It won’t be long until yards are covered in a red and orange leaves, crunching under our feet, reminding us of the sudden drop in temperatures and the ubiquitous dryness that will soon begin to draw from your body- every ounce of moisture. While this colorful transition in nature turns our long drives along the countryside into a rich visual treat, in some areas the onset of the fall is also a grim reminder of the impending long, dark, and dry winter.
In nature, everything affects everything else (remember the butterfly effect?) as seasons change. All that we need to do is prepare ourselves for these transitions so that we are aligned in favor of them instead of spending our energy and health in fighting against them and illnesses brought upon our bodies and minds by them. This is where Ayurveda—as a system of wellness wisdom and health—can help us cruise along the myriad seasonal makeovers while retaining our health and happiness.
Ramp up your defenses against viral infections, inflammations, skin allergies and flu by following this simple guide on managing the vata season with Ayurveda.
What happens to our bodies during fall?
The first onslaught of fall is in the form of heightened dryness in nature and our bodies. This dryness signals the onset of vata season. The typical features of vata dosha (represents air and ether element) tend to be dry, cold, light, mobile, rough, and there is clarity. These are the qualities we find more of in nature as fall sets in, with leaves shedding, winds getting sharper, the air is dry and rough, temperatures plummet, and we tend to feel more dehydrated and cold. In Ayurveda, there is this principle that says like increases like. And that is the reason why vata properties tend to get aggravated during the fall months. This shows up as signs such as
- Skin becoming dry and rough
- Dry mucus and nasal passages
- Chapped lips
- Increased urination at night
- Depleted electrolyte levels in the body
- Dryness-related problems may surface such as insomnia; constipation; bloating and gas; scatterbrain; and anxiety
- Restlessness, hyperactivity and forgetfulness (as sluggishness of kapha dosha wears off and vata is heightened)
- Sensitivity to cold
- Prone to cold and flu
- Toxin buildup due to aggravated vata
- Inflammations and irritation.
The Fall Routine
Once we have diagnosed the problems that vata imbalance can lead to, during fall, the next step is to know about the changes we need to make in our daily routine to adjust for the vata afflictions that we know we become prone to. These measures will improve our immune defense and prep up our body and mind to fight the advent of viral infections, cough, and flu in the colder months to come.
This knowledge is also important because there might be lifestyle practices that may be good to follow in general, but due to the nature of the vata season continuing them may cause vata to vitiate further. So we will need to pause or tweak these practices.
Ayurveda recommends a seasonal routine or ritucharya that includes practices, diet, and exercises that help counter the qualities of the aggravated dosha in nature. So for example, to counter the qualities of dryness, cold, wind, lightness, and roughness, we need to have a routine that is grounding, warm, deeply nourishing, and stable. In terms of ingredients in food, they can be oily, sweet, heavy, salty and spiced moderately.
This fall transition is also the time when pitta is accumulated in the body from the closing summer. So the routine you adopt, particularly the diet, should initially be pitta pacifying and as the temperatures fall further, can be adapted for countering vata excesses. Fall is the time to load up on healthy fats, natural oils for external oleation and internal consumption, heavier and sweeter fruits, vegetables, soaked dry fruits, pears, peaches, sweet lime and root squashes.
Get Enough Sleep
This is the time to listen to nature and be with it. Just as nature begins to go into resting, our bodies will tend to require more sleep to have the same amount of energy the following day. So give your body sufficient sleep. This may require you to hit the sack by 10:00 pm. An important step to tame the crazed vata dosha is sticking to a routine. A disturbed sleep cycle, higher levels of stress, overworked and imbalanced lifestyle can be easy ways in which the vata dosha gets aggravated, and potentially leads to vata-related illnesses. A study done at Carnegie Mellon back in 2009 showed that people who slept fewer than seven hours a night were more prone to getting sick. Unless you meditate regularly, you will need to get in at least eight hours of sleep in these months. And more is not as bad, since your body demands it.
To control vata dosha, it also helps to avoid caffeine, loud jarring music, driving fast, discussions that excite, and long-distance air travel.
Body Oil Massages (Abhyanga)
Daily abhyanga will counter the dryness in the bones, blood, and muscles caused by vata imbalance. Use vata-pacifying oils that are soothing and sweet such as rosewood, sandalwood, jasmine, ylang-ylang, sesame, almond, lemon, or orange. This daily abhyanga is a powerful practice in self-love. It provides the much-needed warmth and stability to the body and mind, apart from helping you get rid of the vata-related toxic built-up, on a regular basis. It also promotes longevity and well-being as it gracefully balances all three doshas.
Yoga for Fall
This is the time to practice gentle yoga poses as aggressive postures and exercises can further increase vata imbalances. The asanas you practice should not aggravate the air element. Avoid postures that require a lot of jumping or rapid movement of the body. Practice calming and grounding pranayamas or breathing techniques like ujjai or victory breath and alternate nostril breathing, to balance Vata.
Here’s a yoga sequence that can help ground vata dosha:
Rest and Meditation
Fall is the time for nature to rest. It is the time it starts going into silence, a way for it to turn inwards from the more active months of external activity. If we can align ourselves to this silence in nature, we can emerge out of it with more peace, clarity, and a sense of renewal. This is also a great time for a silence retreat to rejuvenate your body, mind, and spirit. All of this will take care of the vata imbalances too.
Even in your daily mind-body practices, you can include sufficient rest in between poses to get the full benefit of the asanas. Savasana at the end of the sequence is a must, for the muscles to relax completely. This makes the practice more enjoyable. Yogasanas and breathing are great ways to prepare your body for a long deep meditation. You can practice your mantra-based meditation after the yoga and pranayama or just plug into a guided meditation of your choice.
You can also use the time in the evenings to walk in nature, enjoy sky-gazing or moon gazing, or spend weekends in the midst of nature, connecting with it and attuning yourself to its spacious depth, which can be profoundly calming and grounding for the vata.
Diet for Fall
The fall is the ideal time to fill your tote bags with peaches, tomatoes, squashes, and grapes. Peaches are light, easy to digest and support the elimination of waste, and high on fiber; tomatoes are a juicy counter to the dryness of fall and soften the stools-so a delight for those prone to constipation in the fall months; squashes are light on the stomach and hydrating for the body against the excessive dryness.
The basic principle to follow for the right fall diet is that the foods and liquids we consume in these months should be warm, moist, and grounding to counter the cool, dry, rough, and airy qualities of vata. And this might make you happy—fall is a good time to engage in some sweets, butter, and heavier carbs. Potatoes, baked, cooked, steamed, salted, can now be part of your meal menu, without guilt. You can have bananas, avocados, baked apples in the form of pies and sauces. You can also try and rustle up a pumpkin or apple butter if you like!
Try and have your veggies steamed instead of raw, as raw vegetables can increase bloating and gas. Sweet potatoes, yams, turnips, oats, rice, and wheat are good options for when there is dryness in the atmosphere.
You can use clarified butter generously for cooking in these colder months. Ghee or clarified butter has a higher smoking point, so heating it to a higher temperature does not take away its nourishing properties. The oily, nourishing, and warming quality of clarified butter is a good counter to high vata imbalance. Ghee can be used for sautéing veggies and spices or to add about a fourth of a teaspoon to soups.
Stay away from drying foods and vegetables such as cold foods, frozen veggies, cold cereals, crackers, sago, dry oats, artichoke, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, raw cauliflower and cabbage, mushrooms, kohlrabi, raw onions, raw tomatoes, winter squash, among others.
Food should be served cooked, hot or warm. Warm soups, baked or cooked fruits, hot cereals, and puddings, nut milk are all good to have during fall months and can be very comforting.
Have foods that are salty, sweet and sour, to reduce vata. And avoid foods that have bitter, pungent or astringent tastes. For snacking, for example, you can have salted pumpkin or chia seeds, or nut milk.
Nuts greatly pacify vata. You can have soaked nuts, such as almonds, pecan, and hazelnuts. Other nuts such as macadamia nuts, coconut, Brazil nuts, pine nuts, cashew, pistachios are equally good for vata-balanced snacking.
Beta-carotene-rich-carrots, leafy greens, zucchini, pumpkin, okra, leeks, bottle gourd, and root vegetables in your diet can also help manage the air element well when you cook them.
Cooked grains in the form of rice, wheat, oats, seitan are also good at this time. Among rice, basmati is a variety that is best for balancing vata. Boil it, add some salt and ghee and you can have it with cooked mung beans and vegetables for a filling, sumptuous meal. Lentils and beans should be cooked until you find they are tender enough.
Spices are warming, vata-pacifying, and ideal for digestion. You can pick in small quantities from a range of spices such as turmeric, cumin, black pepper, fresh ginger, bay leaf, cloves, coriander, cinnamon, dill, garlic, marjoram, mint, nutmeg, and saffron.
Condiments and foods such as lime pickle, scallions, mustard, miso broths, vegetable bullions, kelp, sweet chutney are favored for vata. Fruit juices like apple juice, berry juices, apricot, apple cider, papaya juice, peach nectar are good too.
Among herbal teas, ginger, bancha, fennel, chamomile, fenugreek, Hawthorne, juniper berry, lemongrass, can be very calming and ground you in the most high-vata days. They also rev up a sluggish digestive system.
Herbs for Fall
The herbs you pick for the fall months need to be soothing, calming, nourishing, hydrating, and at the same time should be able to counter the dry heat that is still a feature of the August weather. Herbs like Ashwagandha, Shatavari, and Vidari have sweet, warm, and de-stressing qualities to them. Licorice and gooseberries can be help moisten the digestive tract and tissues in the body.
Teas made using Triphala, chamomile, haritaki, marshmallow root, ginger root, licorice and peppermint can have the dual benefit of regulating vata and improving digestion, especially for people who tend to have constipation and bloating issues during the Vata months.
Ashwagandha root is an incredibly calming rejuvenative (Rasayana) herb. It is a popular adaptogenic herb that helps reduce stress in life. Stress and especially chronic stress can quickly aggravate vata dosha. The impact can be worse particularly in vata months. So you need practices and foods that help you keep a check on your stress levels on a daily basis.
Triphala is a polyherbal formulation in Ayurveda that powerfully combines three superfruits—Indian gooseberry, beleric and cheburic myrobalan, known for its myriad benefits such as balancing the three doshas, laxative action, supporting appetite, reducing hyperacidity, a rich source of antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, reduces blood sugar, antibacterial and supports healthy growth of gut microbiome.
A cup of ginger tea on an August morning when there is a slight nip in the air is the perfect start to a day. It is warming; reduces the restless hyperactivity inflicted by vata imbalance; soothing for a sluggish digestive system that may have been the result of a seasonal hangover as we transition to a vata season from a pitta-heavy summer.
It is very important to drink sufficient water all through the day, preferably lukewarm water. This will counter the cold and dry quality of air in the vata season. You can also keep sipping on herbal teas and juices to keep up the hydration in the body that dries out far quickly with the onset of fall. This also helps keep the mucus membranes sufficiently moist, clears out the nasal passages and is a naturally detoxifying practice. Add some lemon juice and salt to your bottle of water and sip it frequently, to keep excess vata under control.
Overall, to handle vata dosha, do the opposite of what it stands for, to keep it from aggravating. With its dry, cold, and rough qualities staring at you, own practices, and a lifestyle that is warming, compassionate, generous, reflective, self-paced, full of self-love; have a diet that is unctuous, sweet, salty, and juicy; read, meditate, connect with nature, serve-do things that support your inward journey.
We hope this guide helps you not just live but thrive in the fall and coming winter, as nature retreats into its hiding place, with only the empty branches, empty streets, dry air, and biting wind to show for it.