Ayurveda looks at health and balance as a dynamic, ever-changing set of qualities that can either increase or decrease with our environment, foods and behaviors. These qualities can include hot and cold, dry and unctuous, stable and mobile, etc…for a total of twenty qualities, or ten pairs of opposites. As these qualities move around in quantity, they may increase and be too much, or they could decrease and be depleted. This can affect the overall balance of health.
While we can control the foods we eat and our behaviors (well, we do our best!) to balance these qualities, we do not have any say about the seasons, and the qualities they bring. So, we must always have awareness of our surroundings and how we react to them, so that we may continue to adjust our lifestyles to integrate the changes.
In the U.S.A. we recognize three seasons:
- Kapha: late winter into spring and brings cold, wet and heavy
- Pitta: summer and brings hot and sharp
- Vata: autumn and brings cold, dry, windy, rough
As we go deeper into September and autumn vata season, you may notice the effects of the cold, drying wind qualities on your body. I would like to give you some tips for balancing during this season to keep you feeling warm, replenished and cozy!
Tip #1: Stay Warm
If you look at the foods that come into season in the fall, they are heavy, warming and unctuous. Go to the farmers’ market while you still can and load up on squashes, yams, pumpkins, beets, apples, dates, figs, cranberries, avocados, red potatoes, spinach, swiss chard, okra and carrots. Get onions and garlic for flavors. Update your spice cabinet – try some fun spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, anise, turmeric, saffron, paprika, rosemary, cumin, dill, ginger, oregano, basil, bay leaf and rosemary. Sounds like Thanksgiving dinner, yes?!
Avoid drinking beverages that are cold or contain ice. Sip hot water or herbal tea all day. Invest in a nice thermos to carry with you.
Now is the time to let go of the ice cream. Soups and stews are amazing autumn meals. Eat heavy whole grains like rice, wheat, amaranth, oats and quinoa. And enhance everything with a spoonful of ghee!
Dress warmly. Wear hats, scarves, sweaters. Protect yourself from the wind and stay inside if it is a little crazy outdoors. Invite your dogs to snuggle in the bed with you for extra warmth.
Tip #2: Routines
This is the time to establish a firm sleep and meals routine. Try to wake and sleep at the same time every day, even on weekends. Decide where your three meals can fit into your schedule and enjoy them daily at the same time so your body can create a cycle and you will have nice strong hunger for them! As you develop your schedule, notice if your sleep and digestion improve. Avoid snacking and late-night eating as much as possible. You may also want to consider including exercise and meditation into this daily routine.
Tip #3: Oils
Warm oil is the greatest thing you can use to battle the cold winds of fall. My favorite ayurvedic treatment is known as abhyanga and is the practice of heating up oil and massaging it into your body before a warm shower. If you feel cold, choose sesame oil. If you tend to run warm, try coconut oil. But honestly, there are no bad oils during this time, so use whatever you like! Sunflower oil is also a great one to try.
Put the oil in a jar, heat it up in a pot (or electric hotpot) of water. Then massage into your skin. After 10-15 minutes, hop into the shower and avoid using much soap. We don’t want to scrub it all away. I like to sip some hot lemon water while I wait for the oil to absorb in. And maybe listen to some NPR on my phone, too.
Nasya oil for the nose will help keep everything above the shoulders lubricated. Warm sesame oil in the ears is also great for calming vata. And finally, oiling the head and feet before bed is very calming, nurturing and great for both sleep and reducing vata.
Adjusting your lifestyle to balance the seasons is an important Ayurvedic practice. Always be aware of the foods that are naturally in season, the qualities of the weather, and most importantly, how you are feeling during these changes, so that you can adjust your foods and behaviors to maintain your own individual balance.
If you are interested in learning more about ayurveda, please visit www.mariyurveda.com.