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.
4. Apana Vata The colon represents the seat of Vata dosha—especially Apana Vata—according to Gyawali.
“Vata is all about space and air,” he says. “Apana Vata also governs the entire pelvic cavity region, the reproductive organs, uterus, urinary tract, and bladder. When in balance, Apana Vata moves downward. It strengthens intestinal walls and helps with peristalsis (the involuntary constriction and relaxation of the muscles of the intestine or other canals, creating wavelike movements that move the contents), elimination, and urination. It maintains the muscle tissue in the pelvis and it governs urine, feces, ejaculation of semen, conception, menstruation, the act of childbirth, and so on. All those things below the navel have to do with Apana Vata.”
When Apana Vata becomes imbalanced, you can imagine what might ensue: occasional constipation, diarrhea, overactive bladder, menstrual issues, and so on. Gyawali says that eating sesame oil—especially black sesame oil—is very soothing for Apana Vata. [Note: Though vpk’s sesame oil is intended for massage, you can find organic, food-grade sesame oil in your local grocery store, or black sesame oil in specialty stores.] He also recommends the basti treatments (herbalized enemas) given during Panachakarma (a traditional Ayurvedic cleanse offered at Ayurvedic clinics like The Raj). Helpful herbal formulas include Organic Digest Tone (Triphala Plus), Organic Digest and Detox Tea, and Herbal Di-Gest, along with single herbs like Organic Ashwagandha, which nurtures the reproductive, digestive, and excretory systems.
5. Samana Vata Samana Vata governs the digestive organs and the area below the chest and above the navel, according to Gyawali.
“The stomach, the small and large intestines, the liver, pancreas, and digestive organs are all governed by Samana Vata,” he says. “It represents agni [digestive fire]. It is responsible for not only digesting, but also separating, the nutrients from our digestive tract. Samana Vata separates what is to be absorbed and what is to be excreted, and it’s therefore vital for the whole digestive system.”
When Samana Vata becomes imbalanced, it can manifest in digestive imbalances like indigestion, malabsorption, diarrhea, occasional constipation, gas or bloating, and leaky gut. Gyawali recommends different types of herbs and spices for different expressions of imbalanced Samana Vata.
“If someone has slow digestion, ginger could help,” he says. “If someone has okay digestion, but more gas and Vata-type indigestion, it could help to eat cumin, coriander, and ajwain (found in our Organic Vata Churna). Things like fennel, aloe vera, and hing can also be good, but it really depends on the digestive issue. Generally speaking, Ayurvedic herbal formulas from Aci-Balance to Herbal Digest can all be helpful, along with Organic Vata Churna, Organic Pitta Churna, and Organic Kapha Churna.”
Are Your Vata Subdoshas in Balance? As with all things in Ayurveda, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to diet and herbal formulas, which is why Gyawali recommends seeing an Ayurvedic practitioner for a wellness consultation.
“They can help you with pulse assessment and other measures that help determine your level of balance,” he says. “The subdoshas definitely represent much more than our body alone, especially with Vata. Without bringing Vata into balance, it’s difficult for other issues to be addressed. This is why we call Vata the king dosha—it really is very important.”
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