Friday, 4 November 2016

Jeevani - Vata, a cornerstone of Ayurveda

(From 'Jeevani - Ayurveda For Women' by Dr. P.L.T. Girija)

Vata can get aggravated in any part of the body – intestines, joints, bones, chest, muscles, skin, tendons, sense organs and reproductive organs and can cause disease in any of them. We often witness athletes suffering from injuries and cramps in legs, shoulders, hip or whichever organ is being used in excess. This is a direct result of aggravated Vata.

For Vata disorders, there are safe and effective treatments in Ayurveda. Common allopathic remedies like pain-killers, traction, and physiotherapy may or may not provide temporary relief. Many people are routinely subjected to surgical procedures to overcome the pain temporarily in diseases such as slipped-disc. Many suffer pain for years. ‘Reduce your weight and your knee pain will go’, ‘bones
are worn off’ etc. are some of the common explanations given to them by their allopathic physicians. However, a proper line of treatment to pacify Vata will yield good results in most of these Vata-aggravated diseases.

A young man once came with a complaint of frequent cramps. On examination, it was found that he was exercising and swimming for several hours every day. He consumed large quantities of potatoes and pulses on the advice of his coach, as starch and protein are supposed to be necessary for swimming. After swimming practice, he quenched his thirst with iced drinks. His favourite foods were chilli-hot and pungent. He was very proud of the fact that he took an oil-bath only once a year, that was on Deepavali day. It was obvious to the Ayurvedic physician that his food and exercise regimen were causing an aggravation of Vata, which in turn caused severe cramps. Here the treatment obviously had to start with correcting his vata-aggravating food and regimen.

MUSCLE CRAMP There is a raging debate and much research about one of the common Vata-aggravated conditions, namely muscle cramps and the possible remedies for this condition. Quinine and its derivatives are commonly prescribed for cramps. But research has shown that these medications are ineffective in handling muscle cramps / pulls. Patients are needlessly exposing themselves to a sure risk of serious side-effects including severe allergic reactions and a variety of ‘gastro-intestinal’ and ‘neurological’ problems.

There are many symptoms which we can identify in our body when Vata is aggravated. Emaciation, dryness, roughness, loss of sleep and strength and constipation are typical symptoms of aggravated Vayu. One may feel bloating of stomach, an astringent taste in the mouth and black or red discolouration in the body. There are more serious symptoms associated with Vata such as trembling,
lack of sensation / numbness, loss of function of the sense organs, pricking pain in the bones, dislocation of joints, loss of movement of limbs, weakness, splitting pain, twisting / shrinking of the body parts, incoherent speech and mental depression. If one finds that some of these symptoms are present, then it should be understood that Vata is aggravated. As one can see, Vata if not properly maintained can totally immobilise the body.

An extreme example of Vata-aggravation was a British woman who was severely constipated and was able to move her bowel only once in two to three weeks. No laxative ever worked for her and a
couple of times she had to be hospitalised as she tried to swallow huge quantities of laxative tablets (40 and 60 tablets on two occasions). What this woman needed was a diet containing unctuous
(fatty) substances like ghee, butter, milk, oil and medicated ghee and external oil treatments to correct the aggravation of Vata. She responded to treatment within a week.

Vata is light – All food that is light and easy to digest, such as most of the vegetables and dals (except urad dal), increases Vata. Cold, both in temperature and efficacy, is a property of Vata. Cold foods like ice-cream and cold drinks tend to increase Vata.

Vata is mobile – All movements in the body are caused by Vata. Therefore, movements such as travel, physical exertion and exercise lead to its increase.

Vata is subtle – This means that Vata can reach even the most minute pores which are otherwise inaccessible.

Since Vata is dry and cold, opposing qualities like oil and heat decrease Vata. This is why applying warm oil on the body helps in reducing pain. This procedure known as abhyanga is an important part of treatment in Vata diseases.

Vata increasing / decreasing foods can also be easily identified by the taste. Foods with pungent, bitter and astringent tastes increase Vata. They generally tend to dry up the body and thus aggravate Vata. On the other hand, sweet, sour and salty foods nourish the body. Since these foods tend to be unctuous (oily / fatty) they help in reducing and controlling Vata.

Avoid Vata-aggravation
If we know what factors aggravate Vata, we can avoid those and manage our lives without vitiating this dosha. Starving or not eating sufficient food dries up the body and leads to emaciation and
increases Vata. This is why indiscriminate dieting can do more harm than good.

Passing urine, faeces and flatus are normal functions of Vata and suppressing these urges vitiates Vata and gives rise to many serious diseases. Therefore one should never postpone calls of nature.
Excessive consumption of foods which are pungent / bitter / astringent in taste, heavy physical labour or exercise, excessive travel, exposure to cold weather, intake of food and drinks which are cold in
temperature, intake of food which is excessively dry (lacking in oil), irregular eating habits and keeping awake at nights are to be avoided as all these aggravate Vata.

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