This post was last updated on August 12, 2021 by Preethi Sukumaran
“Dear Team Krya,
My hair is dull, dry, coarse and brittle. It breaks very easily. If I don’t use a lot of conditioner on it, it generates a huge amount of static. It also tangles very easily and breaks when I comb it brush it or wash it.
I wash my hair very frequently and apply special conditioners and serums on it. It has been more than 3 years since I applied any hair oil – my stylist told me that this will cause dandruff, so I stopped doing it.
I work in an IT job and I usually get back home quite late. I do tend to eat out quite a bit. In addition, I feel quite dull and lack energy at times. I also tend to get joint aches in my lower back and catches in my neck.
Despite spending a huge amount of money on spa treatments for my hair, the quality of my hair just hasn’t improved. What do you think could be the problem?
Can Krya and Ayurveda help? “
We have been speaking about the 6 causes of hairfall, hair breakage and hair damage this week on the Krya blog. We started on Monday with our post on pitta aggravation and how it is a leading cause for common hair problems like thinning, a receding hairline, premature greying and hair fall.
As a company based on Ayurvedic first principles, it is very insightful and enlightening for us to see how the Acharyas of yore have approached many common skin and hair problems we see today. The interlinkages between what we eat, the kind of jobs we work at, how our day is structured (or unstructured), the pressures we go through, and what we put on our bodies is fascinating and very deep.
These are the interlinkages we will explore today in our blog post, as we describe how Vata dosha, when aggravated by our diet, lifestyle or our habits, can wreak havoc on our hair and skin.
The importance of Vata Dosha and why it is vital to our healthy functioning:
Vata dosha is made up of Vayu (wind) and Akash (space) and is an extremely powerful dosha in the body. It is the only dosha capable of movement, so it carries pitta and kapha dosha to their respective places to help them function. Without a properly functioning vata dosha, none of the other 2 doshas can do their work.
When vata dosha is unvitiated and balanced, it holds up all the systems and organs, initiates all normal upward and downward movements of the body, leads and controls the mind, employs all the sense organs well, carries all sensations to the brain, causes structural formation of all muscle, bone and joint tissue.
Healthy vata dosha promotes the coherent working of the body, promotes proper speech, is the seat / origin of touch and sound, is the source of courage and exhilaration, stimulates digestion, throws out ama and toxins from the body, shapes the foetus and maintains the ayu / life span of each individual.
In nature, Vayu is said to hold up the earth itself, kindles fire, makes clouds, makes rain, initiates streams, helps plants, flowers and fruits sprout and grow, strengthens seeds and helps in normal transformation.
What are the qualities of Vata dosha?
The Charaka Samhita describes the qualities of vata dosha as follows:
“RookshaLaghuSheetaDarunakaRavishada “. – translated as rough, light, cold, hard, coarse and non unctuous.
In Ayurveda, like promotes like. So any food, habit, behaviour, or circumstances that have the characteristics of vata dosha, increase vata dosha in the body. Similarly, foods, habits, behaviours and circumstances that have the opposite characteristics of vata dosha help reduce it or balance it.
What happens to skin, hair and our body when vata dosha is aggravated?
Acharya Vagbhatta says that 50% of all diseases are caused by aggravation in vata dosha. At Krya, we have observed that almost 75% of the people who write to us with skin and hair disorders have aggravated vata dosha.
Skin and hair when vata is aggravated
When vata dosha is in excess, your skin will have unexplained darkening or tanning. It will feel coarse and flaky and look dull and lifeless. Aggravated vata dosha can also cause deep heel cracking where you can actually see the underlying layer of flesh as the cracks are so deep.
When vata dosha is in excess, your hair and scalp will suffer from extreme dryness. You may see scalp flaking where pieces of your scalp are getting dislodged when you comb or brush your hair. The scalp flakes will be white, powdery and dry.
Hair suffering from aggravated vata dosha tends to be much more dry and frizzy compared to normal hair. This hair breaks easily and lacks elasticity – so it will break when you brush it, comb it, towel dry it, plait it or even wash it. This kind of hair is also very high in split ends, and will generate static when you comb / brush it. The hair tends to look dry, lifeless, and coarse and lacks gloss and shine.
Joint aches and dullness in the body – when vata is aggravated
As vata controls all joints and organs of movement, when vata is aggravated, you may notices catches, aches and pains in any part of the skeletal structure or in the legs. Lower back aches, neck catches, calf aches, ankle aches, knee pain and an unexplained dullness, and lack of energy may be noticed when vata is aggravated.
Vata dosha helps you stay longer, much like the energiser bunny. When it goes out of control, you might find yourself unable to switch off, having difficult falling sleep, have disturbed sleep where you wake up easily, and a general feel of ennui, and depression and dullness during the day.
Vata prakriti – some clues
We have said before, that doshas can be aggravated because of your inherent nature / tendency towards that dosha or because of your activities, lifestyle and general regimen.
When we identify Vata prakriti, we look for a tendency towards movement and overuse of any of the vata rules organs. For example, you could be a very active sportsperson, someone who loves to exercise frequently, a runner, or even a professional singer.
Vata dosha encourages lots of mobility and creativity, excitement and love for variety and new things. So if you are talking to us with a lot of energy, talking nineteen to the dozen, and display an inherent creativity and love for new things, we think your vata dosha could be prominent.
Just like the texts say people with Pitta dominant prakriti make good leaders, and gravitate towards causes and missions and bring a single minded focus to what they do, the texts are also descriptive about vata dominated prakritis. They are extremely mobile, love creative pursuits, are said to be very intelligent and also display the qualities of air in their mental makeup – they are comfortable with ambiguity, creative and quick.
A predominant vata prakriti is usually thinner and lighter than their pitta and kapha counterparts. They have a tendency to lose weight easily, especially if vata is aggravated
Here is a great truth about vata dosha in particular: almost all of us have a tendency to aggravate it easily. So even if you are not a vata prakriti, if you live in the city and are leading the highly driven, clock watching life, you are probably prone to vata aggravation. We will see just below the causes of this vata aggravation, and explain why this is of concern to everyone, even if their basic prakriti is not that of vata.
The 14 Causes of vata aggravation
Raise your hand if this applies to you:
“My morning routine means that I wake up a bit late, rush around getting ready, gulp down a cup of coffee, and quickly eat a bowl of cornflakes with milk or instant oats. I then grab my car keys and I am out of the home in 30 minutes flat!”
Speed is a vata trait. Unfortunately eating foods that cook quickly or easily means that they are also vata dominating in nature. Rushing around and doing things very quickly is also a vata trait. So when vata eats vata and behaves vata, your dosha gets aggravated.
We will see below the 14 vata aggravating foods, practices, and lifestyles that can wreak havoc on your skin, hair and health.
- Dry, hard and crisp foods are vata aggravating
Any dry, hard, coarse, crisp food can be classified as having vata dominant properties. Many new age health foods satisfy this criterion. There is a disturbing movement towards eating unnatural, highly processed foods which are labelled as fat free or low calorie.
I used to be a fan of roasted soy sticks and ragi sticks in my youth. These foods were marketed towards people losing weight and were made with very little oil and were roasted dry to be low calorie. However, over-eating this increased my vata which was already aggravated due to the nature of my work.
It is far better eat a small quantity of a regular homemade fried snack, than eating large amount of commercially processed, weird additive filled low calorie snack. Please remember oil controls vata – so if you are carving fried food, eat a traditional preparation which uses oil, ghee or butter. Of course, even this is not good for you, so try and control your craving!
- Light, airy foods are vata aggravating
Foods that are light and airy in texture and tend to float like cornflakes, millet flakes, poha, are all high in vata as well. This is why it is a far better idea to eat cornflakes with whole milk instead of eating a granola bar for breakfast. When you add milk which is high in kapha and cooling to a vata based food like cornflakes, you are reducing its vata properties. However, if you are eating a plain baked granola bar as is, you are aggravating vata much more – and this is despite the nutritional benefits of the granola bar.
When we see vata aggravation at Krya, we normally recommend a switch to traditional, freshly cooked foods, especially at breakfast. While we can reduce vata present in cornflakes by eating this with warm milk, it is a far better choice to eat a wholesome, freshly cooked breakfast like pongal, upma, cheela, etc, if your hair is very dry and coarse.
- Lentils , nuts and seeds are high in vata
Many of you would have observed that soaking lentils overnight releases bubbles of gas in the vessel. This is applicable to any dried lentil like whole moong, whole urad, rajma, chole, etc. This is why Ayurveda classifies all dried lentils as vata promoting.
However in this definition, lies a nuanced gradation of how much vata each lentil can produce. Split Mung dal is the least vata aggravating of all lentils. Rajma and channa are extremely vata aggravating.
Depending on how much your vata is aggravated, at Krya, we advise a few changes in the lentils you consume. If your hair is extremely dry and coarse, we advise switching for some time to split Mung dal as the lentil of choice. Even this lentil should be cooked with ghee or atleast eaten with ghee to reduce its slight vata aggravating properties.
If you cannot avoid eating heavy lentils like rajma or channa, we advise consumption taking a few precautions. Eating these heavy lentils with rice is better for you versus eating them with dry breads. They should be eaten with ghee. They should be eaten warm, as this is the opposite of vata’s cold nature. Lastly, they should be eaten at noon, because this is when your digestive fire is at its peak, so your body is much more capable of digesting this at this time.
- Vegetables and foods that are traditionally considered “gassy” are high in vata
Potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, peas, cabbage are all considered high in vata. Many vata aggravated people tend to over consume these vegetables over other vegetables.
Does this mean that Ayurveda says we should never eat potatoes or cabbage? No, of course not!
It means that Ayurveda says we should eat sensibly, with a reasonable rotation of vegetables, and take care to understand the nature of these vegetables and cook them appropriately.
For example, cauliflower and potatoes and other similar vegetables should be cooked with carminative and warming spices like jeera, pepper and dhania. This helps reduce the gassiness of these vegetables. These vegetables must be eaten as fresh and hot as possible – eating them cold means their vata aggravating nature is more pronounced.
Vata aggravating vegetables should not be eaten in a fried form – this increases their vata nature. They are best made as a liquid gravy based dished and not a fried dish. (So bye bye French fries and Gobi Manchurian!)
- Baked goods are considered vata promoting
Baked goods are considered vata promoting as they are dry, and sometimes crisp in texture. Again in this there are gradations. A soft bread made with whole wheat and plenty of fat (perhaps in the form of butter, milk or oil) is less vata aggravating compared to a maida based, crisp and dry lavash or bread stick.
If your hair and skin is dry, and you find yourself constantly reaching out for biscuits, cakes and breads try and impose some regulation on these foods. As a start, avoid commercially processed baked goods as much as possible as they are high in sugar and bad fats and E numbers.
Even if eating a healthily made biscuit, warming it before eating helps bring down vata. Adding a small amount of melted ghee to it further brings down the vata. Eating this when your digestive fire / appetite is strong is also a good idea.
Similarly, when eating bread based meals, avoid Maida based breads. Eat breads after warming / toasting them with a fat (preferably ghee, or desi butter). Eat this with a warm liquid preparation that uses vegetables like carrots, or beets that are unctuous. Bread and potatoes do not make a good combination.
Most importantly eat this at a reasonable time – do not eat bread / baked goods late into the night.
- A special note on Maida – and why you should avoid it strongly
Among grains, Maida is the lightest, airiest and therefore most vata aggravating. Maida also has a second dreaded quality – of being “abhishyanadi” in Ayurveda. This means that it has a tendency to coat your system, clog the fine nerve endings, and take a very long time to digest and assimilate. Besides being vata aggravating and abhishyanadi, commercial Maida is also a chemical nightmare – it comes pre-loaded with several E Numbers, raising agents and other additives especially when it is used in baking. So it would make a lot of sense if your hair is suffering vata aggravation to completely steer clear of anything to do with Maida.
Maida has been written separately about, because we see so much Maida in everyone’s diet charts these days.
A consultation I just finished mentioned that the person writing to me had eaten Maggi noodles for dinner continuously for 3 months – she was showing very high dryness, scalp thinning and hairfall.
If Maida should be avoided, then Maggi noodles (and all other brands of Instant noodles) should be very specially avoided. Maggi noodles is made from commercial Maida, filled with additives and pre-fried in suspicious fats, so that it can magically transform into noodles in 3 minutes.
Not only is this vata aggravating, it is also abhishyanadi, and very bad for health as you are eating a junky, chemical filled substitute that is very very far away from anything resembling real food.
Please remember: if you are eating commercial pizzas and Maggi noodles as a staple, your hair will fall. It is extremely logical.
- Drinks that remove water from your body are vata aggravating
Tea and coffee have become a ubiquitous part of urban life. This is our new addiction and coffee and tea parlours are extremely well designed, with great odours and the easy availability of baked goods to satiate our sugar craving. As per Ayurveda, both tea and coffee are vata aggravating. However, they react in a way that is very specific to their properties. They aggravate Vata by removing moisture from your body.
Vata aggravated bodies are already low on water and moisture – so when you drink large and frequent cups of tea and coffee and “pee away” the water in your body, you are doing your hair, skin and body a great disservice.
Colas are also extremely vata aggravating as are commercially processed fruit juices (besides being high in sugar). These drinks remove biological water from your body.
As a part of Krya’s questionnaire for vata aggravation, we ask about the number of cups of tea, coffee, commercial fruit juices and cola that is drunk every day. Once we figure this out, we usually advise a gradual reduction (unless things are in very bad shape) in certain drinks, and the easiest way to do this is to reduce your cup size.
Many of us are addicted to our tea and coffee, and it gives us a lot of stress to contemplate doing away with them altogether. So we suggest starting by halving your consumption. An attractive tiny espresso / tea cup will help you feel good about the way you are drinking your tea / coffee while reducing your consumption.
When it comes to colas and commercial fruit juices, we advise a strict ban. In our considered opinion colas are nothing but poison for the body. Innumerable studies show their bone leaching effect, extreme acidity, effect on diabetes and other dis-eases. There is no safe dose of poison. So please throw away / flush your cola stash down the toilet – this is the safest place for it.
Many commercial juices claim to be a healthy substitute to tea and coffee. If you attempt to replicate the process and make your own orange / tomato juice at home, you will understand the amount of sugar taken to make the drink taste so sweet. The existing properties of the fruits are long gone before they reach you – as all of us are aware, it takes a special amount of preservation to make an orange juice last for 6 months without refrigeration. Again, like the case of colas, avoid completely.
- Eating at irregular times every day is vata aggravating
At the beginning of this piece, we described the properties of Vata and how it loves variety and mobility. Therefore, Ayurveda advises that a rigid schedule helps control vata, and a variable schedule aggravates it. Many people, who come to us with vata aggravated hair, also tell us that their schedules are very variable. They tend to eat dinner at varying times everyday and often have a weekend schedule which is even more variable compared to their weekend schedule.
If you are nodding as you read this, here is a simple fact: your body does not know that it is Sunday. Or Wednesday. It is designed to expect food, of a particular nature at a similar time everyday. If you keep varying your eating time, it will bring down your ability to digest food properly. It can give you gastric issues. And pertinently for this post, it will aggravate vata, leading to poor skin and hair.
- Being unplanned and chaotic is vata aggravating
Just like being over planned and having a rigid need for control can aggravate a pitta prone person, being unplanned, chaotic and unscheduled can aggravate vata in your body, especially if you are already prone to it.
Some amount of ambiguity is good for creativity. However, when your life descends into chaos, at the stage when you have really no idea what you are going to be eating in your next meal, or when you are going to be eating it, then your vata will go out of control.
We see a lot of creatively oriented people at Krya, complaining of vata aggravated skin and hair disorders. The very nature of creativity is vata driven – so it makes sense that very creative people, or people in creative professions like music, films, and entertainment, strongly harness vata dosha.
But when this vata inspired creativity is further surrounded by a lack of schedule and chaos in your basic day (unplanned eating, sleeping, living), this completely throws your doshas out of balance.
If you are prone to vata, then we recommend you start by bring atleast one part of your day under rigid control. It could simply be the time you eat dinner, or the time you go to sleep, or doing an abhyanga once a week. This simple act of bringing one part of your life under control will act as a counter to unbalanced vata.
A person in a creative position or a vata dominated person may never achieve the rigid control a Pitta person can. But we suggest you choose a few areas of your life and bring order only to this as a matter of habit. This will rein in agitation and the excesses of vata, without changing your basic nature or profession.
- A high amount of physical activity aggravates vata dosha
Vata is the dosha governing movement and mobility. It therefore stands to reason that if you are using movement and mobility often and in high doses, you could end up aggravating vata dosha.
Many sportspersons and long distance runners have the classic vata build – they are lean, and have much darker skin colour compared to their youth. They also tend to succumb quickly to disorders involving vata related organs – joint and skeletal injuries for example. While Western sports medicine would argue that this is a simple case of overuse, Ayurveda would say that this is because vata is aggravated and the body is full of dryness.
Acharya Charaka says for example, that it is far easier to break a dry and brittle stick than it is to break a stick that has been oiled every day. External oleation is strongly recommended when you do extreme, frequent physical activity to rein in excess vata. The body is less injury prone, much stronger and remains youthful despite the physical effort.
At Krya, we have seen several case of hairfall related to vata aggravation after a new exercise routine has been taken up. For example, a young man came to us for hairfall advice – on investigation we found that he had started marathon running as a hobby 8 months prior to the hairfall.
Does this mean Ayurveda is against running or any extreme physical activity?
Again the answer is no. Ayurveda deeply recognises the connection between your mind and your body and is always encouraging of activities that give you deep satisfaction and happiness. So if marathon running makes you happy you must continue to do.
However, you must prepare your body for this activity by ensuring you do regular abhyangas, by eating foods that pacify vata and controlling chaos in other parts of your life. This will ensure you neither lose hair nor health in your pursuit of happiness.
- A high amount of mental activity and use of electronic devices agitates vata
We have seen this at Krya. Sudden extreme hairfall after a promotion, during a job change or when someone is doing a difficult project. One can of course blame the late nights, coffee and lack of routine for this excess. But an agitated brain that will not shut down easily, a high use of electronic devices, a high amount of talking and mental activity will aggravate vata.
Vata dosha is excited by stimulus. So using your mobile phone all the time, working late into the night, having frequent agitated conversations over cups of coffee and putting in a month of late nights will give vata dosha enough stimuli to push it over the edge.
Mental vata aggravation has to be tackled in three ways: one is to ensure that your diet does not further stimulate your vata during this stressful time, so choosing dal-chaawal over a burger will help.
Second is to physically calm the brain at night by oiling the scalp – at Krya we have recommended specific hair oiling for this kind of vata aggravation where herbs like Brahmi and Usheera (vetiver) are used. These herbs soothe the nerves and are excellent for stress related vata aggravation.
The third and important thing to do in stress related Vata is to follow an electronic cut off time and set up an electronics free zone for yourself. Restraining the use of electronics and imposing rigidity around this, again helps control aggravated vata dosha.
- Speaking for long periods on your mobile phone / telephone is vata aggravating
Vata’s secondary seat is your ears. If your job tends to involve long and frequent phone calls, then your overuse of a vata seat can aggravate vata. Many people who are in jobs which involve long phone calls tends to have the characteristics of aggravated vata – they speak a lot, are unable to focus or concentrate, experience skin darkening and have dry and coarse skin and hair.
At Krya we advise a good massage of your ears everytime during your abhyanga. In addition if your job involves overuse of your ears, doing a daily ear massage with warm oil will be very helpful. A Gandusha (swishing of water in your mouth after every meal and drink) is also very good for strained vocal chords. As is oil pulling once a week with Sesame oil.
- Raw food and vegan diets tend to be vata aggravating
Raw food diets by their very nature tend to be vata aggravating. Raw food satisfies many of the criteria of vata dosha like being dry, crisp, hard, light and non oily. This is why many people on a raw food diet could end up experiencing vata aggravation symptoms like joint aches, back pain, dry skin and poor hair.
Vegan diets, while excellent from an ethical perspective, are vata aggravating as per Ayurveda. Because of the high dependence on lentils and nuts (for nut milks and dressings), the food can severely increase wind and dryness in the body.
I am unable to offer any improving perspectives from Ayurveda for either raw food diets or a vegan diets. All the Ayurvedic weapons of controlling vata like ghee, cooking food and milk are not of use if you are a vegan or someone who eats raw food. I have often said that Ayurveda and being vegan do not go together, and I have learned this through direct personal experience. If you are leaning towards Ayurveda, and you are finding dis-ease in your current life having been on a raw food or a vegan diet, do re-examine your choices.
- Air travel and long commutes aggravate vata
Vata is the dosha which governs space and mobility. So it stands to reason that physically transporting yourself over a long distance every day or a super long distance frequently can aggravate the dosha of mobility and space.
Many times a commute is out of our control, unless you are fortunate enough to work for yourself. So we advice a few precautions to be taken if you are in for a long commute everyday or frequent air travel (either everyday if you have a long commute or 3 – 4 days before air travel)
- Eat an early dinner (before 8:30) and go to sleep exactly 2 hours later
- Reduce your tea and coffee intake by halving your cup size
- Keep yourself warm on the flight – warm is the opposite of vata dosha
- Cover your ears and head if travelling in public transport. Reduce the AC if travelling in car –and keep the windows partially closed to reduce draughts of wind from settling on your person.
- Stick like a maniac to your abhyanga schedule – this will bring down the stress of your commute and plane travel excesses
Krya recommendation for reducing vata aggravation
Our rather long post has examined 14 ways you can aggravate vata through food choices, lifestyle and certain behaviors. I hope you are not feeling disheartened or helpless at the end of this post. As I have mentioned, Ayurveda allows for everyone to lead a unique and tailor made life as per their needs. Ayurveda is never drastic (except in drastic circumstances) and always advises preparedness and moderation to handle the excesses of life.
Our post aims to put control back into your hands. None of us are helpless if we know exactly what we are going through and know how exactly to tackle these problems.
If you are experiencing vata aggravation due to any or all of the 14 vata aggravating foods, habits and lifestyles, here is a good recommendation from us to help you balance your doshas:
- Add melted desi cow’s ghee to your diet – atleast 1 teaspoon per meal. Ghee is universally acknowledged in Ayurveda as being tridoshic , balancing to all doshas and is especially useful to control aggravated vata
- Reduce the amount of tea, coffee, you are drinking – halve your cup size and ban colas and juices altogether
- Ban colas and commercial fruit juices completely from your life
- Control your meal times – we recommend breakfast at 8:30 am, lunch at 12:30 pm, a snack if you are hungry at 4:30 pm and dinner at 8:30 pm. As we have explained controlling one part of your life, particular meals, greatly helps control vata.
- Add a pada abhyanga if your mental stress, commute is very high – we recommend a thrice a week pada abhyanga (foot massage) – This is to be done atleast one hour after dinner and atleast 45 minutes before sleeping. Massage your feet with warm Krya abhyanga oil and massage the soles of the feet very well. After 15 minutes, wash off with Krya Men’s ubtan or the Krya Women’s ubtan. Dry the feet well, before sleeping. The pada abhyanga reduces stress, balances vata dosha, and calms the body down and prepares you for sleep.
- BE a MANIAC about your abhyanga: We recommend atleast once a week or ideally twice a week abhyanga for everyone. Tuesdays and Fridays are good for abhyangas for Women and Wednesdays and Saturdays are good for Abhyangas for Men. Do the Abhyanga with warm oil – 50% Krya Abhyanga Oil and 50% sesame oil (preferably cold pressed and organic). Warm the Sesame oil with Maricha (pepper – 1 corn), and Jeera (1/2 teaspoon). Filter out hot oil and add equal quantity of Krya Abhyanga oil to this. Apply as hot as possible on skin and massage very briskly using long up down strokes. The massage should generate heat and sweat. After 20 minutes, wash off with Krya Men’s Ubtan or the Krya Women’s ubtan.
- In times of great mental stress, we have found Hair oiling to be very beneficial to calm down jangled nerves. Apply ¼ tsp of Krya Classic Oil or our newly launched Krya Vata reducing Hair oil directly on the scalp and massage well. Do this at 7 pm to give the excess heat in the body enough time to come out. This will help you stay calm and focused and balances vata dosha.
- Of course, one of the key things to do when you have vata aggravated hair fall, is to look after your hair well. It needs to be oiled religiously 3 – 4 times a week, washed only with a gentle hairwash that will not further dry it and aggravate it. Our consumers swear by the health giving properties of our hair oils and how gentle yet effective our hairwashes and hair masks are. Like all Krya products our hair systems are synthetics and toxin free. You can try our classic hair system, or our conditioning hair system depending upon the texture of your hair. We also have a special hair system to address dryness caused by chemical damage (excessive colouring, perming, straightening, etc).
We hope this article was useful to you to help you understand the leading cause of urban hairfall and hair damage. Stay tuned for the next article in this series on how unbalanced Kapha can aggravate hairfall of a particular kind – we will be discussing hairfall related to PCOD in this post as well.