The Autumn season marks the beginning of many things, including the transition from the pitta time of year to the vāta time of year. This Autumn I would like to offer you some guidelines to help you transition from summer to fall in a way that minimizes stress on your mind and body, so that you can feel your best, increase your immunity, and look great while you do it. It’s amazing how far a little applied knowledge can take us!
Agni- Digestive Capacity
Diet & Foods
Abhyanga: Self Oil Massage
The following guidelines will help you transition into fall with grace by understanding the qualities that increase naturally within the environment and thus ourselves as the seasons change, and what we can do help our bodies and minds transition easily and with fewer bumps.
Our capacity to digest foods is intimately connected to seasons and climate. Summer is the time when our digestive system is at its weakest, while transitioning into fall marks an increase in internal fire. Why is that? The Āyurvedic perspective teaches us that we sweat due to our internal fire being dispersed outwards to release heat. Our digestion or central fire is resultantly weakened, which is what causes us to lose our appetites in the dog days of summer. As outside temperatures cool, the fire within our bodies returns to its primary home in the GI tract, bringing with it an increase in appetite and ability to digest heavier, vāta pacifying foods.
Remember that vāta has the following gunas or qualities:
In Āyurveda, we use opposites to bring balance, and this list serves as a guideline for what qualities we need to employ to attain this. An example would be how we mix hot and cold water to make a comfortable shower temperature. What does this mean for our diets? This means that we should eat moist foods that are soupy, oily, and WARM, both in temperature and that warm the body, such as ginger, to balance the increase in dry and cold we experience in the environment. Coffee is an example of a substance that increases the mobile quality (making it hard to sit still and focus) and having a grounding herbal tea instead is very helpful for keeping vāta in check. Old food like leftovers has dry, rough, and cold gunas, and consuming them will increase those same qualities in your body, so make sure not to keep cooked food around for more than two days. Not to mention that eating old food means you are using stale, old energy to build your body. It’s always better to stick with freshly cooked foods that are high in prāna to help keep you youthful.
People with vāta imbalances would do well to stay away from caffeine, and benefit far more from calming, grounding teas such as fresh ginger and chamomile. A nice trick to get more oil into the diet is to add a little ghee to your tea!
I have personally found that using the gunas, or qualities as guidelines to be far more useful than memorizing long lists of foods, and hope that you will find some use in it as well.
Yes, what clothing we wear is important! I’m not talking about brand names here- what I’m referring to is making sure that we wear clothing appropriate to our constitutions and climate. Cold leaves you more vulnerable to falling ill, and it is no accident that the common cold is thus named. Wool is your friend, as are layers and warm colors, like you see in the beautiful changing leaves of autumn. Making sure your ears are appropriately covered is also very important as your ears are a major site of vata and allowing cold to enter them can have intense vāta aggravating effects on your whole body. Putting a few drops of sesame oil into your ears and wearing ear muffs or a hat are great ways to mitigate this, especially hats like this!
While in the west we associate summer with a spike in fitness activities, the Āyurvedic perspective teaches that summer is the season which finds us at our weakest, though this varies based on the climate of where you live. Your environment, called “desha” in Sanskrit, is as important to how we manage health as is our individual mind-body type. Āyurveda as we know it was largely transcribed and developed in India, which regularly sees summer temperatures upwards of 100, making it nigh impossible to remain outside for any given length of time during daytime hours, additionally it is nearly impossible to eat for reasons we have already discussed. Fall and winter are the times for building, and can be great times to start a new sport or activity as your strength and agni naturally increase during this time.
Regular oil massage also becomes far more important as the transition into cooler temperatures marks the return to heat, which dries us out. Organic sesame oil is an excellent choice for vāta dosha- please see this video to learn more about abhyanga and why it is so important!
An important note- if self oil massage causes you pain or constriction, this is a sign that you have āma, or undigested toxins within the body. To address this, follow a restricted diet of easy to digest foods such as kitchari and soups, and drink a cup or two of fresh ginger tea daily, depending on how high your pitta is of course.
In short, pacifying vāta is well and good, but makes far more sense when we understand why we are doing so, and what the signs and symptoms are when vāta is increased within our organism. Dry skin, restlessness, feeling cold, anxiety, inability to focus, gas and bloating, insomnia, muscle tension, or any pain for that matter, are signs that vāta dosha is imbalanced. We know vāta is at ease when we feel warm, relaxed, focus easily, have emotional stability, and can digest our food efficiently. Some people will struggle with certain components of imbalanced vāta for the rest of their lives, but knowing that these symptoms denote a vāta imbalance and taking care of yourself appropriately is half the battle.
Fall is a wonderful time to shift our focus inwards to allow for digestion of heavier mental experiences. Our tendency towards alone time during autumn, after the frenetic activities of summer, is a reflection of our innate attunement to the cycles of nature.
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I suffered from chronic back pain that left me unable to walk for a week of every month for over 15 years that no western doctor could resolve. Frustrated, depressed, and pissed off, I tried everything, from acupuncture to physical therapy but would only experience temporary relief. I knew there had to be a reason for my pain, so why couldn’t anyone explain to me what the hell was going on?!
Here is what was happening-I would get episodes of lower back spasming where my back would completely lock up and if I moved too suddenly or at the wrong angle- PAIN!! It was terrible, totally unpredictable, and took control of my life. I became fearful of riding my bike or hiking or doing any activity that could leave me vulnerable to the wrath of the back-pain gods. MRI’s, X-rays, I did it all, and nobody could give me a definitive answer to the root cause!
Until I found Āyurveda. Āyurveda did what western medicine couldn’t, and simple dietary changes combined with a 90 day herbal protocol cured my seemingly “incurable” condition. For good. Not only did the science of Ayurveda cure my back pain, it was able to simply and logically explain to me what the ROOT cause of my pain really was, in contrast to the guess work of “advanced” medical professionals using modern equipment.