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          Sunday, September 14, 2014

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The Vata Demystified
By  Ingrid Naiman

Vata is an Ayurvedic term referring to the aggravation of the "wind element," what is astrology is called the air element; but it generally involves a mixture of the air and ether elements. "Derangement" is another Ayurvedic term; it implies that a "dosha" or "fault" has occurred that is affecting constitutional balance and harmony.

The primary characteristic of "vata" imbalances is that the symptoms are quite changeable, often causing the uninitiated to believe that the problems are entirely psychosomatic . . . because no pathological basis for the conditions are detectable. This attitude is a disservice to patients who suffer from vata problems, which is a large number of people in the world.

Lightness

According to ancient medical tradition, whether Chinese, Indian, or Greek, good health depends on balance of the elements, which are variously seen as competitive with each other or supportive or inhibiting. For instance, fire is hot and the other elements are cold and therefore needed to regulate temperature and keep fevers from damaging the body.

Air is light, cold, and dry. In ordinary language, this means that air, the invisible element whose activity is deduced by observation of the bodily functions, is quick, mobile, and insubstantial. On a psychological level, we might say that worry is "groundless" whereas phobia has some basis in actual emotional experience. If you forget a phone number or an appointment, it is inconvenient or embarrassing but not likely to be disastrous. However, if you are looking over your shoulder for challenges that may or may not be serious, a higher level of psychological incapacitation is implied.

Air worries over mainly trivial things: losing keys, careless mistakes and accidents, and "baseless" concerns. Regardless of how unimportant such preoccupations might be, they take their toll on the nervous system so "lightness" is mainly characterized by nerves . . . which, in turn, accounts for the erratic appearance and disappearance of symptoms.

These types of vata conditions are best contained by rhythm and regularity. This means that higher levels of predictability bring more order into chaos. If a person burns the midnight oil one night and takes a nap the next day, rises at six and crashes at ten the next, does twenty errands the next, turns into a couch potato the next, the body cannot find a rhythm for calibrating all the ideas that drive the individual to set the daily agendas. This causes wear and tear on the nervous system and plays havoc with the vata dosha.

Creating reasonable schedules, sticking to them, and allowing for integration of information and stimuli between activities pacifies the wind. Here's a way to grasp the point better. If a person is cooking dinner, watching the news on TV, opening mail, and talking on the phone, the focus is pulled this way and that making assimilation of the information next to impossible, certainly improbable. However, if a person watched the news, thought about it a bit over dinner, and then called a friend to discuss what stood out as important, there would be a better sequencing of stimuli and more likelihood of organizing the information and remembering it. Doing mindless tasks between mental efforts in another way to integrate and ground experiences. This could mean doing laundry, walking the dog, weeding the garden, anything that one can do more or less on autopilot without much mental effort.

Herbally, there are also some remedies to consider. First, there are herbs that belong to a classification called nervines. Those that increase the elasticity and resilience of nerves are best for conditions of lightness. Secondly, there are those that increase the buffers between the nerves, either by helping to maintain the nerve sheaths or increasing the water buffers between nerves. High quality oils are ideal for this purpose, those that are high in essential fatty acids like evening primrose oil or borage seed oil. These generally come in capsules, but can sometimes be found as liquids.

What I like to tell people is that locking oneself out of one's car is not grounds for a doctor's appointment, but it is a sign that there is more going on that the focus permits so it is time to slow down, assimilate, and take some precautionary measures, such as eating foods that are more moist. In other words, on the day of distractions and minor inconveniences, do not eat rice crackers but consider perhaps a meal with sweet potatoes or squash.

Making order out of chaos also greatly reduces strain on the nervous system. This might include organizing cupboards and closets, desks, and accounts. It could also mean fixing things that are broken and non-functional.

Cold

Coldness is the second major attribute of vata derangement. People with coldness usually have poor circulation because the air element is not propelling the blood smoothly through the arteries. They tend to have cold hands and feet but may be generally cold and very sensitive to drafts and artificial air movement such as caused by fans and air conditioning. While some people are soothed by breezes, air types dislike wind and tend to be less comfortable and more uneasy both in wind and when the seasons are changing.

Psychologically, coldness is expressed by detachment, indifference, and rigidity. While air types value freedom, they can carry openness and non-judgmental attitudes to the extreme of non-involvement and psychic and social isolation which feel more paralyzing than liberating.

Coldness doesn't feel good to the person who is cold. Besides feeling removed and therefore out of touch, it is physically uncomfortable. The thaw therefore comes from warmth, friendliness and joy as well as inner thermal ease. In terrible extremes, coldness can be brutal because the ability to feel for another is compromised by extreme detachment. It can also be almost physically paralyzing, but unlike lightness the paralysis is not due to inflexibility but ice-like immobility.

People who are cold become fearful and often cowardly. They are cured by the passion and courage of fire.

Ingrid Naiman .

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