A guide to a healthy autumn
Autumn is a period of transition. If you read my last post (here) you will have a clearer view of my feelings about the season. However, even on a very tangible level, we witness the drop in temperature, the browning of the leaves, the winding down of the vegetable garden, the picking up of the wind, and the shortening of the days. When we look at the seasonal shift in terms of the qualities that it presents we find greater understanding of the qualities that will start to affect our bodies and minds. Autumn is dry, rough, windy, erratic, cool, subtle, and clear. These are all qualities shared by vāta dosha, and because like increases like, autumn is considered a vāta season.
The Importance of Seasonal Routines
Firstly it is important to understand that everything in the world is made up a some combination of the five elements (namely: ether, air, fire, water, and earth). Nothing in this world, including the structures that compose our body’s and mind’s, and exist without all five of these elements interacting in some way. With this in mind, we can understand the great effect that shifts and changes in the elements around us might have on our health, mentally and physically. The elements are never stationary, never remaining constant, and therefore it is our job to be a witness to the shifts and changes in order that we might respond appropriately and avoid any nasty clashes or imbalances which may result in a disease state within the body or mind.
Ritucharya (seasonal regime) is considered one of the cornerstones of health within ayurveda for this very reason. One of the simplest ways to take charge of your health and maintain internal harmony is to balance out the elements you face within your local climate. In this way we are better prepared to ward off seasonally aggrivated symptoms, whether they be allergy, mood, or dis-ease related. When we are sensitive to the changes in environment and respond accordingly, we can acclimatise our internal environment to suit, thereby supporting the immune system as well as our other health-maintaining structures of body and mind.
For example, we have established that the qualities of autumn are the same of those of vāta dosha - dry, rough, mobile, and cold. So if we are not careful, we may witness an increase in the vāta within our bodies. This may manifest as corresponding symptoms, such as dry/chapped skin, cold and flu, feelings of loneliness or isolation, an overactive mind (worry/stress), aching joints etc.
Those who already have many of these qualities within their bodies, and are vāta dominant, may be particularly sensitive to this seasonal shift. But vāta dominant or not, during this time it is important that everyone take care to maintain internal balance.
By observing our environment from a qualitative perspective we are equipped to respond to both daily and seasonal fluctuations within the local climate. You may find that you have actually been adopting seasonally appropriate habits already, without even being conscious of doing so. For example, in the summer we tend to eat more fruits and salads - perfect for balancing out the heat and intensity present in the summer climate. As winter approaches we start to eat more warm cooked foods - stews, soups: hearty and grounding foods that naturally subdue the dry, light, and erratic nature of autumn. By making diet and lifestyle choices that counter the effects of each season, you can better maintain your internal sense of equilibrium throughout the year.
Diet is one of the best ways to counteract seasonal symptoms and support the body in maintaining it’s natural balance. Substantive, oily, nourishing foods that are high in protein and natural fats, brought to life with warming, stimulating spices, and served hot, will go a long way toward maintaining your internal reserves of moisture and keeping you grounded through the vāta season. Foods that are predominantly sweet, sour, and salty are ideal during this time as they are grounding and warming, combatting the dry, light, and cool qualities of vāta. Warm, nourishing breakfasts of cooked grains, and spiced and stewed seasonal fruits, are ideal this time of year (head to the “recipes” section above to find some ideas. Lunch should always be favoured as the largest meal of the day (this is when the diegstive fire is at it’s strongest). Around this time of year my lunches and dinners both consist of big hearty soups and stews with plenty of steamed greens and grains. In general it is best to minimise the amount of raw, cold or drying foods you consume at this time of year.
You may also find that you are inclined to eat more foods as the days get colder and darker (speaking for myself - I find mid-afternoon crumpets increasingly appitising), but just be mindful that the digestive fire won’t be at it’s peak during this time of the year, so to be moderate and make sure you are eating according to your personal digestive ability.
For more details on a vāta pacifying diet, complete with food list, click HERE
The establishment of a regular daily routine can be very supportive in attempts to balance vāta during autumn. This means making a conscious effort to rise, eat meals, and rest at the same time everyday. This way the body and mind can begin to work into a rhythm, counteracting the sporadic tendancies of vāta. Rising early and taking advantage of the peace and slow pace of the morning hours is particularly beneficial. This is an excellent time to practice meditation, deep breathing, journalling, or any other grounding self-care practices you feel called to.
As the skin can become much drier, and circulation a little more strained during this time, I highly recommend massaging the body with warm sesame oil everyday (or as regularly as possible). You can follow this by a hot shower to allow the oil to sink a little deeper into the skin - allow the oil to simply run across the skin rather than trying to wash it off.
In terms of exercise, it is best to move the body in the early morning or evening hours (6 - 10 am/pm), but being very sensitive to the fact that vāta is very easily aggrivated by fast, mobile activities. Perhaps consider exercise that is slow, gentle, and strength building - such as yoga, hiking, biking, etc. (at an appropriate level of intensity of course). During vāta season my personal yoga practice shifts into a much more introspective and gentle flow. I make sure to keep warm during my practice but include more grounding postures and much more stretching time than I may ordinarily. Nadi śodana (alternate nostril breathing) is an excellent pranayama choice during this period due to it’s ability to calm the central nervous system and restore balance within the mind and body.
So the lesson is that this is actually remarkably simple. Listen to your body. Remember that opposite qualities balance each other out. So stay sensitive to the shifts and changes. The shifts and changes in the trees, the sky, your mind, and your body. Respond accordingly.
If there is any particular symptom you are working with or you would like more of a personalised view of your current state of balance, I am available to work with you one-on-one. See more in the Āyurveda page above.
Wishing you a happy and harmonius vāta season xx