Malasana / Garland Pose – a beautifully grounding pose for when I am feeling the effects of a Vata overload (South Easter to blame)
I posted recently about how the incessant wind that we’ve been having in Stellenbosch lately tends to make me go stir crazy, and that it’s got to do with Vata overload. Unsurprisingly, I had a few people asking me what that’s all about. So here’s a post as promised.
Ayurveda is a holistic science of health which is focused on maintaining a physically and emotionally balanced state. It began about 5,000 – 6,000 years ago when Indian monks were looking for new ways to be healthy. Revering their bodies like temples, the monks believed that preserving their health would help them meditate and develop spiritually. Over thousands of years of observations, they gathered all their conclusions and advice and preserved it for future generations. This collection of knowledge came to be known as the “science or knowledge of life” — Ayurveda.
It differs from modern medicine in that it views every individual as unique, and there is no lifestyle routine or diet that is prescribed for everyone. Aside from that, a major difference is that it focuses largely on prevention, and providing specific advice and guidance on how to maintain your physical and emotional health. Food and lifestyle routines are considered the most important medicine. If you come to an Ayurvedic doctor with a complaint, you are more likely to leave with a recipe than with a prescription for pills.
Ayurveda is based on the principles of three doshas, which are the energies that make up every individual and perform different physiological functions in the body:
The 3 Dosha types:
1. Vata Dosha: Energy that controls bodily functions associated with motion, including blood circulation, breathing, blinking, and your heartbeat.
- In balance: There is creativity and vitality.
- Out of balance: Can produce fear and anxiety.
Characteristics for Vata predominant types: Creative; Quick to learn and grasp new knowledge, but also quick to forget, Slender; Tall and a fast-walker; Tendency toward cold hands and feet, discomfort in cold climates; Excitable, lively, fun personality; Changeable moods; Irregular daily routine; High energy in short bursts; Tendency to tire easily and to overexert; Full of joy and enthusiasm when in balance; Responds to stress with fear, worry, and anxiety, especially when out of balance; Tendency to act on impulse; Often have racing, disjointed thoughts; Generally have dry skin and dry hair and don’t perspire much.
2. Pitta Dosha: Energy that controls the body’s metabolic systems, including digestion, absorption, nutrition, and your body’s temperature.
- In balance: Leads to contentment and intelligence.
- Out of balance: Can cause ulcers and anger.
Characteristics for Pitta Predominant Types: Medium physique, strong, well-built; Sharp mind, good concentration powers; Orderly, focused; Assertive, self-confident, and entrepreneurial at their best; Aggressive, demanding, pushy when out of balance; Competitive, enjoy challenges; Passionate and romantic; Strong digestion, strong appetite, get irritated if they have to miss or wait for a meal; When under stress, Pittas become irritated and angry; Skin fair or reddish, often with freckles; sunburns easily; Uncomfortable in sun or hot weather, heat makes them very tired; Perspire a lot; Good public speakers; Generally good management and leadership ability, but can become authoritarian; Subject to temper tantrums, impatience, and anger; Typical physical problems include rashes or inflammations of the skin, acne, boils, skin cancer, ulcers, heartburn, acid stomach, insomnia, dry or burning eyes.
3. Kapha Dosha: Energy that controls growth in the body. It supplies water to all body parts, moisturizes the skin, and maintains the immune system.
- In balance: Expressed as love and forgiveness.
- Out of balance: Can lead to insecurity and envy.
Characteristics for Kapha Predominant Types: Easygoing, relaxed, slow-paced; Affectionate and loving; Forgiving, compassionate, nonjudgmental nature; Stable and reliable; faithful; Physically strong and with a sturdy, heavier build; Have the most energy of all constitutions, but it is steady and enduring; Slow speech, reflecting a deliberate thought process; Slower to learn, but outstanding long-term memory; Soft hair and skin; tendency to have large “soft” eyes and a low, soft voice; Tend toward being overweight; may also suffer from sluggish digestion; Prone to depression; More self-sufficient; Gentle, and essentially undemanding approach to life; Excellent health, good immune system; Very calm; strive to maintain harmony and peace in their surroundings; Not easily upset and can be a point of stability for others; Tend to be possessive and hold on to things. Don’t like cold, damp weather; Physical problems include colds and congestion, sinus headaches, respiratory problems including asthma, allergies, and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
Each person has all three doshas, but usually one or two dominate. I, for example, am Vata-Pitta. Various dosha proportions determine one’s physiological and personality traits as well as general likes and dislikes. For example Vata types will prefer hot weather to cold and Kapha types are more likely to crave spicy foods than other types.
My reference to the wind making me feel extremely flighty and unsettled has to do with the Vata in me, and the fact that when there is an overload of motion (wind is a classic example), I feel completely overstimulated. Once you know your Dosha make-up, you can work with your diet, your lifestyle, your entire environment to bring yourself into balance. When it’s blowy, I need my practice to be extremely grounding. My mother-in-law, on the other hand, is a classic Kapha, finds the wind absolutely exhilarating and wants to get out and about and do things when the South Easter is pumping.
Whilst I’m making this to sound extremely simplistic, it is actually a very complex science, so feel free to do some more indepth research – you will find a wealth of information on this topic. If you are curious about finding out about your dominant dosha/s, I give a link below to one of many. Most online questionnaires are very similar and will provide similar results. Please keep in mind that shorter questionnaires will give a more generalized and approximate result. Also, your body changes with age, seasons, and life situations so the results will change as well. Taking a few different questionnaires will give you a more definite result for your dosha type.
As with any of these online / DIY quizzes, please take it with a pinch of salt – I believe wholeheartedly in the premises of Ayurveda and the Chopra Centre is a reputable source, however to reap the full rewards of this phenomenal life science, I advise you to make an appointment with a proper practitioner, and am happy to refer you to one if you are interested. Just comment below and I will respond. In the meantime, here is the link for fun and to get you started.
Once you’ve done the quiz, feel free to let me know whether the results resonate with you. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Click here for the short time-lapse video that I posted on Facebook and Instagram that prompted this post: me attempting Tree pose in a gale-force wind.
I quote extensively from a MindBodyGreen article: for the original post, click here.