Ayurvedic Medicine – Part II: How to Get Healthy if You’re a “Vata”

In Part I of this series on Ayurvedic Medicine, How Knowing Your Constitutional Type Can Help You Heal, I described the different constitutional types, known as doshas, according to Ayurvedic medicineSo, what should you do if you’ve determined you are a Vata? 

Here are my recommendations for balancing your Vata constitution, thereby making you less prone to illness:

The Vata body type is dry, cold, and irregular/erratic like wind.  To achieve balance, be consistent and regular in your routines.  Try to eat and sleep on schedule.  Stop eating before you are full.  Stop exercising and working before you are exhausted.  Exercise restraint and moderation in all things.

Emphasize warm, moist grounding foods like soups, stews and cooked cereals and whole grains. 

Avoid extremes (i.e. raw foodism, overeating/undereating).  Eat smaller, more frequent meals.  Avoid dry food (dried fruit, leathery meat, crackers, toasty bread, popcorn, etc.)  Avoid carbonated beverages and yeasty foods.  Be moderate with cruciferous (cabbage family) veggies–make sure to cook them well.  The idea is to avoid foods that produce coldness (i.e. too much raw), air (gassy foods) and dryness. 

Heavy food like meat and nuts is good in small amounts, because it’s grounding.  Overdoing will lead to digestive distress, so be careful.  Dairy is okay if you’re not allergic or lactose intolerant.

Because Vata is dry, make sure to include good fats in your diet, such as sesame butter, flax oil, olive oil, fish oil, and ghee.  All spices are fine.

Smooth flowing exercises like yoga, swimming and weight lifting at a moderate pace with good form are good for Vata.  Erratic jumpy exercises like sprinting and high impact aerobics aggravate Vata.

The worst vices for Vata are caffeine and sugar.

When I am treating a patient with a Vata constitution, I tend to focus on treatments that are strengthening, warming (moxa and heat lamps), and calming for the nervous system.  And, I emphasize sweet and spicy (pungent) herbs when prescribing herbal medicine.

What kind of pain do you have?

Hopefully, none! However, if you do suffer from pain, acupuncture, Asian bodywork (shiatsu, acupressure, tuina) and Chinese herbal medicine have been successfully eliminating pain by addressing the root causes for thousands of years.

In simplistic terms, acupuncture moves “Stuck Qi” or energy to remove pain. In actuality, it is more complicated than that.

Chinese medicine distinguishes between different types of pain, and the treatment will be different depending on what type of pain you have. For example, your pain may be due to:

  1. Stuck Qi
  2. Stuck Blood
  3. Cold or Wind-Cold
  4. Dampness or Phlegm
  5. Heat

Often, pain is due to a combination of two or more of these factors, such as:

  1. Stuck Qi and Stuck Blood
  2. Stuck Blood and Cold
  3. Cold and Damp

Let’s take a look at the first type of pain, Stagnant Qi:

Stuck (or “Stagnant”) Qi pain comes and goes. The pain might tend to affect one area primarily, such as your neck, head, back, stomach or intestines. But, the pain isn’t fixed in one exact location, such as a joint. One day, you might have pain and tightness on the left side of your neck, upper shoulder and jaw. A few days later, the other side hurts worse. Another day, you might have a transient pain in your chest. Or, your lower back goes into spasm. The pain feels worse:

  1. After a stressful day at work
  2. After a verbal confrontation with an adversary
  3. When you’ve been stoically taking care of everyone else and neglecting yourself
  4. While you study at your desk for hours on end without taking time to stretch and exercise

Stuck Qi causes “knots”. If someone were to rub your shoulders while you were having a Stuck Qi tension headache, they would say, “your shoulders feel like one big knot”. Stuck Qi can also feel like pressure building up. Your body might feel bigger and bloated. The bloated feeling is like a tire being overfilled with air (not water, or edema). Intestinal gas, which can be painful, is often due to Stuck Qi. When a woman’s breasts feel big, swollen and sore before her period, this is due to Stuck Qi. Or tension headaches that feel like your head is in a vise. Another characteristic of Stuck Qi pain is that it often feels better with movement and worse with inactivity.

When you don’t breathe fully, it is because you are holding in, or holding on to your negative emotions. When you are in this tense, angry, or depressed state, you sigh frequently. These are signs of Qi stagnation.

Emotional causes of Stuck Qi include: chronic anger, resentment, frustration, impatience, perfectionism, brooding, obsessing, worrying, setting overly high standards and feeling “driven”, being overly self-sacrificing or stoic (which builds resentment and bitterness over time, whether or not this is expressed).

Physical causes of Stuck Qi include: sedentary lifestyle, overeating, excessive studying (such as for school), overwork (especially mental work), poor ergonomics in the work environment, wearing overly constricting clothing such as high heel shoes, repetitive strain, environmental toxins, structural imbalances (such as scoliosis or short leg syndrome).

Shiatsu and acupuncture are excellent treatments for Stuck Qi. The acupuncturist determines the exact locations (meridians of energy channels) where the Qi is stuck and then stimulates points along those channels, which act as pressure valves to release the Qi. Relief often comes quickly, even instantly. Follow up visits address the cause of the Stuck Qi so that the tendency for the Qi to get stuck in certain areas is gradually eliminated.

I will address the other types of pain in future articles. Stay tuned…