Dry, light, cold, mobile, unstable. These are some of the qualities that describe the element of air, or in Ayurvedic terms; vayu. The vayus are what reign supreme throughout the body and can push the other elements out of alignment, if we do not pay attention to the subtle symptoms associated with them (dry skin, eyes, hair, nails, gas, bloating, constipation).
Vata and the vayus, can accumulate in the body at any time regardless of the seasons, time of day, or time of life. It is a trouble maker! This is why as an Ayurvedic practitioner, we tend to vata first, and alleviate any symptoms associated with dry, light, cold, mobile, and unstable qualities. From a food perspective what would that look like? Think 'like increases like', and 'opposite alleviates'. If we have a scattered mind, are constipated, and have dry skin and are consistently eating raw, cold, light veggies (salads), with a side of popcorn and cold, green juice the digestive system is going to become aggrevated by those qualites and spill over into the mind and other areas of the body.
Below are alleviating opposite foods that can help prevent Vata from becoming aggrevated.
1) OILS: SESAME, AVOCADO, GHEE.
Heavy is the opposite of light. Moist is the opposite of dry. Oils are heavy and moist. They are nourishing, and help build and tonify tissues throughout the body. Many time we consider alleviating dryness on the body from the outside, and forget that a lot of the time it is an issue stemming from digesting. Choosing foods cooked in either sesame or avocado oil can help demulcify and moisten the insides of the body, alleviating dryness physically and psycologically.
2) NUTS AND SEEDS: WALNUTS, ALMONDS, PECANS, CASHEWS, MACADAMIA NUTS, PINE NUTS, PISTACHIOS, PUMPKIN SEEDS, SUNFLOWER SEEDS.
They are oily, nutritious, and the are a terrific combo of proteins and fats that highly benefit vata. Even so, they really pack a nutritious punch and are extremely dense, so only as much as fits in your hand.
Root vegetables get an Ayurvedic high five for grounding the qualites of Vata that lead to aggrevation. Think about it, they grow IN the earth! How much more earthy can you get than actually eating dirt? Remember to avoid raw vegetables, as they are dry, rough, and cold (much more so than cooked). If you must eat raw veggies, eat them when digestion is strongest (between 10:00-2:00, and opt to add some type of oil). To put it into perspective, think of the spindly, tiny, lovely soul, finishing a run, followed by spinning, who follows up the workout with a cold green juice, and a giant bowl of raw vegetable with no type of dressing at all? Dry skin? Dry hair? Most likely, scattered, thoughts, quick talking; ideas all over the place. Poor, dry insides! If I was brave enough, I'd inquire about the last time they had a good b.m. (A topic WAY more taboo than necessary!)
4) WARMLY HYDRATING: WARM HERBAL TEAS, ROOM TEMPERATURE NATURAL ELECTROLYTE DRINKS, COCONUT WATER, VEGETABLE BROTHS, BONE BROTHS (only when extra nourishment is needed).
Any herbal tea, minus the caffeine (VERY Vata aggravating), skip the coffee, and try to add something to your water to make it more absorb-able. Think back on a time when all you drank was plain water throughout the day. Is it possible that all you did was also PEE all day? While beneficial in some cases (perhaps a U.T.I. or other infection to focus on flushing the body), when thinking about Vata, and preventing dryness; absorbing the fluid to stay moist is important.
Hence, natural electrolyte drinks (NO, NO, NO SPORTS DRINKS!). Here is a quick recipe for a natural electrolyte drink when you feel dehydrated, or coconut water seems a bit too pricey in the moment:
-Juice of 1 lime
-1 tbsp turbinado sugar, jaggery, sucanat, coconut sugar, honey (no refine white sugar)
-1 tbsp mineral salt
-1 cup room temperature water
Adjust proportions as needed if you want to make a large pitcher of this on a hot summer day, and keep covered on the counter to sip from, often.
5) SPICES: CINNAMON, CARDAMOM, GINGER, BLACK PEPPER, ASAFOETIDA/HING, SALT, TURMERIC
Most spices are beneficial to Vata, so long as they are not so fiery hot they will lead to burning/drying out the tissues. Not only will they stimulate the circulatory system leading to increased warmth, they are known to boost agni (digestive fire). Because of the dry nature that comes from Vata, the mucous membranes of the stomach can become dry and digestion can be variable (absorption is affected).
Spicing the foods we eat, spicy teas (I've been know to sit down with a cup of ginger, black pepper tea), and even using massage oils infused with warm herbs and spices can help alleviate the dryness that can come from aggravated Vata.
Bringing awareness to your responsibility for your health and the need to balance it, can be overwhelming at times. Just begin by tapping in to the action of your breath, and slowing it down, in the moment might just be enough of a start to get you thinking about HOW your food is digested not only in the digestive tract but outside of it, too!
Ayurvedic saying, "It's not WHAT you eat, but HOW you eat that counts!"