The fall season has welcomed us.
Autumn is the cool, colorful death that greets us each year before rebirth arrives in the spring. We see this transformation occur in Mother Nature, just as the leaves on the trees turn brown and fall to the ground before fresh, new blossoms appear again in the warmth of springtime. Humans evolved from the earth and are therefore a reflection of nature herself. Just as Mother Nature experiences vivid change during autumn, we encounter dramatic shifts in ourselves during the transition from summer to autumn. Fall is the season to rest, reflect and nourish for the year to come.
According to the science of Ayurveda, the fall season is governed by the elements air and ether (space). These elements bring with them the cool, light, dry, and changing qualities that distinguish the season itself. In Ayurveda, fall is known as vata season. Vata is the subtle energy of movement and it is one of the three doshas in Ayurvedic medicine. When in balance, the energy of vata and its corresponding elements, air and ether, promote creativity, curiosity, and heightened states of intuition. Out of balance, vata brings anxiety, fear and overthinking. The fall season can be a time of enhanced creativity; a time when ideas are more easily accessed from the ethers of our consciousness to flow freely into our minds. This season can also bring feelings of uncertainty and restlessness, which tends to happen when excessive vata energy dominates the physical, mental, and emotional constitution of the individual. Other vata imbalances can include symptoms such as dry skin and lips, insomnia, dizziness, vertigo, constipation, gas, tremors, and low body weight. Vata season is roughly from September through November.
Depending how we choose to approach the dramatic changes happening during the fall season; the return of the sensitive elements, air and ether, can feel quite painful or it can serve as a time of deep self-reflection and personal transformation. The delicate nature of vata season makes it the ideal time to slow our schedules, turn inward and focus on building nourishment in the body for the upcoming year. In Ayurvedic medicine, nourishment begins with our rasa dhatu.
Rasa is defined as “the sap of life” and it is the root of our health. Ayurvedic medicine concludes that the body is made up of dhatus, or bodily tissues. Rasa dhatu is the first tissue to form after consuming food and it determines the health of all other tissues in the body. Physically, rasa is equivalent to the western concept of plasma. The Ayurvedic concept of rasa contains plasma, white blood cells, saliva, blood serum, and the entire lymphatic system. The health of rasa dhatu determines the health of our nervous system, reproductive system and all other bodily systems. On a subtle level; rasa corresponds to clarity, fluidity, and faith in life. The qualities of rasa dhatu and very similar to kapha dosha, which is made up of the elements water and earth. The water element that nourishes rasa increases kapha; therefore, building the waters of rasa dhatu during the fall season will balance excess vata energy.
One of the best ways to nourish rasa dhatu is to maintain proper hydration in the body. In Ayurveda, staying hydrated extends far beyond consuming eight glasses of water each day. Hydration happens internally and externally, through conscious diet and lifestyle choices. Everything from the food we eat, the types of beverages we drink, the products we apply on our skin and even our overall emotional state influences our ability to stay truly hydrated and support the health of rasa dhatu.
Below are Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle suggestions for building rasa dhatu during vata season. As Mother Nature is encouraging us to step into the next season of our lives, choose to nourish your rasa dhatu to help find balance during the cool, dry season of air and ether. Although the following recommendations are intended to be practiced during autumn, they can be referenced throughout the year whenever dealing with vata imbalances. If pregnant or breastfeeding, consult your health practitioner before incorporating new herbs into your diet.
Ayurvedic Fall Diet for Rasa Dhatu
In Ayurveda, food is our first medicine.
Fall is the season for warm, wet, heavy foods. These foods are perfect for grounding the cool, dry, light attributes of vata energy and nourishing rasa dhatu. Cooking hot soups, casseroles and warm salads (cooked vegetable salads) is recommended during vata season. Add ingredients such as root veggies, easily-digested grains and beans, heavier proteins, nuts and seeds this time of year. Favor sweet, salty and sour tasting food choices over bitter, astringent and pungent tastes, as they will balance vata dosha. The sweet taste feeds the honey-like quality of rasa. Seasonal, water-rich fruits and vegetables like sweet potatoes, apples, okra, winter squash, avocado, spinach, celery, bell peppers, oranges, zucchini, watercress, leeks, and lemons will help replenish the waters (rasa) in your own body. Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids found in healthy fats and oils are excellent for maintaining the health of rasa dhatu. During autumn, we should be cooking with oils that nourish the body and have a heating quality to them. Sesame oil brings a warming effect and is perfect for fall. Feel free to add a little additional oil on top of your food before you eat as well.
Most produce should be cooked during vata season. Try to refrain from eating raw fruits and vegetables and dry, airy foods like chips, granola, and dried fruit, as these foods will provoke vata imbalances during autumn. A simple trick for building rasa dhatu is to choose foods that have a hydrating quality over a drying quality. Consuming less caffeine, alcohol, and refined sugar can also be helpful during the season of air and ether, considering these substances cause dehydration in the body and can increase feelings of anxiety and spaciness. Too much caffeine depletes rasa dhatu.
It’s particularly important to stay hydrated this time of year; however, don’t drink an excessive amount of water at once, as it dampens agni (digestive fire). Rasa dhatu is dependent on the health of our digestion. Drinking warm water slowly and steadily throughout the day is recommended during the cool, dry months of vata season. Occasionally putting a small pinch of high-quality sea salt into your drinking water is another way to restore hydration and nourish rasa dhatu. Since we want to increase the fire element (heat) during the fall, try to avoid cold drinks and food such as ice water, smoothies, and açai bowls.
Drinking beverages with fruits, vegetables, herbs and oils builds structure in our water; creating a hydrating quality that helps us better absorb water and nourish our cells directly. Thus, having these substances in our water is much better than water alone in building rasa dhatu. Reaching for a cup of warm water with fresh lemon can be especially healing in the morning. This Ayurvedic favorite will help to gently detox the body, strengthen the immune system, and increase agni. Pressed juices are a great way to structure your water and adding green vegetables that are naturally rich in chlorophyll will oxygenate your cells and promote rehydration. Celery juice is an excellent option for increasing healthy rasa dhatu during vata season. Always juice with vata-friendly vegetables during the fall season and avoid ice-cold, foamy juices, as foam disturbs vata and creates gas. Putting ingredients like fresh ginger or cinnamon into juice blends will create a warming effect that helps with the irregularities of vata digestion.
Ayurvedic herbs are another medicinal remedy for soothing imbalances in our physical, mental and emotional constitutions. Autumn is the perfect time to enjoy teas that hold moisture in the body and help build rasa. The gelatinous quality produced by demulcent herbs replenishes rasa and soothes dry, irritated tissues in the body while warming spices pacify cold-natured vata. Experiment with demulcent herbs and spices this fall, such as licorice root, fennel seeds, marshmallow powder, fenugreek seeds, slippery elm and warming spices; like ginger, cinnamon, black cardamom, nutmeg, clove. Add a healthy, vegan fat to your tea such as coconut oil, as it helps to nourish and feed the oily essence of rasa dhatu. Rasa is also increased through the consumption of sap-like fluids like honey and agave, which are perfect for sweetening your favorite cup of tea.
Ayurvedic Fall Lifestyle for Rasa Dhatu
During autumn, the days continue to grow shorter and the nights start to grow longer. As Mother Nature begins to rest, so should we. Fall is the season for slowing down our schedules and nesting in the comfort of our homes. Give yourself permission to slow the momentum. Taking time to restore during the cool, quiet solitude of autumn brings physical, mental and emotional nourishment; this will help support healthy rasa for the year to come.
Spending additional time at home during the fall allows us to devote more time for self-care practices. Hot baths, showers and saunas help to increase the fire and water elements in your constitution and create balance this time of year. Ayurvedic self-massage, also known as abhyanga, is possibly the most important self-care practice of the fall season.
Abhyanga is described as feeling as if “a warm blanket is being wrapped around the body.” The practice of self-massaging not only relieves dry skin and insomnia, it also stimulates circulation and supports proper nervous system function. Self-massaging boosts lymphatic drainage (cleansing rasa) and combats depression and stress by increasing endorphin levels and lowering cortisol. Our pores are a gateway into the tissues of our body and oil massaged on the skin reaches rasa dhatu within 15 minutes of application. Toxins are also pulled through the oil, making abhyanga a gentle practice for detoxifying. Sesame oil is best for targeting air and ether imbalances and grounding vata energy. Be sure to warm the oil before using. It can be helpful to pour some oil into a glass jar and place the jar in a bowl or sink filled with hot water. Massage the body upon waking in the morning or before going to sleep at night. Rub the sesame oil in long strokes along the extremities and small circles around the joints. Leave the oil on the body for 15-45 minutes after massaging, then rinse the oil off by showering or bathing. Be sure not to leave the oil on the skin for more than 45 minutes, as this can clog the channels we are working to cleanse.
Maintaining a regular routine is excellent for pacifying excess vata energy and replenishing rasa dhatu. We should be getting an adequate amount of sleep this time of year; eight hours a night is suggested. Ayurvedic teachings recommend sleeping from 10pm to 6am, as it keeps us in tune with the circadian rhythms of the earth. Getting our heaviest sleep during the pitta time of night (10pm-2am) helps us to best process our food and thoughts from the previous day and wake feeling energized. Eating meals at the same time each day and not skipping meals is also great for balancing vata dosha and keeping the waters (rasa) of your body fed and vivacious. Have your heaviest meal for lunch during the pitta time of day (10am-2pm) when agni is the strongest.
Exercise should be set at a more gentle pace during the fall. Choose yoga classes that are slower with longer holds this time of year; restorative and yin yoga are great. Vinyasa yoga can be excellent for building heat to combat the dry, cool elements but remember to keep the pace steady. A nice, long savasana at the end of a yoga class helps to balance vata energy. Walking, light cardio and weight-bearing workouts are perfect for this season as well. Exercise is important for the health of all the bodily tissues, including rasa dhatu; however, over-exercising or profuse sweating can deplete rasa.
The increase of air and ether make fall an ideal time for meditation and tapping into intuition. Keep meditations grounded and focused by rooting awareness in the physical body; connect with kapha dosha by meditating on the bones. Try not to get distracted by the thoughts that come and go. Try less thinking and doing; more feeling and being. Overthinking poorly affects the health of rasa dhatu and creates vata imbalances. Attempt to limit other vata-aggravating activities such as prolonged exposure to phones, computers, and television. Technology is pure ether (space) so be aware of how much time you are spending on it during autumn.
On a subtle level, emotions correspond to the water element; thus, connecting with emotions means connecting with rasa. Fall is the season to reflect on the passing year. Dive into this transitory season by journaling and engaging in deep self-reflection. Take time to process and release all that happened during the previous year. Let the pleasant and the tough emotions come without thoughts of judgment, only loving observation. Engaging with the watery essence of the emotional body will create balance during dry, airy vata season.
Remember, autumn is the death that must occur before the rebirth of spring. The nature of this time of year can also easily lead to emotions such as depression. Vow to be gentle with yourself during the fall and understand that change doesn’t always feel easy. And when you encounter difficult moments, always remember: you are loved, you are worthy of love. The sweet, honey-like quality of rasa in the body is said to be equivalent to the emotional state of love and when rasa dhatu is vibrant with health, feelings of love and compassion come effortlessly.
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Photo: Noah Silliman via Unsplash; Ally Snead