the food that lands in our stomachs. The likelihood also is that those snacks are not going to have the same amount of nutritional value as a proper meal.
Moral of the story: To bring more regularity into your digestion, anchor yourself around a regular meal schedule. Try to eat the same time each morning, afternoon and evening. If you feel that your body can't handle a decent-sized meal three times a day, you may also want to consider eating 5 smaller meals throughout the day to give your body a manageable amount to work through each time.
II. Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day
I always recommend starting the day off with some warm lemon water to get everything moving in the morning, but it is also important to continue hydration as you go on about your day. Staying hydrated is important for so many reasons, and one of them is that it helps keep everything lubricated and regulated. When you're dehydrated, you can can really tell from your skin, but also in your bowel movement. If you have stools that are like pellets or are scant and infrequent, you could most likely benefit from taking in more water. In Ayurveda, it is also advised to drink warm or at least room temperature water. If that is difficult, try adding infusing some fruit or fresh herbs to room temperature water to make it more refreshing.
If you need reminders or motivation to keep sipping that H2O, you could use an app like Plant Nanny or keep an alarm on your phone specifically for water intake.
III. Eat food that is warm and cooked, rather than dry, raw or cold
The dry, light qualities of vata are best balanced by those opposite in nature: warm and moist. Cooked food is going be the best because it is easier on the digestive system and also helps warm the body against the cold nature of vata. Think of a cozy bowl of porridge, perfectly tender and seasoned root vegetables, or a sumptuous bowl of spiced hot cereal.
This is especially important later in the day when your agni, or digestive fire, is weaker. Our ability to digest food is strongest during the middle of the day when the sun is highest. If you often face difficulty digesting dinner at night, you may want to consider having a more soupy meal during the evenings and see how you feel.
IV. Increase intake of nourishing foods: Sweet, Sour, and Salty Tastes
In Ayurveda, foods are categorized into the Six Tastes. While astringent, pungent (spicy), and bitter foods are light and dry and tend to increase vata, sweet, sour and salty foods increase moisture and heaviness in the body and are ideal for balancing vata. Sweet foods include grains, dairy, and even meats. Sour and salty foods are naturally heating to the body, while also providing nourishment. Keep in mind that it is still important to have all six tastes present, and to not go overboard with the desserts, fast foods, etc. that are all technically sweet, sour, or salty but at the end of the day detrimental for health in excess.
V. Eat in a Relaxing environment
If we try to eat when we are anxious, distracted, and stressed, we keep our bodies in fight-or-flight mode, preventing the transition into a rest-and-digest state where we can properly digest and assimilate nutrients from the food we eat. Instead of eating while standing, watching TV, driving, etc., really try to clear the table, destress and take your time to focus on the food in front of you. I personally love it when my dining table is free of clutter, and there is a centerpiece like a vase of flowers to set the mood. Light music can be great too!
Helpful Resources and Further Exploration
If you want to dive further into exploring the doshas and digestion, there are some really great resources out there. One of my favorite books is The 3 Season Diet by Dr. John Douillard - he draws upon Ayurvedic wisdom and makes it easily understandable and relevant to the American audience. A great cookbook is What to Eat for How You Feel by Divya Alter. Her recipes are nourishing and use only the most gentle and wholesome ingredients.
My job as an Ayurvedic Health Counselor is to make sure that you successfully adopt the habits, diet, and lifestyle that are truly supportive of your unique constitution and imbalances. I am here to help you get over any obstacles or humps that might come up as you progress on your healing journey. Get in touch with me at any time to learn more about one-on-one health counseling and other opportunities to explore Ayurveda in further detail.
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