Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth yoga, fitness, & nutrition courses, when you sign up for Outside+.
As the cool chill of winter descends, do you find yourself more anxious, flighty, or forgetful than usual? It may be more than the holiday frenzy that’s got you feeling frantic—it could be that your vata dosha is out of balance. The most likely of the doshas to slip out of balance in any season, vata is especially prone to aggravation during late fall and early winter, when nature delivers an abundance of vatalike qualities in the form of blustery winds, cool temperatures, and dry air.
Composed of the elements air and space, vata is the subtlest of the three doshas (the others are pitta and kapha) and therefore the most vulnerable to life’s vicissitudes. Travel, weather changes, insufficient sleep, fragmented schedules, and excessive mental or sensory stimulation of any kind can all challenge vata’s stability.
Seated in the colon, vata governs all movement in the body and mind. (The Sanskrit translation of the word is “that which moves things.”) It enables our fluids to flow, our nerve impulses to fire, our thoughts to coalesce, and, well, our wastes to pass. In other words, vata keeps all of our systems going and contributes to great vitality.
Because of vata’s association with the nervous system, its state is often reflected in our mental health. When vata is in balance, we tend to be enthusiastic, imaginative, funny, quick to learn, and spiritually minded. But the excess vata of late fall and early winter can leave us susceptible to feeling more fearful, scattered, or worried than usual. Physically, pain is the most obvious indication of excess vata; other common signs are variable appetite, insomnia, dry skin, constipation, flatulence, and irregular menstruation.
You don’t need to feel blown away by vata’s high season. These nurturing lifestyle choices can keep you grounded.
Stick to a daily routine, scheduling in more down time than usual. Aim for lights-out by 10 p.m. and get a full eight hours of sleep each night.
Prepare warm, moist foods and sit down to eat at regular times. Sweet, sour, and salty tastes calm vata. Cooked whole grains, root veggies, and savory soups are good dietary mainstays.
A few times a week, perform abhyanga, a full-body self-massage with warm oil, to nourish and protect the skin, a highly vata-sensitive organ.
Moderate, consistent exercise regulates vata’s mobile nature. In asana practice, include simple seated forward folds like Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend). You can also experiment with standing poses like Virabhadrasana II (Warrior Pose II) to build strength and stability. If you’re feeling overstimulated or fatigued, do restorative poses to encourage deep relaxation.
The ears are especially sensitive to vata; you can protect the ear canals by inserting a few drops of warm ghee
(clarified butter) or sesame oil each morning—a traditional vata-calming Ayurvedic practice. When outdoors, use earmuffs, a hat, earplugs, or cotton balls for additional protection from the wind. And lastly, curb the tendency to talk unnecessarily, settling into rejuvenating silence whenever you can.