If you who have, or are, an 80s baby… you likely remember a little show called Captain Planet. In the opening theme song, the Planeteers combine their elemental powers—earth, fire, wind, water, heart—to summon our green and blue superhero. Captain Planet, an “elemental warrior” as the show description lovingly refers to him, harnesses their forces in a quest to save the world.
I love to think that this popular activist show took a cue from Ayurveda itself.
The universe is constructed of the 5 Mahabhutas, the building blocks of life—earth, water, fire, air, and space. These great elements combine in varying degrees to give rise to absolutely every being, material, creation and object in the natural world.
While there are literally trillions and trillions of unique combinations, they can actually be grouped into three over-arching categories. Why have one Captain Planet when you can have THREE?!
These groupings are referred to as Doshas, or mind/body constitutions. We could say that they are “personality types.” As you know, every word in Sanskrit is complex and multi-layered, and Dosha is no exception. We refer to it as a mind/body constitution because it is expressed and experienced in two distinct ways: in the tangible characteristics of the body and/or as the subtler attributes of the mind.
Each Dosha is a combination of two Mahabhutas. When they are at their natural expression, many unique gifts and talents arise from the pair. In this optimal space, we feel fully alive and in alignment with our passions and purpose. Sometimes though, depending on our environment and life circumstances, there can be an excessive amount of those two elements. This accumulation can lead us to feel out of balance and in a state of disharmony.
Recall the descriptive qualities of each Mahabhuta as we meet Vata, the first of the three Doshas.
VATA // Space + Air
Vata in the Mind
Natural Expression—The potentiality of Space and movement of Air dance together to form Vata, the creative, spontaneous, mobile, artistic personality type. Vatas love to imagine and think big…not even the sky is the limit for these dreamers. They see unbounded possibility where ever they look.
Vatas are wonderful communicators and socializers, flitting around like butterflies. While they adore meeting new people, chatting up a storm and exchanging ideas, Vatas are likely to forget names and details of stories. Information comes in to their mind quickly and leaves even faster. After all, they’ve got to keep space open for new thoughts and connections to form!
Vatas resist routine and are quite unpredictable—often changing plans, personal style, job, or home with a moment’s notice. They are last-minute, on-the-move people and always inject a breath of fresh air.
The unique talent of Vata is to inspire.
Excess Accumulation—When under the influence of TOO much space and air, this constant movement and inundation of ideas can become overwhelming. Think of a propeller spinning faster and faster until it flies off to outer space. A mind with excess Vata can often feel like this, completely out of our control.
It’s common to suffer from “shiny object syndrome” where it feels easier to turn attention to new tasks, rather than finishing those already started. Or, on the flip side, excess Vata can lead to option paralysis where we choose to do nothing because we simply can’t decide which inspiration to follow.
Home and work environments can become disorganized and chaotic. Has your office ever looked like a tornado blew through it?!
This state of increased overwhelm can lead to anxiety, worry and insecurity. Excess Vata will always reflect inward in stressful situations and ask “What did I do wrong?”
Vata in the Body
Natural Expression—The physical qualities of space and air contribute to a body type that is thin, dry, and cold. Vata bodies often have small frames, slender fingers, and joints that easily crack. Feet and hands are always chilled, and Vata generally has dry skin, thinner hair, and brittle nails.
The digestion of a Vata is very delicate and eating habits are inconsistent, often just grazing throughout the day. Vatas express quick movements through their eyes and the way in which they walk, and generally “talk with their hands.” They are light sleepers as well, sensitive to light and sound stimuli.
Excess Accumulation—Dryness and bloating are the most common indicators of excess Vata in the body. Conditions such as dandruff or cracked/flaky skin can occur, as well as premature thinning of the hair.
Excess Vata disrupts a healthy digestion by instigating cramping or gas after meals, and, on occasion, constipation and irregular bowels as there is not enough lubrication for the intestinal track. The normal quick movements of a Vata can escalate to heart palpitations, twitching, light-headedness, or a general sense of being “on edge.” They may also experience difficulty falling or staying asleep.
How can we best harness and support Vata?
Whether you are a Vata or not, we live in a Vata-deranged society where it is nearly impossible to keep up with the next new thing. There is a constant influx of information and change, and some of us are much more affected by that than others. In a healthy balanced state, Vata should be celebrated and encouraged to keep shaking things up and injecting life with colorful creativity.
- When in excess, we can learn to pacify this Dosha through the senses. A few key words can inspire Vata-balancing activities.
- Grounding. Nurturing. Stability. Routine. Completion. Challenge yourself to:
- Do one thing consistently each day.
- Finish one task that’s been lingering on your to-do list for way too long.
- Organize one drawer, closet, digital file, etc.