Vata Pacifying Remedies for Insomnia, Joint Pain and Constipation
Autumn is now in full effect. Her presence surrounds us with falling leaves, blowing wind, cooler air and shorter days. Even in sunny Los Angeles where I live, the summer heat has turned down a noticeable notch. I now close my windows at night and take a bit longer to get out of bed due to the darker and colder mornings. I’ve had to dig out my long sleeves and sweaters and I’ve even turned on my heater a few times; a sharp contrast from the constant hum of the AC only a few weeks ago.
These are sure signs of a seasonal shift and if we weren’t paying attention, we may have allowed some new symptoms of sickness to creep in. These symptoms are actually right in sync with the rhythm of Mother Nature. In Ayurveda our bodies are considered microcosms of the earth’s macrocosm, so they too go through transitions along with the seasons.
In Ayurveda, each season has a dominant Dosha. In the Northern Hemisphere fall is Vata season, so we often experience changes in the environment and our bodies that encompass the Vata qualities of cold, rough, dry, light, mobile and subtle. For example, during a recent series of at least 30 Ayurvedic consultations I provided at the Los Angeles Women’s Expo, I started to observe a pattern. Most of the women had similar seasonal complaints: insomnia, joint pain, constipation and dry skin, hair and eyes. The vast majority of those I met with reported that these symptoms had either just suddenly occurred or worsened a few weeks prior. While the appearance of symptoms was confusing to them, this made complete sense to me within the context of Ayurveda and the recent transition into the autumn months.
Below are several of my top recommendations to address common Vata complaints: insomnia, joint pain and constipation.
Sleep is considered one of the three essential pillars of health in Ayurveda because the body heals itself when in a state of deep, restful sleep. I’m sure most of you will agree that when we get good sleep we have more energy, mental clarity and an overall sense of happiness and well being. Therefore, prioritizing sleep in a health routine is a must! Unfortunately, about 1 in 3 people in the U.S. suffer from at least mild insomnia due to a wide range of reasons such as stress, chronic pain, anxiety, depression, prescription medications and caffeine or other stimulants.[i] In the fall, people may begin to experience sleep issues or their existing sleep problems may worsen. While all three doshas can impact sleep, Vata-type sleep issues arise due to Vata’s mobile and subtle qualities. Difficulty falling asleep, racing thoughts, restlessness, waking up repeatedly during the night and many dreams with lots of movement are all indicative of a Vata sleep disorder.
To help relieve insomnia incorporate the following practices into a regular nightly routine:
- Massage your head and temples with warm Brahmi oil for 10 minutes every evening before bed. Brahmi is one of the best herbs for calming the mind and nervous system. You can also try Brahmi capsules for the same effect.
- Go to bed by 10 p.m. and wake up by 6 a.m. The Pitta-dominant time of night (between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.) is when the body does the most healing so being asleep then is optimal. Waking up before the Kapha-dominant time (which is between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m.) will set you up for an energized day because you will avoid the pitfall of a sluggish Kapha morning that will likely plague you if you wake up too long after 6 a.m.
- Turn off all electronics at least one hour before bedtime. Our senses are over-stimulated by gadgets and constant connection to social media throughout the day. Give yourself a break from them and your body and mind will thank you with more satisfying rest!
- Take an Epsom salt bath with lavender essential oil. Epsom salt will relax your joints and muscles and lavender will ease you into a good night’s sleep.
- Make a warm milk (or milk alternative) tea with turmeric and nutmeg. The warmth and calming effect of the herbs will help lull you to sleep.
- Start winding down by 8 p.m. with a meditation or evening quiet time. This will allow ample time to clear your mind from the business of the day well before trying to drift into dreamland.
- Limit caffeine intake to before 2 p.m. if you have it at all. Stimulants can make falling asleep very difficult. If experiencing insomnia, it is best to avoid caffeine completely.
Joint and Body Pain
Just as a car needs oil to run smoothly, so too do our joints need lubrication to function properly. The oily and stable qualities of Kapha provide this for the joints. However, during autumn, the dry, cold and mobile qualities of Vata can dry out Kapha.
One of Vata’s sites is the bone: when the mobile quality of Vata increases, its dryness moves into the bones and joints leading to cracking, stiffening, pain and degeneration. 1 in 5 adults in the United States is diagnosed with arthritis - a categorical term defined in the American Heritage Dictionary as “inflammation of a joint or joints,” and which includes roughly 100 different rheumatic diseases and conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, and gout.[i] Many others suffer this pain undiagnosed and undertreated, underneath the radar of their doctors. Thankfully, by applying the fundamental principles of Ayurveda we can counter the effects of Vata in the joints and relieve the symptoms of pain, cracking and stiffness.
To do so, try implementing the following practices:
- Daily self-oil massage (abhyanga) with warm herbal oil such as Maha Narayana or Dhanwantaram Before bathing, spend at least 20 minutes massaging the oil all over your body, paying special attention to the joints. Use a straight motion for the long bones and a circular motion for the joints. Leave on for up to an hour before rinsing in a warm shower.
- Incorporate several Ayurvedic herbs into your regimen that are beneficial for the joints. As a cheap home remedy, drink a tea of ginger and turmeric regularly. The classical herbal formulas of Yogaraj Guggulu and Maha Rasnadi are also effective healing for rheumatic conditions.
- To balance the cold and dry qualities of Vata, increase your intake of warm, nourishing foods and oils. Use ghee or sesame oil regularly in cooking, and make a big pot of Kitchari or other soup, curry or stew. Favor warming spices such as ginger, black pepper, ajwain, cinnamon, nutmeg, basil, hing and mustard seed in your dishes.
- Practice Yoga postures that strengthen the muscles and tissues around the joints while increasing mobility and flexibility. A good yoga series specifically for the joints is Pawanmuktasana I. Incorporate this practice into your daily routine for maximum benefit!
Vata is responsible for all movement in the body, and as such it can be the main driver in the disease process due to its mobile and subtle qualities. Since the colon is considered the main site of Vata, it is critical to promote its downward flow (known as the subdosha Apana Vayu) and that this flow be optimally maintained. Regular (at least once-per-day in the morning), well-formed and complete bowel movements indicate that Apana Vayu is functioning properly. When there is obstruction in the downward movement of Vata, symptoms like gas, bloating and constipation manifest. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is imperative that you address this situation as quickly as possible. Your body must eliminate waste, lest it become a site of icky ama (toxic waste) that has been linked to many other health problems. It is estimated that 12 to 19 percent of Americans suffer from constipation, which can lead to hemorrhoids, anal fissures and fecal incontinence.[i]
To ensure the downward flow of Vata and healthy elimination, try the following:
- For gas, bloating and sporadic hunger, make a tea out of equal parts cumin, coriander and fennel powder (known as CCF tea) and drink it before meals.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day. In the morning right after you wake up drink warm water with lemon to train your body to eliminate first thing in the morning. Dehydration or inadequate water intake can be a cause of constipation.
- Eat a Vata-pacifying diet of nourishing, warm, oily and pungent foods. Avoid cold and dry foods like crackers, salads and iced drinks. Make sure to get plenty of fiber through whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
- Take Triphala Powder at night and in the morning with warm water. Triphala is a combination of three powerful herbs: Amalaki, Bibhitaki and Haritaki, and is beneficial for all Doshic types. For a quicker, stronger effect try Abhaya Arishtam.
- For really stubborn constipation add Castor Oil into the mix. Start with 2 teaspoons at nighttime in a cup of ginger tea. Increase the next night if bowels have not fully released or reduce to 1 teaspoon is the stool was very loose. Use Castor Oil in moderation and only in extreme circumstances as a dependency can develop. The goal is to train your bowels to eliminate naturally without the help of any aids.
- Blend 2 Tbsp. of soaked chia seeds with 1 cup of almond milk, a handful of soaked raisins, a pinch of cinnamon and a splash of coconut oil. Drink in the morning.
- Many Yoga postures can help promote the downward flow of Vata. Try the Pawanmuktasana II series for healthy digestion.
- Breathing exercises such as Kapalabhati Pranayama are grounding and calming.
As you listen to your body more closely, recognize and address signs of Vata increase early on. Dryness, pain and mental agitation like anxiety are all good indicators. Addressing it early will save you much agony in the long run. Since it is always beneficial to keep Vata in check no matter the season, try to incorporate Vata-pacifying practices into your daily routine consistently, but most definitely during fall season.
- Go to bed early and wake up early
- Do self-oil massage (abhyanga) daily
- Eat warm, nourishing foods cooked in healthy oils
- Drink hot water in the morning and throughout the day
- Take quiet time out for yourself at least once per day
- Avoid raw, cold and dry foods and drinks
Namaste and happy healing <3!
The purpose of this article is to provide information about Ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health problems please consult a trained health professional. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained Ayurvedic practitioner or doctor, call (800) 215-9934 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will provide you with our affiliated practitioners. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.