Understanding the 5 Subdoshas of Vata

One of the fundamental principles of Ayurveda is that there are three different dosha (mind-body) characteristics and that you are a unique combination of each: breezy, enthusiastic Vata; fiery, impassioned Pitta; and earthy, easygoing Kapha. But did you know that each dosha contains five distinct subdoshas that govern specific parts of the body and their functioning? In this article, we’ll focus on the subdoshas of Vata.

“Vata dosha is often known as the ‘king dosha’ in our physiology,” explains Dinesh Gyawali, PhD, a classically trained Ayurveda Vaidya (Ayurvedic expert) and Assistant Professor at Maharishi University of Management. “Vata is composed of air and space, and it’s responsible for movement, action, transportation, inspiration, and enthusiasm. It really governs our whole physiology. Without Vata, the other two doshas literally can’t move.”

Wherever Vata goes, Pitta and Kapha follow—which is why it’s so important to keep Vata and its subdoshas balanced.

1. Prana Vata “Prana Vata governs the brain, head, lungs, and heart,” Gyawali says. “It’s responsible for sensory perception, inhalation, heartbeat, ingestion of food, coughing, spitting—all these types of movement—and even happiness and joy. It governs the mind-heart connection.”

Stress and a lack of sleep can throw Prana Vata out of balance, which can result in weakened senses, confusion, nausea, and other issues. Things like meditation, yoga, and pranayama (Ayurvedic breathing exercises) are very helpful in restoring balance to Prana Vata. Herbs and herbal formulas that work on the central nervous system are helpful, too, says Gyawali, listing Organic Brahmi, Organic Ashwagandha, Organic Youthful Mind, Worry Free Tablets, Worry Free Tea, and Worry Free Aroma Oil among his go-to recommendations.

2. Udana Vata According to Gyawali, Udana Vata mainly governs the chest region.

“It moves upward from the navel toward the heart, lungs, throat, and even the brain,” he says. “It energizes the mind and awakens energy. It has a lot to do with our lungs, the respiratory system, and speech. Breathing—especially exhaling—is basically a function of Udana Vata.”

He goes on to explain that, when balanced, Udana gives strength to the body and also a glow to the skin. But exposure to the cold can cause it to fall out of balance, along with eating too many foods that are raw, dry, rough, cold, bitter, or light. The signs of an imbalanced Udana Vata include breathing issues, tightness in the chest, occasional congestion, hoarseness, throat discomfort, stuttering, indecisiveness, and/or the inability to express oneself properly.

The breathing techniques of pranayama are especially helpful in balancing Udana Vata, explains Gyawali. He also recommends meditation, yoga, and Chyawanprash—“the remedy of choice for respiratory issues.” Chyawanprash is a powerful respiratory tonic comprised of Ayurvedic herbs, unheated honey, and ghee (clarified butter). Other helpful Ayurvedic remedies include Organic Licorice, Cold Weather Defense, Aller Defense, Clear & Soothe Nasya Oil, Vata Aroma Oil, and Kapha Aroma Oil.

3. Vyana Vata Vyana Vata regulates circulation and the heart, says Gyawali.

“It also represents consciousness, because the heart is the seat of consciousness and unconditional love,” he explains. “Vyana Vata circulates all rakta dhatu (blood) throughout the body, and it controls the emotions, nerve impulses, sensory motors, and muscular contraction and relaxation.”

Vyana Vata moves from the center of the body (the heart) to the periphery (every other part of the body) and back. When out of balance, Vyana Vata can express itself in blood pressure issues, tremors, anxiousness, palpitations, increased or decreased heart rate, and muscle cramping.

Meditation, yoga, and pranayama are very nourishing for Vyana Vata (and all of Vata’s subdoshas), according to Gyawali. He adds: “In terms of Ayurvedic formulas, it’s also helpful to give something that is nurturing to your heart and which promotes circulation. Abhyanga [daily warm oil massage] is excellent for that, especially with Youthful Skin massage oil or dosha-specific oils. Even dry massage, or garshana, is very good for Vyana Vata imbalances. Ayurvedic herbs like Arjuna or Organic Guggul are good for the heart and healthy circulation, along with Rejuvenation for Women and Rejuvenation for Men.” Synergistic formulas like Cardio Support and Stress Free Emotions are also beneficial.