Ayurveda & PCOS: Balancing Vata
My fascination with the ancient science of Ayurveda began as a student at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. It was an AHA moment when I discovered I was a vata-pitta dosha. After studying balancing techniques and ways to calm my vata “constitution” I began to feel more balanced. Over the years I have continued to read books, and take courses and have integrated Ayurvedic teachings in my Private Coaching Program. I recently had a consultation with Ray Archacki, a certified herbalist and Ayurvedic expert. I asked him to share some of his thoughts on PCOS and how a dosha imbalance may correlate with PCOS symptoms. Read more in my post about Ayurveda here. Now he will share some balancing techniques with us as well, to help reduce PCOS symptoms. He believes PCOS is often caused by an imbalance of Vata. Ray shares some Vata balancing ideas below.
Guest Post, by Ray Archacki, Clinical Ayurvedic Theorist
Restoring balance to Vata involves grounding and stabilizing the mind and body. This is accomplished through eating nourishing foods, stable and consistent routines, herbs, rest, and much more. Substances that cause instability or lower the strength of the body and mind should be minimized as much as possible.
Balancing Vata with Food
There is a frequent emphasis on diet in Ayurveda. Vata is reduced by foods that give strength and bulk to the body, such as sweet potatoes, almonds and grains. This is not always desirable in those who are prone to weight gain. However, it still has its place. Much weight gain is actually due to junk food consumption, poor digestion, and sedentary lifestyle, which in turns breeds ama (a toxic sticky mass of foreign tissues in the body.) White sugar, for example, often leads to a quick upliftment of mood, along with a burst of energy, both which appear to reduce Vata. However, after the body has burned it off, it leaves behind a sticky residue devoid of nutrients that promotes decay, aggravating not only Vata, but all three doshas. In order to properly rebuild strength, the ama needs to reduced first, which often involves the short term, conscious use of foods and herbs that actually aggravate Vata. This is done with the intent of later rebuilding the body with pure, strengthening foods, which in turn can lower Vata. While the body is a reflection of the mind, Vata in the mind is far more prevalent. Emotions such as anxiety, loneliness, and fear aggravate Vata in the mind. There is often a natural urge to eat strengthening foods, or foods that trick the senses into thinking the body is receiving nourishment, when Vata becomes high in the mind. For example, meals high in carbohydrates have a drastic short term calming effect on the mind. This has the effect of Vata pushing Kapha, ama, or both. Kapha is aggravated when the body receives too much nourishing foods. Ama is aggravated when the body receives junk food or impure food, such as rancid oils or toxic meat/dairy, or when wholesome food is not properly digested. Either way, we need to remember that Vata is the root of this.
The Importance of Self-care and Self-expression
The point of all this is that addressing the mind issues is much more important. A carbohydrate induced calm doesn’t always solve the mind’s worries in the long term. Much of Vata disorder is due to improper flow of our life force, as opposed to simple lack of strength. Vata in excess represents disorder. Even strong people can have a Vata imbalance when there is a lack of mental clarity and organization. Part of this is resolved through self reflection and self expression. Reflection can involve meditation, yoga, observation of our thoughts, and allowing our innate intelligence to give us the answers we need by being in a more calm state of mind. Self expression involves creative work, socializing, and doing other activities we enjoy. Self expression involves freeing ourselves. Most cultures encourage a degree of conformity that often comes at the expense of self expression. This is another root of Vata imbalance. The desire to express ourselves is innate and it will never go away. If it is not allowed out, it will become inert and start to breed negativity in the mind. Take time to think about your desires, your purpose. Think about the roadblocks to them. Is it lack of time? Is it fear of criticism? Start to realize the importance of expressing yourself, and that you are worthy of the joy that comes from it. Take baby steps. It’s a process. But notice how as you express yourself, anxiety and fear will start to go away, even if they increase temporarily at first. Instead a feeling of purpose, feelings of strength, and feelings of well being will become stronger. These emotions greatly reduce Vata.
Controlling Your Thoughts
Observation of our thoughts is an important method worth elaborating on. Take a few minutes to sit still with your eyes closed and observe all the thoughts going on in your head. Where exactly are they? Are they really all yours? What is the effect of one thought on your next thought? Are they all rational? Do you suddenly feel a sense of nervousness as you witness your own thoughts? Why would that be when you are still and safe? Feeling a lack of control over our thoughts can be frightening. This is one of the roots of a Vata imbalance. And while the truth of the matter is that we actually can gain control of our thoughts, it usually cannot be done instantaneously (contrary to what many self help books will tell you.) Gaining control of our thoughts involves being aware of where our thoughts come from, which thoughts are actually our own (as opposed to ones that have been put into or even drilled into our heads,) and the effect our actions have on our thoughts. Learning about the effects of our actions on our thoughts and how to slowly break free from them is key to truly forgiving yourself. It is from here we can start to gain more emotional freedom, and better control of our thoughts, which ultimately shape our entire life.
Balancing Vata Through Our Senses
There are other therapies for reducing Vata. Any of our senses can be utilized. Sounds, sights, touch, smells, and tastes all affect us greatly. Being aware of how they may be reducing or contributing to Vata are all important. Again, remember that Vata needs calming and/or nourishing sensory input. Sights and colors can be stimulating or calming. They can be nourishing or depleting. Sights involving lots of motion, such as a high traffic street, a race track, or large crowds in general are stimulating and depleting; these aggravate Vata. A rapidly flowing river can be both stimulating and calming; it has a fairly neutral effect on Vata. A slowly moving river can be very soothing and bring great balance to Vata.
Sight & Sound Colors also have an energetic. Colors like red, blue, white, and yellow are stimulating. Red is particularly stimulating. White and blue are expansive and cooling. Exposure to the above mentioned colors aggravates Vata.Green, brown, and dark orange are more nourishing colors. They bring relief to Vata. Brown is especially grounding, but excess exposure can cause dullness in the mind. Green is fairly neutral in qualities; it is stabilizing to the mood and actually can balance any dosha. Orange is warming, and darker shades can be nourishing to Vata. Black is best avoided by all doshas, except for certain situations. It has a contractive, drying, and isolating nature to it, which can aggravate Vata. TV, especially fast paced shows and movies, excess computer time and video games all aggravate Vata. News generally increases negativity in the mind. Witnessing violence can increase fear (Vata) and aggression (Pitta.) If one with a Vata imbalance watches TV, calming shows and light comedies are best. Sounds have a vibration that has a great effect on every cell of the body. Sound is related to the ether element, meaning it can have very subtle yet dramatic effects on us that are difficult to pinpoint. Power tools, such as leaf blowers, lawn mowers, jack hammers, and blade saws greatly aggravate the nerves, causing much Vata disturbance. The louder and closer one is to the sound, the greater this effect is. Try to avoid exposure to these as much as possible. Loud, fast paced music also aggravates the nerves. Critical, harsh, and/or egotistical lyrics further contribute to this. Remember, Vata needs to be soothed. Light, meditative music can bring relief to Vata. Try listening to hard rock for a half hour and notice how you feel. At a separate time, listen to light, soothing music and notice how you feel. Other sounds of nature can soothe Vata. Chirping birds, ocean breeze and waves, rain, and gentle rivers all benefit Vata.
Touch Touch is important for anyone. Vata is most prone to the damaging effects of not being touched; however we all need it, just as we all need food and fresh air. A long hug, a massage, intimacy, and cuddling all bring dramatic relief to Vata. (Note that excessive orgasms can cause imbalance to Vata.) Try to give or get touch every day possible. Lack of touch creates a feeling of emptiness. Emptiness shares the same qualities as Vata, and also creates weakness. People who are not touched enough often resort to food to create a sense of fullness. If this is the case for you, try oiling the body until you are able to receive the touch you need. When we apply oils to ourself, we are showing our body love. The first noticeable results are softer skin. Over time, if done with consistency, the body will overall feel softer, more flexible, and less inflamed. Use long, gentle strokes to soothe Vata. Concentrate on the fact that you are giving your body love. Enjoy the experience. Oils of a heavy, warming nature, such as sesame and almond oil, are the best. Coconut oil is cooling, but still provides nourishment to Vata, and is best used if Vata imbalance exists with a Pitta imbalance, or it can be used during the summer months, when even Vata can overheat. Oils infused with anti-Vata herbs, such as Ashwagandha, Shatavari, and Gotu Kola, are even better. When receiving a massage, make sure your therapist uses the same oils you would put on yourself. Many massage oils contain synthetic ingredients, such as mineral oils. These damage the skin, body and life force over time. The oil you are putting on your skin is feeding your cells. Use only oil that you would also eat!
Smell Smells have a direct connection to various parts of our brain involved with our emotions. Vata needs calming smells, such as lavender and chamomile. Warming and grounding smells, such as cinnamon and sandalwood, also benefit Vata.
Time in Nature Other therapies that benefit Vata are anything of a soothing and/or nourishing nature. This includes walks in the woods, rest, enjoying the company of friends and loved ones, playing with kids and animals, and light exercise. And don’t forget the important of self expression. While activities like dancing would appear to aggravate Vata due to their active nature, they can actually reduce due to their ability to allow our life force to flow freely, along with the nourishment of social interaction and stress relief. Along with regular routines, remember and be thankful for the love that the world is constantly giving you. Every bite of food, every person who helps us, every breath of air, and every sip of water are gifts of love from the world.
Ray Archacki, is a Certified Herbologist and Clinical Ayurvedic Theorist. He attended the California College of Ayurveda. Ayurveda is the longest practiced system of herbology, wellness, and beauty. It places great emphasis on maintaining the purity, strength, and vitality of the body. A pure, strong and balanced body and mind are said to allow us to pursue our four basic human desires: Purpose, Wealth, Pleasure, and Freedom. Ray’s shares his passion for the healing power of herbs and Ayurveda atwww.inherentlyyou.com