We are in the midst of the fall season.
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 fall. The Sanskrit word “ritucharya” can be translated as “seasonal regime.” In Ayurveda, ritucharya means living one’s life in the context of the seasons.
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, autumn 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, promotes 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. Additional vata imbalances include symptoms such as dry skin and lips, insomnia, dizziness, constipation, tremors, and low body weight.
Autumn and spring are both considered major transitory seasons in Ayurveda. Depending how we choose to approach the dramatic changes happening during the fall season, the return of the cool, dry elements can feel quite painful or it can serve as a time of deep self-reflection and personal transformation. Written below are Ayurvedic ritucharya suggestions for the season of air and ether. Conscious diet and lifestyle choices as well as boosting our self-care routines can be an excellent way to ease the sometimes-difficult transition we experience during the fall season. The following tips can be practiced during autumn or anytime throughout the year when vata imbalances occur in your constitution.
Ayurvedic Diet for Fall (Vata) Season
In Ayurveda, food is considered to be our first medicine.
Fall is the season for warm, wet, heavy foods. These foods are excellent for grounding the cool, dry, light qualities of vata energy. During autumn, Ayurvedic teachings encourage us to increase the sweet, salty and sour tastes of our food while decreasing the bitter, astringent and pungent tastes.
During the fall season, focus on foods that are nourishing and building for the body. This includes food choices such as root veggies, cooked grains, bread, oils and heavier proteins. Hot soups, casseroles and warm salads (cooked vegetable salads) are perfect for vata season. Choose to add as many seasonal autumn veggies and fruits as possible like sweet potatoes, green beans, beets, baked apples, winter squash, okra, fresh figs, leeks, parsnips, citrus, onions, and garlic. Simply considering what foods are in season is usually a pretty easy trick for eating Ayurvedic. Our ancestors of the past ate what Mother Nature was providing them with during that particular time of year and we should learn from their wisdom by eating seasonal. Nature possesses an inherent intelligence of providing us with foods that give us exactly what nutrients we need for that time of year!
Try to refrain from food choices such as raw veggies and cold salads during vata season, as these foods will provoke vata imbalances during autumn. Attempt to snack less on dry, airy foods like chips, granola and dried fruit, too. Mung beans are a great option for the fall season; however, try to limit consumption of beans in general as they can create vata imbalances such as constipation and dryness. Consuming less caffeine, alcohol, and refined sugar can be helpful during the season of air and ether, considering these substances can increase feelings of anxiety and spaciness. When it comes to pacifying vata, the way we eat is just as important as the foods we eat. Fall is a perfect time to practice chewing each bite slowly and fully, being present during our meals and eating with fewer distractions.
Ayurveda believes that cooking with spices not only adds to the flavor of food, it also helps increase our digestive fire (agni). Spices that possess a warming quality are particularly good for balancing air and ether. Vata-reducing spices includes spices such as black pepper, cumin, coriander, fennel, turmeric, oregano, bay leaf, cinnamon, clove, black cardamom, rosemary, fresh ginger, nutmeg, dill, garlic, saffron, fenugreek, thyme and sage. 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.
Ayurvedic herbs are another medicinal remedy for soothing imbalances in our physical, mental and emotional constitutions. Vata-pacifying herbs include ashwanganda, triphala, vidari kanda, brahmi, shatavari, rose, licorice, jatamamsi, and valerian root. These herbs can be taken in the form of a powder or capsule. Ayurveda favors powdered herbs, as being able to taste the herb on the tongue is part of the remedy. It is recommended to take herbs in the morning upon waking and/or before bed at night. Powdered Ayurvedic herbs can be taken as a tea. Mix the powder with hot water and a little MCT oil, the oil acts as a carrier for the herbs and helps deliver them to the body.
Drinking warm water can be a simple way to relieve common vata symptoms throughout the fall season. It’s important to stay hydrated during vata season; however, don’t drink an excessive amount of water, as it dampens the digestive fire. We want to increase the fire element (heat) during the fall, so also try to avoid cold drinks and food such as ice water, smoothies, and açai bowls. Another Ayurvedic tip that can be especially healing on cool, fall mornings is reaching for a cup of warm water with fresh lemon. This will help to gently detox the body, strengthen the immune system and increase agni.
Ayurvedic Lifestyle for Vata Season
In autumn, the days continue to grow shorter and the nights begin to grow longer. Before the modern invention of electric lighting, our wise ancestors understood that the cold, dark months of the year were intended for staying in the home and heading to bed early. 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 and not commit to more than necessary in your work and personal life. Create the time and space needed to take it easy and rest. Maintaining a regular routine is excellent for pacifying excess vata energy. Try to be in bed around 10pm and wake when the sun rises. We should be getting an adequate amount of sleep each night this time of year; eight hours is recommended. Eating meals at the same time each day is also great for balancing vata.
Make sure to layer the body with warm clothing during the fall. It may seem like common sense, but it is an important Ayurvedic lifestyle tip for the season of air and ether. It is especially key to cover the neck, head and feet while outside on cool, windy fall days. Try adding a heavier, cozier blanket to your bed as well. Occasionally sleeping with a humidifier in your bedroom can also help balance vata symptoms like dry skin, cough, and a dry, itchy throat. If you have a fireplace or a wood stove, light a fire and spend time in the company of your dear ones.
Spending additional time at home during the fall allows 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. Reach for products and essential oils that create a warming effect on the body with ingredients like ginger and clove. Ayurvedic self-massage, also known as Abhyanga, is possibly the most important self-care practice of the fall season. Abhyanga is often 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 stimulates circulation and supports proper nervous system function. Self-massaging boosts lymphatic drainage and combats depression and stress by increasing endorphin levels and lowering cortisol. Toxins are also pulled through the oil, making abhyanga a gentle practice for detoxifying. Sesame oil is the best oil for targeting air and ether imbalances of autumn and grounding excess 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 fifteen to thirty 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 forty-five minutes, as this can clog the channels we are working to cleanse.
Exercise should be set at a slower 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. Cardio can also be a good choice for creating heat but maintain a moderate pace. Don’t cause the body unnecessary exhaustion by over-exercising during the fall! Walking and weight-bearing workouts are perfect for this season as well. The increase of air and ether make fall an ideal time for meditation and connecting with intuition; however, keep meditations grounded by often bringing awareness into the physical body and not meditating for extended periods of time.
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. Fall is also not the time of year for extremely loud noises, excessive amounts of sex or lots and lots of talking. Try to keep things gentle, soft and slow during vata season, especially if you begin to experience symptoms such as anxiety, dizziness, or major fatigue. Wearing more colorful clothing is another simple trick to bring some light into the darkness during autumn.
Fall is the season to reflect on the passing year. Utilize the transitory season by journaling and engaging in deep self-reflection. Remember, autumn is the death of each year that must occur before the rebirth of spring. Take this time to ask yourself questions like, “What is working for me in my life? And what is not?” Allow that which is not serving your contentment and your higher purpose to be released along with the fallen leaves of the season. 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.
Katie Silcox, The Shakti School Ayurveda Certification Program
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