What Is Vata?
The classical Ayurveda texts describe three stages of life, described as young age, middle age, and old age. These can be translated as the kapha stage of life (young), the pitta stage of life (middle), and the vata stage of life (old age).
Vata is one of the three doshas, or biological-elemental compounds, which works in conjunction with pitta and kapha to maintain the functions of the body-mind complex. Vata is a substance-less substance comprised of space and wind (also called air and ether), and governs all the movements of the body. Its qualities are dry, light, cold, subtle, and mobile; seasonally, vata rules the fall, winter, and cold climates.
The classical Ayurvedic text known as the Charaka Samhita describes the vata phase of life as our final act, starting around age 50 or 60. This is when we experience a range of physical and mental changes, ranging from drier skin to declining cognitive abilities. Yet the vata stage can also bring softening and wisdom.
Here are some tips for the vata stage of life:
1. Put oil on everything. Ayurveda loves oil. Put it on your food and all over your body. Use a brahmi-coconut oil on your face as a moisturizer. Brahmi is an Ayurvedic herb that supports mental clarity and increases collagen in the skins.
2. Eat more cooked foods. Because we get colder and drier as we age, it’s important to favor cooked foods that generate internal warmth—soups, stews, steamed veggies, and roasted veggies. Add ghee or olive oil as part of the recipe, or drizzle it on your rice and kitchari.
3. Hydrate. The classical texts suggest more water for a vata time or type, because of the dryness that is present during vata stage of life. Drink six to eight glasses per day, and if you want to get more out of your water, try cooking it.
4. Stay mobile. We want to keep the fluid in our joints warm and lubricated. This can mean regular walks, yoga or stretches daily, or a series of joint rotations called dasha chalana. Maintaining our strength and balance is essential, in part to avoid falls. When practicing yoga, make sure you have supports nearby, like the wall, a chair, and blocks.
5. Meditate. The vata stage of life is a time to lean more into meditation. In traditional Indian culture, the ages between 50 and 100 are described as the “forest-dwelling” and “renunciate” stages of life. In the forest-dwelling stage, from ages 50 to 75, we are still active in the world, working or taking care of grandkids, but can bring more meditation practice into our routine. Between 75 and 100, we move toward renouncing the material world, living simply, and spending most of our time in meditation.
6. Stay connected to community. Because we spend most of our lives working and developing work relationships, retirement can bring a sense of losing our community, which can create loneliness and lead to depression Find ways to get involved with a like-minded community—go to yoga classes; connect with book groups or other established groups; volunteer in schools, community centers, or nursing homes.
7. Learn something new. Take a class. Do puzzles. Read about something you don’t know about. You are never too old to be a student; there are lots of things to do to keep the brain sharp.
8. Make lunch your largest meal. According to Ayurveda, lunch should be the biggest meal of your day. This way, you have more time to digest than you do at night, and a hearty lunch provides energy for your afternoon. After eating, lie on your left side for 10 minutes, and then take a 15-minute walk to improve digestion.
9. Get to bed early. Ayurveda and some sleep researchers maintain that we get the most restorative sleep before 2:00 am. Every hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after midnight, because we get the most restorative non-REM sleep during those earlier hours. Another good reason to get to bed early: Morning is the ideal time for meditation.
10. Cultivate gratitude and let go of hurts from the past. At this stage in life, time is too short to focus on the negative!