Let us discuss the Vata metabolic pattern in the light of the ancient Ayurvedic text Charak Samhita. It describes the properties of Vata in the following manner –
रूक्ष शीतो लघुः सूक्ष्मश्चलोऽथ विशदः खरः|
Dry, cool, light, subtle, mobile, clear, and rough
Vata is controlled by the substances with opposite propertiesCharak Samhita (Sutrasthana 1:51)
In this article we will unpack Vata Dosha by exploring:
- Common definitions of Vata dosha
- 7 key aspects of Vata
What is Vata dosha?
Vata is the most powerful metabolic pattern in the body. In another allusion to Vata dosha, ancient texts state that “Vata controls the body system.”
In Sanskrit, each word has a multidimensional meaning. Let us look at the meaning of the word vata –
तत्र वा गतिगन्धनयोरिति धातुः ।Sushrut Samhita Sutrasthana 25
The word Vata emerges as a combination of -Ta” suffix to “Va-”root. “Va” is concerned with movement (gati) and enthusiasm (gandhan). Hence, the word Vata signifies the movement, needed for union or separation.
Does vata Only Work inside the human body?
The word “Vata” has various meanings in Sanskrit. It implies vigor or enthusiasm. And this system runs the universe, not only the human body.
For example, in the environment, Vata is the system that controls the air currents. It is the force that carries the clouds and brings rain. Also, it is the force that spreads the wildfires! It controls the entirety of life on our planet and in the universe.
Similarly, Vata is involved in any movement inside the human body, whether it is a contraction of the fingers or the pumping of the heart, Vata controls everything.
Vata also affects the mind. An excess of Vata can cause mental hyperactivity, anxiety, or fear and that can lead to an abnormally high heartbeat. Because of these dosha systems, we can assess a holistic effect on the entire body.
What constitutes vata?
According to Ayurveda, the space and the air elements come together to form Vata. Imagine a vehicle, it needs space and energy to move. Without space, it will not have the room to move and it will not have the power to move without kinetic energy.
And, we can say that the system that moves a vehicle is the Vata system!
Similarly, the system that controls all voluntary and involuntary functions in the body is called the Vata dosha. Vata is not mass or matter, however. It is a substance-affecting energy. Like the air that enables clouds to form.
7 Vata characteristics Explained
These characteristics demonstrate the existence of Vata biophysical energy. However, their order is very important. In order of significance, Vata exhibits:
To follow, we are going to explain each of these 7 characteristics in detail.
#1: Vata Is Drying
Vata dosha produces dryness in the body, like the way air dries a leaf. Dryness is the most important property of Vata dosha. In fact, only Vata dosha can produce dryness in the body. Both Pitta and Kapha dosha are oily and Vata is the factor that can help to balance them.
This dryness is beneficial in a dosha-trio-balanced condition because it counteracts the extra mucus of the Kapha dosha. It also evaporates the petrol-like oiliness of the Pitta and alleviates the burning effect of excess Pitta on the body.
Vata dries up the body tissues to create hardness, for example, it is instrumental in the formation of bones. Vata dries up the outer layer of the skin and forms the epidermis and it dries up the red blood cells to form the hallow in the middle.
Another example is the drying of an abscess or wound in the body. Vata dosha dries up the blood constituents to form the clots.
In fact, Vata may be responsible for the drying up and early death of cancer cells. However, Vata is a dosha, which signifies that it can go overboard with its activities. Thus, the excess drying effect can also lead to early cell death in the body, thereby resulting in an increased rate of aging!
Consider osteoarthritis as an example of excessive dryness in Vata. The disorder is caused by the knee joints’ synovial fluid drying up. This is an interesting example, as the Vata dosha resides specifically in the knees.
Vata dosha tends to predominate in the body during old age. Therefore, a Vata dosha imbalance in old age might lead to dryness in its station, the knees.
#2: Vata Is Cooling
The second most important feature of the Vata dosha is its cooling effect. Here, Vata shares its cooling effect with Kapha dosha, as Kapha is also cooling in nature. However, there is a difference between the cooling effect of Vata and Kapha.
Vata Vs. Kapha Cooling
Vata dosha absorbs heat to generate movement, and consequently produces coolness as a by-product. For instance, let us take the process of evaporation. After a certain point, a substance changes form and evaporates. The molecules of a heated liquid consume the heat energy and move more quickly. This process eats up the heat and results in cooling.
Kapha cools off incidentally, because of condensation of substance, like the formation of ice. When water solidifies to form ice, it releases heat and creates cooling.
In short, in the case of Vata cooling, the substance absorbs heat and becomes more mobile; in the case of Kapha, it releases heat and solidifies.
Why Vata Is Cooling
For obvious reasons, kinetic energy or the Vata dosha should produce heat. The air element produces the fire element in the sequence of element formation. Any excess activity naturally leads to heat production. How then does Vata dosha produce coolness within the body?
Only obstructed kinetic energy generates heat- friction creates heat. For example, the rubbing of two stones generates heat, but a stone thrown into the air with a cumulative force will not heat up to create a fire.
Even in meteorites, the powerful air friction produces heat enough to burn them up. So, Vata may incidentally contribute to heat generation, but its nature is to cool. In fact, it absorbs heat and converts it into motion or kinetic energy, thus bringing incidental cooling.
Vata Is Cooling Because It Is Dry & Light
The cooling effect of Vata is deeply linked to the superior Vata characteristics – dryness and lightness. Most of the metabolic activities that produce heat (like digestion, and fermentation) require water or any fluid medium. As the Vata dosha dries up a living system, it reduces the possibility of heat production.
For example, heat production in the body happens in the digestive tract, but it cannot happen in the outer layer of the skin as it is dry and dead. Thus, under normal conditions, the outer layer of the skin always remains cool.
Sweating essentially removes moisture from the body and produces a Vata-relevant drying effect. And drying of sweat also enhances the skin-cooling effect.
Evacuation & The Cooling Effect Of Vata
The cooling through Vata dosha occurs through the breakdown or the removal of matter. One of the interesting examples is evacuation.
There are two sources of heat production in the body – the digestion of food and the fermentation of the fecal matter. So, the stool in your large intestine is in a constant state of fermentation with the help of good bacteria. And this fermentation produces heat.
However, when you evacuate the stool, this source of heat is lost for good. And it produces an immediate lightness as well as coolness inside the body.
Sweating also leads to loss of water weight, and lightness along with an intense cooling effect. So, all features of Vata work in a symphony to produce cooling.
#3: Vata Is Light
Vata, composed of the components of space and air, is naturally light. As a result, it creates more space and activity inside the body.
Vata shares its lightness creating an effect with the Pitta dosha. Pitta is also light in nature. But Vata creates lightness through mobility. It dries up or displaces substance to create lightness. On the other hand, Pitta dosha burns up or transforms the substance to create lightness.
For instance, Vata dosha in nature leads to the movement of water away from a pond through a canal. But Pitta dosha can evaporate the water, and form water vapor. Both the activities lead to less water in the pond.
Vata Lightness & Space
When the Vata dosha creates more space in the body, it either removes or destroys the substance. The absence of substance incidentally results in lightness. Its drying effect also contributes to more space creation. For example, dried leaves take up less space compared to fresh leaves!
Vata dosha is responsible for the formation of all hollow, spacious structures within the body, including glands, blood vessels, and any other type of cavity. And this is just one of the numerous ways Vata lightness manifests itself.
Hence, Vata dosha is responsible for the natural porosity in the bones. And this is a great effect because this porosity ensures proper percolation of the circulatory and nervous system inside the bones. These tiny spaces also ensure that the bones are lighter and enable easy locomotion.
However, when the Vata dosha is in excess, it may lead to osteoporosis (excess porosity and loss of calcium in the bones)! In this specific case, there is an abnormal increase in the space element of the Vata dosha.
So, each element in Vata dosha – space and air also have their special effects and these elements can be modulated by specific treatment processes. This specificity is the reason some schools of Ayurveda also consider the elements for treatment purposes.
Vata Lightness & Air
The other element in the Vata dosha is the air element, which stands for all activity within and without. And activity causes lightness. One of the easiest examples to understand is the effect of exercise on the body.
When you exercise, you:
- lose moisture through sweating,
- remove toxins from the body via sweat (according to Ayurveda, toxins in the body lead to abnormal heaviness)
- burn excess fat and loss weight
- you may lose cell mass because of exercise-induced cell damage
Thus, with the activity, the body losses substance, and gains lightness. The above example also portrays space creation; however, the causal factor is the activity. Space creation is an incidental effect of the activity.
In case of excessive exercise or manual labor, there is an increase in the Vata dosha and it may lead to dehydration (excess loss of water), excess cell damage, or weight loss. As a result, you may feel weak and abnormally light.
Another sign of weakness (excess Vata) is lightness in the head. This may also lead to Vata hyperactivity and dizziness.
#4: Vata Is Subtle
The word sookshma refers to something that is very small, fine, sublime, or subtle.
Vata inherits a natural subtlety from the parent space element. Thus, vata has an omnipresent effect in the body. It exists everywhere and affects everything, just like space. This is the reason, vata is the most powerful dosha in the body. In fact, it is called the lord of the body in ancient Ayurvedic texts.
This omnipresent present vata holds the entire metabolism like the thread holds the pearls. It is the sutra that ensures synchronized activity within every cell of the body. In fact, vata can work on atomic and sub-atomic levels also.
Its subtlety is the reason for the immediate and all-pervasive effects of vata. This property also signifies that the vata reaches every cell of the body.
For example, the nervous control of the body is mostly a vata function. Vata is responsible thinking, feeling or creativity and these are subtle processes. The super-fine activity of nerve impulses is a result of subtle vata activity. Also, nervous signals reach every cell of the body.
This vata property also enables penetration across different layers of the body. The subtle particles can diffuse easily though the fluid media of the body, whether it is the tissue fluid or the blood. Therefore, hormonal functions are also of part of vata functions.
For example, the subtle activity of insulin reaches every cell in the body and produces an immediate blood sugar lowering effect. These hormones utilize the power of vata subtlety to disperse quickly and affect the body in seconds.
The best effect of vata subtlety is seen in the lungs. The diffusion of oxygen or prana in the blood is a function of vata dosha. If there is an excess of vata dosha, you may face problems like hypoxia (low oxygen levels in tissues) or hypoxemia (low oxygen levels in the blood).
#5: Vata Is Mobile
Vata is the only factor responsible for movement inside or outside the body due to the dominance of the air element.
Movement is an essential sign of life. All metabolic functions depend on some or the other kind of movement.
The biggest need of movement is in transportation. Whether it is nutrition or waste inside the body, everything needs transport from one organ to the other. This cyclic mobility runs the chakra of life.
For example, the peristaltic movement that helps the food to move through the intestines is a function of vata. The circulatory system is another great example, where the vata dosha helps to distribute nutrition and collect metabolic debris from all over the body.
Interestingly, all the organs with a lot of mobility are the abode or the head offices of vata dosha in the body. For example, large intestine, responsible for the motion that evacuates the stool, is the main abode of vata dosha.
Another abode of vata are the joints. Joints are the functional unit for locomotion in our body. They provide a wide range of mobility, whether it is the thumb joint or the knee joint.
Besides, the movement of pitta (heat energy) and kapha (latent energy/solid structures) cannot happen without vata. Charak Samhita states – “Both pitta and kapha doshas are stationary. Vata dosha drives the other two doshas (kapha and pitta) throughout the body, much like a strong wind drives clouds everywhere and causes rain.”
For example, pitta dosha is responsible for formation of the digestive juices. But vata helps to synchronize their secretion in the digestive tract.
Kapha dosha forms the synovial fluid in the joints. With the dominance of water element, it provides moisture and lubrication to the joints. But, vata dosha ensures that this synovial fluid is replaced frequently.
Any excess of vata dosha may lead to dryness in the knee joints and lack of lubrication. The friction due to low lubrication leads to rapid deterioration of the knee joints.
One of the very interesting examples for vata mobility is constipation. Excessive vata in the intestines should lead to lose motions. However, here we need to recollect that dryness dominates over lower vata properties. Excess heat in the intestines lead to rapid motion in the intestines. But excess dryness stiffens the intestines and leads to constipation.
Thus, an excess vata may not necessarily lead to excess motion. It can also lead to a lack of motion.
Vata dosha deficiency causes an excess of other doshas. Consequently, there is excessive inflammation (pitta) or matter-based heaviness. For instance, a lack of movement (vata dosha) results in weight gain or heaviness.
#6: Vata Is Clear
The clarity (vishadta) of vata dosha is a contrary property of the Picchila or sliminess. One of important feature of any fluid is viscosity. However, vata dosha reduces viscosity in the body and brings clarity.
All the tissue fluids has some degree of viscosity. This viscosity also helps to maintain the living matrix with multiple cells and biomolecules floating in it. Viscosity is also helps with fluid transportation. It also defines soft boundaries at the cellular and tissue level.
The eyes are the best example to understand viscosity and vata induced clarity. It contains two fluids – aqueous humor and vitreous humor. Aqueous humor is watery fluid and vitreous humor is jelly-like in consistency. It signifies that aqueous humor has a more vata effect compared to the vitreous humor.
In pathogenic conditions, excess vata may produce dryness and reduce the proper viscosity. However, if there is excess vata clarity, it may lead to excess fluid accumulation inside the eyes leading to disorders like glaucoma.
Another example is the mucus covering of the digestive system. This mucus is viscous and sticky and protects the alimentary canal from the sharp digestive juices. If there is an excess of vata, the mucus covering becomes thinner and less viscous. It may be drained along with the food passing through the intestines.
Thus, the unprotected digestive tract may develop problems like stomach ulcers, intestinal inflammation, IBS and so on. So, excess clarity of vata may lead to multiple disorders.
#7: Vata Is Rough
Roughness is a natural result of primary vata properties like dryness. Vata dehydration absorbs the body’s natural moisture and causes roughness. Excess vata in the skin, for instance, may result in dry, rough skin. The natural deteriorating effect of vata also manifests as roughness.
A balanced vata produces roughness in the right places. For example, the bones have two types of surfaces – a smooth one and a rough one. The rough pitted surface provides an ideal anti-skid holding point for muscles and ligaments. Without this rough surface, the muscles, ligaments, tendons etc may not stay in their proper place.
The rough surface of the tongue is another example of vata action. It contains filiform papillae. These papillae have a dry, heavy coat of keratinized cells. These cells make the tongue surface rough and provide adequate friction for the food bolus to move slowly and ensure proper chewing.
There are many other sites where vata works with roughness. However, excessive roughness may lead to vata disorders. One excellent example of excessive vata roughness is white tongue. In this case, the tongue develops an overgrowth and enlargement of these papillae. As a result, a lot of debris, germs, and dead cells get trapped between the swollen and occasionally inflammatory papillae. This debris leads to a white coating on the tongue.
The white tongue accompanies other vata symptoms like tongue dryness and dehydration.
This is a brief interpretation of the vata dosha. It is merely a scratch on the tip of the vata iceberg. I hope this information helps you appreciate the depth of Ayurveda’s fundamental principles.
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