With each new season we witness changes in the qualities that present themselves in nature and within ourselves. These seasonal changes and energetic shifts are reflected within the body and mind, sometimes in subtle ways and sometimes very clearly. During each season different elements come to the fore, both in nature and within ourselves. In order to promote balance and internal equilibrium we must learn to recognize how these elemental factors play into our unique constitution, and how best to support our body with a diet and lifestyle that is most appropriate for the season.
Autumn is a season of transition, witnessing the expansive, fiery intensity of summer give way to the frost, darkness, and bareness winter. The air element predominates during autumn, as the wind ushers in the cooler weather and blows the leaves from the trees.
As with any transitional period, we can find ourselves in limbo — balancing somewhere between the vibrancy of summer and the sleepiness of winter. This is a time for simplicity and quietude, slowing down to become more grounded. In this way we can help ourselves have a smooth seasonal transition, maintaining balance through the shifts and changes of the fall season.
Transition from Summer to Autumn
As summer begins to draw to a close, the sharp intensity of the days will begin to soften as the air element becomes more prominent. The shift from summer to autumn is often a palpable one. The early mornings and evenings suddenly become much cooler and the days begin to shorten. The wind picks up and there is a softening of the earth. As the qualities of nature begin to shift, we may note the transition reflected within our body and mind. The outgoing, social energy of the summer begins to wane, and rest becomes more necessary as we slow our pace after the beehive of summer activity. The body will require more nourishment, substituting raw summer salads for earthy and substantive warm meals. As autumn’s airy quality increases throughout the season, we should aim to incorporate more grounding and stabilizing dietary and lifestyle practices to maintain an inner balance and optimal health.
Qualities of Autumn
During autumn, the air element predominates in the environment, causing an increase in the qualities of vata dosha. Vata dosha is made up of the air and ether elements and is considered the primary dosha for the autumn season. The qualities of lightness, coolness, dryness, roughness, mobility and subtlety are evident in both vata dosha and the autumn months. Within nature we witness the cooling of temperature, drying up of leaves and an increase in rough, cool and mobile winds. In the mind and body, the increase in vata qualities can come with feeling greater creativity and introspection. However, during the autumn season we become more susceptible to vata aggravation. This is particularly the case for those who naturally have a vata-predominant constitution. Therefore it is important to understand the qualities of vata, as well as signs and symptoms of imbalance, in order to make the best dietary and lifestyle choices. Symptoms of vata imbalance include:
- Feelings of isolation, loneliness or anxiety
- Being very sensitive to cold weather and exposure to the wind
- Dry skin
- Dryness within the digestive tract and colon, resulting in constipation
- Stiffness of the muscles and joints
- Bloating and difficulty digesting
- Feeling ungrounded or jumpy
- Difficulty concentrating
In order to pacify excess vata we can incorporate appropriate dietary and lifestyle practices to counter the qualities of the season. Ayurveda teaches that like increases like, while opposites balance. Therefore, during the fall season we should aim to incorporate as many warming, grounding, nourishing and soothing qualities as possible.
To balance out the lightness and the chill that arrives with autumn, we turn to meals of a more nourishing and substantive nature. Whole, freshly prepared foods that are warm and utilize generous amounts of stimulating digestive spices will help to pacify vata and support the body throughout the season. To maintain our internal reserves of moisture and to remain grounded, it is best to incorporate foods that are high in fat and protein content. It is natural that as the season progresses, the desire to increase the quantity you eat will arise. This is a natural urge and should be honored, but be careful not to put too much strain on the digestive system. While your dietary choices should reflect the environmental conditions of your particular location, here are some general guidelines for an optimal autumn diet:
- Favour sweet, sour and salty tastes.
- Reduce pungent, bitter and astringent tastes
- Decrease the amount of raw, rough and cold foods you eat, instead favouring warm, mushy and soft foods.
- Prepare all meals fresh, avoiding frozen, reheated or packaged food wherever possible.
- Although grains can be difficult for vata to digest, if they are cooked well with ghee or oils and seasoned with digestive spices, they are pacifying to vata. Grains to favour during the autumn include: amaranth, basmati rice, oats, and quinoa
- Nearly all spices are beneficial for the pacification of vata. Warming digestive spices are particularly balancing during autumn, such as: bay, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, cumin, ginger, mustard seed, nutmeg, paprika and turmeric.
- Include plenty of steamed, roasted and pureed vegetables in your diet, favouring sweet and earthy vegetables such as: beets, carrots, squash, pumpkins and sweet potatoes
- Soups and stews are grounding and moisturising for vata dosha and can include pacifying legumes such as: dals, kidney beans, miso, and mung beans
- Minimize the amount of light, dry or cooling foods in your diet, such as: broccoli, cauliflower, crackers, dried fruit, leafy greens, and popcorn.
- Increase your intake of nuts and seeds — they are grounding, moisturising and nourishing,
- Dairy products, such as whole milk, cream, ghee, yoghurt, and cheeses, are sweet and nurturing in nature so are pacifying during the autumn season, however they should not be consumed chilled.
Autumn Lifestyle Practices
It is best to exercise during the kapha hours of the day, either between 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. or 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. However, vata is easily aggravated by very fast and mobile activity. Instead favor forms of exercise that are gentle and strengthening, such as biking, hiking, or yoga. Keep in mind that the style of yoga that you choose during autumn should be warming, grounding and stabilizing. Avoid overexertion and too many inversions, instead focusing on strengthening standing postures and being attentive to your movement. It is also important to ensure that you balance your exercise with an adequate amount of rest and recuperation.
Breathing practices are a beautiful way to encourage internal balance and harmonious alignment throughout the year. During the autumn season, you should favor practices that are calming and balancing, such as nadi shodana or gentle diaphragmatic breathing.
If you have a vata constitution or find autumn a particularly difficult season in terms of your health or well-being, it can be beneficial to enlist the help of some herbs to keep the body warm, grounded, and balanced. Chyawanprash is a traditional ayurvedic herbal jam recipe, consisting of over 20 medicinal herbs. It is an excellent rejuvenative medicine for body and mind as well as supporting the metabolism and the respiratory and immune systems. It can be taken in the morning to boost seasonal immunity and promote strength and energy throughout autumn. Ashwagandha is a traditional rejuventative for vata dosha. It aids the calming and grounding of the mind as well as stabilising the internal systems, such as the digestive system and nervous system. Ashwagandha supports proper elimination, sound sleep, energy and vitality. Some of the best herbal remedies for pacifying vata dosha are probably already sitting in your cupboard. Herbal teas made from kitchen spices such as cumin, coriander seed, and fennel seed or a combination of fresh ginger and licorice are very grounding and revitalizing.
One of the most effective ways to pacify vata is to establish a regular daily routine (dinacharya) that involves rising early to take advantage of the peace and stillness of the morning hours. Sticking to doing your daily activities — such as waking up, eating, bathing, exercising and sleeping — at the same time everyday is calming to the nervous system. It helps the mind stay peaceful and focused and does wonders to counteract the volatility of vata. Aim to get to bed early, before 10 p.m, in order to get optimal rest before dawn.
Meditation is a hugely beneficial self-care practice for the pacification of vata. Even if it’s just 10 minutes per day, taking the time to become still, quiet and self-aware will increase your sense of stability, balance and well-being. Keep warm and cozy, layering up to go outside and favoring thick, natural materials for clothing. Try to minimize your exposure to loud noises, drafts, and chill winds as much as possible. It is helpful to wear a hat when going out to keep the head warm and the ears protected from the wind, as vata is particularly aggravated by the rough chill of an autumn breeze. Practice abhyanga daily, or at least several times per week, using warm sesame oil. This practice is nourishing for the skin, combating the dryness of the season, and soothing for the nervous system, promoting a deeper sleep.
Transition to Winter
As autumn slowly shifts into winter, vata will become even more susceptible to aggravation and we must take extra care to support the body and mind through the colder and darker days. As we witness shifts in the environment, we should reflect the changes in our daily routine, always seeking balance and a smooth seasonal transition. The arrival of winter calls for more rest and a period of deep introspection. It is important to make space for the deepening of our spiritual practice during this time and an increase in self-care.