Vata: Leader of the Doshas

Although we cannot exist without all of the Doshas, Vata is considered their leader, because it governs all movements. It controls blood flow, elimination of wastes, respiration, and the movement of thoughts across the mind.  Consisting of the Air and Space (or ether) elements, Vata is the lightest of the Doshas and easiest to throw off course. Since it is responsible for moving both Pitta and Kapha, which by themselves are immobile, it is important to keep Vata in check.

Vata is the flow of life. In Yoga classes, you may have heard the term Prana referenced as “breath” or “life force”. Prana is actually a Subdosha of Vata and is present in all living things, such as plants and herbs, which is important to consider as we make food choices.. If Vata slows down or is blocked, decay sets in. If there is excess Vata, deterioration occurs. If there is no Vata, there is no life. At the end of the day, Vata may be the Leader, but it is also ultimately the one that destroys. The three Doshas work together to create (Kapha), conduct (Pitta), and destroy (Vatta) all matter.

Each Dosha has “seats”, or organs where they have the most natural energetic influence.  Vata is concentrated in the large intestine and colon (sites of “air”), the skin (site of touch and elimination), kidneys, bone, thighs, and ears. Vata’s “sense organ” is the ear and “organs of action” are the throat, mouth, and vocal cords. Vata is associated with sound and speech.

Although Doshas are not physical entities and cannot be seen, measured, or quantified, they can be sensed. Doshas manifest through the build-up and subsequent effects of their qualities (Gunas) if they are not excreted. The Gunas and Doshas operate on a like-increases-like principle. For example, arid conditions or consuming dehydrating foods and drinks aggravate the already-dry Vata, leading to constipation, flaky skin, or brittle hair and nails.  

Vata, in its natural and balanced state, maintains energy of inhalation, exhalation, movements, and acuity of the senses. When aggravated, it can cause excess dryness, hyperpigmentation (dark discoloration), tremors, ringing in the ears (reference back to ears and sound), incoherency of speech (reference back to action of speech), and fatigue.

Physically, people of Vata constitution tend to have visible bony structures and tendons. Their complexion is fair or light brown, and their skin is cold and dry to the touch. They may be either tall or short, but with thin frames and reduced muscle development. Their dry hair can be curly or straight, but is generally scanty and thin. Vatas have petite and delicate facial features, long and dainty bone structure, and thin, translucent skin.

Physiologically, Vatas have low appetite and slow and/or erratic digestion. At times, they may be able to consume and tolerate a large meal without discomfort. Other days they have no appetite at all. Their nature is to be dry – skin, feces, low urine output, and little production of sweat. Due to their dry and light nature, they are also fitful sleepers with periods of insomnia.

From a psychological perspective, Vatas are characterized as quick adapters with short memories. Although they adjust easily to change, they can also be indecisive and often change their minds. Vatas are creative, whimsical, witty, and happy. When all is well, they are flamboyant and eccentric, artsy and espressive. You will find Vatas in fields of interior and graphic design, art, music, and writing. Vatas will often start numerous projects but have trouble managing multiple jobs at once. In excess, Vatas can experience anxiety, stress, overwhelm, fear, and headaches. Most neurologic disorders have roots in Vata.

If I was stranded on an island I would definitely want a Vata friend to keep me company.  Not only can I always count on a Vata to make me laugh with their quick wit and comic relief, I can also rely on their ingenuity and creativity to help us out of a sticky situation or construct living quarters out of coconuts and palm leaves.  And with their small and erratic appetites, I wouldn’t have to share much food with them. To all of the above I say: win, win, win.

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