Stay Grounded in Vata Season
So just like that we are heading toward the end of another year. Where did it go? Seems like just yesterday we were welcoming the new year and slowly, perhaps cautiously, crawling out of the dark hole that was a 2+ year pandemic.
And here we are straight-up in October and in full-on vata season. Welcome to fall, y’all.
You remember the three doshas govern specific times of the year, right?
Kapha = spring
Pitta = summer
Vata = fall and early winter
The seasons each have a certain rhythm to them. When we are living a life anchored in the principles of Ayurveda and following the rhythms of nature, our own patterns begin to shift with each season as well. We adjust our selfcare, our routines, our foods (take a listen to Episode 16 on Fall Foods if you haven’t already!) and we would also benefit greatly from adjusting our exercise habits.
The principle of opposites–like increases like and opposites balance–encourages us to seek out experiences that will help our bodies maintain a balanced state in the midst of the seasonal transitions. How we move our bodies throughout the year is no exception.
When it comes to vata and vata season, think wind. The vata dosha is a combination of the air and space elements which are prominent this time of year. You can feel it and see it all around you–the air is cooler, the light is subtle, the wind erratic, the leaves are crispy, and the ground is crunchy.
Exercises that exacerbate vata are those that keep us in the air and space elements. That would include obvious activities like skydiving, hangliding, paragliding,and high altitude climbing to more mundane and maybe not-so-obvious activities such as jumping jacks, jumping rope, the rebounder-trampolines, and even running.
We’ve got to keep our feet on the ground and slow down the motion, particularly erratic motion. Moving to placate vata dosha means moving slowly, rhythmically, deliberately.
Does Your Yoga Practice Soothe or Stimulate?
Our practice on the mat starts with the right frame of mind. Back in the day when I owned and taught at a studio, I could always tell who the vata people were. They’d come racing in at the last minute, often late and out of breath. They’d flip open their mats with a snap! and it would land on the floor crooked (which would drive the pitta people crazy), and they’d start to sit down but then realize they needed a block or a blanket and so they’d jump back up–nothing about aggravated vata is slow and deliberate–and scurry over to the prop wall to grab their things. On the way back to their mat they’d drop a block, and so on. I might be exaggerating only slightly (vata is as vata does lol), but this is such a strong illustration of the disruption and chaos that comes with untethered wind energy.
Harnessing the Wind
To practice in a way that reduces that chaotic vata energy, we want to show up in a way that is neither rushed, hurried nor flurried. Slow down, take a seat–or better yet, lie down–on your mat and bring your mind into the practice. Tias Little calls this “emptying before we begin.” Take a few deep breaths followed by longer exhales.
Ayurvedic medicine describes vata dosha as having its home base in the pelvis, colon, and thighs so asanas that emphasize strength and awareness of those regions, in addition to releasing tension in these areas, are especially helpful.
Standing poses will stabilize the joints and build strength in both the joints and muscles. You can find this in the following examples:
- warrior series (virabhadrasana I, II, III)
- triangle (trikonasana)
- side angle (parsvakonasana)
Even simply standing in mountain pose (tadasana) and finding your feet on the floor can connect you to the earth element and be incredibly anchoring. Be sure to incorporate plenty of utkatasana–fierce pose, often called chair pose–in your practice. To stay out of the air & space elements, put your hands on your thighs or at your hip creases rather than reaching them up in the air.
Forward bends release tension from the hamstrings, hips and low back, which are all primary sites of vata. When done safely, these poses can bring immediate physical relief, so give yourself permission to bend your knees. And it’s a double-win if you support your forehead on a block or bolster. There is something pleasing and calming about resting the forebrain onto something tangible; the mind often becomes quiet and still. A rarity in the life of a vata type.
Some backbends are appropriate–especially those done from a prone position, as they will strengthen hypermobile sacral joints and bring warmth into the spine.
Hugs! Because vata is all air and space and not tethered or anchored to anything, bring as many hugs into your practice as you can. Anytime you can wrap your arms around yourself–around your legs in a forward bend or when you’re on your back draw your knees to your chest and hug your knees–this is a physical connection and provides the container of touch that is missing in the open and expansive world of vata.
How You Practice is as Important as What You Practice
Most important of all however, is where and how you practice yoga. Due to the cooler temperatures and increased wind, it is best to unroll your mat in a warm room free from drafts created by overhead fans or open windows. And keep the lighting soft and warm too. Try floor lamps rather than fluorescent overhead lights. If you’re at home, practice near a window for natural light or in candlelight, if that’s appropriate.
And move deliberately. Avoid fast-paced sequences or jerky “up-down-jump-back-jump forward” movements. Because vata and its season is already windy and quick, a practice that emphasizes routine is ideal. Practice at, or around, the same time each day is terrific. And also practice in a way that provides routine within the sequence.
Our nervous system–and our brain–works best when it knows what’s coming. When there is structure, habit, and a plan. Having some routine in your practice takes away the uncertainty.
Uncertainty = fear
Fear = fight/flight/freeze response
So how can we provide certainty into our yoga practice?
Bikram yoga. Love it or hate it, it’s one example. Not only do you get the warmth of the room but you get the static poses and the repetition of each pose. You just know that whether you go to a class on the east coast or the west, at 6am or 6pm, you are going to have the same practice – all the way down to the same scripted cues from the teacher. That predictability is critical for keeping vata in check.
Baptiste yoga. As we recall, is (was?) fairly consistent in its sequencing.
Iyengar yoga. This is another example, perhaps not so much of repetition in a sequence but a practice that is slow and deliberate.
We are partial to yin yoga and somatic yoga since both take place entirely on the floor. Yin is all about going inward, staying in one pose for longer periods of time, and avoiding quick movement. Somatic yoga emphasizes slow, rhythmic and rocking movements.
Stay low and go slow.