Yoga for Vata Dosha
This is the third blog post in a three part series about the best yoga poses and practices for each dosha. All dosha mind-body types need to move every single day, and I of course recommend that absolutely everyone practices yoga in particular (and so does Ayurveda!). But not every yoga practice is going to benefit every person in the same way, because everyone is so different.
In the same way that different foods and lifestyle practices benefit different doshas to a greater or lesser degree, different yoga poses serve the doshas in different ways. Today we’re looking at Vata dosha. This can be applied to your dosha imbalance (if you’ve got excess Vata going on right now), or if you’re naturally a Vata dominant person (your prakruti, or original, balanced constitution is mostly Vata dosha), or if it’s Vata season (which is fall and early winter).
A little recap on Vata dosha: Vata is made of air and ether. It’s the end of the cycle. In the body, it’s the air, or the wind, it’s the movement of thought and nerve impulses, the excretion of bodily fluids, it’s the circulatory system, and the absorption of sensory impressions. Vata is light, dry, cold, mobile, subtle, clear, and rough.
There are five subdoshas of Vata. These subdoshas are called the five vayus, which translates to the five winds, and they’re essentially specific actions and directions of life energy within the body. They are as follows:
Prana Vayu: Located in the brain and moves does into the chest. The aspect of prana from external forces to the internal. It’s the inward movement of vata. This is what we take into our bodies, from sensory impressions to the food we eat and the air we breathe. It’s the movement from outside to inside. When there’s an imbalance in prana vayu, there’s a general sense of discontent, and it can manifest in many ways, but ultimately, a person will partake in unhealthy sensory habits that further pull them away from their greatest health and balance. They may become addicted to unhealthy substances or lifestyle patterns, or stay in abusive or oppressive situations.
Samana Vayu: Located in the small intestine. The aspect of vata that pulls prana from the outer parts of the body toward the center. So the force that carries blood back to the heart, or that carries the sensory impressions back to the brain. It’s the absorption of oxygen into the bloodstream and the force that carries nutrients from the intestines into the bloodstream. Prana vayu absorbs and assimilates the prana into the body. It’s also the air that stokes our digestive fire, or pachaka pitta. Excessive Samana vayu manifests as low or variable appetite, malnourishment and low agni, or digestive fire (as if you’ve blown the fire out with too much air), as well as alternating between constipation and diarrhea. In the mind it manifests as mental instability.
Vyana Vayu: Located in the heart. The force that sends the energy from the center to the periphery of the body. Its the circulation of prana and blood, specifically arterial circulation. It’s also responsible for the flow of sweat and efferent nerve impulses, and the mobility of the joints. Imbalance in vyana vayu will manifest as poor circulation, perhaps cold hands and feet or another circulatory disorder, as well as motor nerve disorders, hyper- or hypo-mobility, dry skin and membranes. It can also look like overwhelm, anxiety, fear, worry, and obsessive thoughts.
Udana Vayu: Located in the chest and throat. The aspect of vata that moves up and out. This is the force that puts all of the prana to work. It motivates action within the body and mind, and expression of the self. It governs our speech patterns and has a role in the ability to recall memory. Udana is the force that sends our energy outwardly in a clear and concise way. Physically, excess udana can manifest as a speech deficiency, dry cough, burping, and vomiting. Psychologically we see a person who may be reckless or be over- or under-enthused in a socially inappropriate way.
Apana Vayu: Located in the colon. The aspect of vata moving down and out. Apana vayu governs elimination of bodily waste like feces, urine, menses. It also plays a major role in childbirth, ovulation and ejaculation. An imbalance in apana vayu can manifest most commonly as constipation, gas, bloating, scanty menstrual flow, but also infertility, poor semen quality, long and difficult labor, scanty urine, and more. It can also lead to a general feeling of negativity.
Now that we’ve looked a little deeper into the roles of vata dosha, we can see that yoga poses that balance vata dosha will focus on improving circulation, aiding the digestive system, and providing a general sense of grounded peace. Vata is the most sensitive dosha. It’s generally the easiest to throw out of balance. So we need to move with real mindfulness through our poses. We need to ground, ground, ground both the physical body and the mind and emotions.
Poses that balance apana vayu and bring ease to the colon and digestive system: forward bends. We want to compress the pelvis and flex the hips. Paschimottanasana, janu sirsasana a, b, and c, kurmasana and supta kurmasana, baddha konasana, upavistha konasana, malasana. These will also help the body ground, which is very important for vata. Forward folds and seated postures like padmasana, baddha padmasana, sukhasana will be very helpful for grounding.
People of vata nature can have a tendency toward excess mobility without the strength necessary to keep things healthy and supported. So strength poses will be helpful, as long as they’re entered into very slowly and mindfully. Vata needs to move slow and stay conscious with every movement. Strong poses like virabhadrasana a, b, and c, parsvakonasana, chaturanga dandasana, navasana.
Standing poses in general are great for vata dosha, and I’d suggest spending at least five full deep breaths in each pose before moving on to the next one. If it’s a vinyasa practice, make sure you’re moving slow and consciously, feeling every movement happen in the body. Standing forward folds, trikonasana, prasarita padottansana a, b, c, and d, adho mukha svanasana are all great.
Breathing practices are a powerful way to balance the doshas and cleanse the body and mind. Be sure to check with your yoga teacher before taking on a pranayama practice, because they can be intense and aren’t always recommended to every student. That being said, here are some pranayama practices for vata dosha:
Vata is air and ether, so we want to control our breathing during a vata balancing yoga practice (we always want to control our breathing during yoga, but vata needs to hone in the air quality even more so because they become very ungrounded very easily). Breathe with sound, through the nose, throughout your entire yoga practice. As you sit in meditation, breathe full, deep, slow breaths in and out through the nose.
Nadi shodhana; alternate nostril breathing— Sit nice and tall. Inhale through left nostril, exhale through right nostril. Inhale through right nostril, exhale through left nostril. Repeat like this for least five minutes or so.
Sama vritti pranayama; same fluctuation breathing practice— It can be helpful to count in your head or even put a metronome on to start. This breathing practice is simply making your inhales and your exhales equal length. You can sit up tall or lie down on your back and practice sama vritti for at least five minutes, longer as you continue to practice. Play with lengthening the inhales and exhales longer and longer each time you practice. (Note: you should also be breathing sama vritti during your asana practice!)
Some other considerations for vata exercise and wellbeing would be napping, taking gentle walks and hikes, taking hot baths, and potentially adding in some light weight lifting or lunge work into your practice.
That's all for today! Reach out with questions, comments, concerns. That's what I'm here for. Happy practicing!