You may love a bowl of raw salad, and for very good reasons. It is nutritious and comes loaded with minerals and vitamins, and you feel light after having it. But here’s the surprise: According to Ayurveda, the same nutritious salad can actually vitiate the vata dosha (air element) further if you have it in the seasons when vata remains afflicted, which can lead to vata problems like excessive dryness, roughness, flatulence, or irritated GI among other things.

Ayurveda teaches us something beautiful, something that Western medicine is yet to acknowledge in its entirety—that we do not exist in isolation from the natural world, but as an integral part of it, relying on it for our health and well-being. Our bodies are influenced by everything around us and in turn influence the way we relate to nature, the environment where we live, everything we touch, see, eat, or feel. Similarly, our body also gets affected by the various seasons and the changes occurring in them.

Today most of us live lives in total misalignment with nature. Several centuries ago, before the advent of modern technology, the ancient races knew this connection with nature inside-out and lived in accordance with it. But today, while Western medicine has made tremendous progress in increasing longevity, achieved remarkable accuracy in surgical sciences, and deals with symptoms with great efficiency, we have lost the natural and instinctive knowledge of listening to our bodies and the ways nature influences them with seasonal changes. With industrialization and mechanized agriculture, seasonal foods are available on the shelf year-round. We are spending more and more time indoors. Seasons themselves seem to be losing their character, due to climate change.

Going by Ayurveda, the year is divided into two periods (kaal), each with multiple seasons:

  1. Uttarayana, the cold months. The seasons of autumn/fall,  late autumn/pre-winter, deep winter.
  2. Dakshinayana, the warm months. The seasons of spring and summer.

Left to its own rhythm, the body naturally adapts itself to the seasonal changes to remain healthy, fit, and free of illnesses, and there is an entire section of knowledge dedicated to this in the form of ritucharya in Ayurveda. More significantly, the changes in the seasons influence the three doshas that constitute one’s Prakriti. A simple principle that Ayurveda operates on is this—if you follow a seasonal routine that is aligned with your Prakriti, and keep tweaking it ever so slightly with each seasonal switch, you are bound to stay healthy, live longer, and have more strength.

Impact of Seasons on Doshas

There are mainly three changes that occur in our dosha constitutions with changing seasons,

  1. Caya or natural accumulation. The accumulation of imbalanced doshas in their main locations, such as the vata dosha in the intestines.
  2. Prakopa or aggravation. Accumulation of doshas in other locations in the body, such as vata dosha in the lower back region.
  3. Praśama or pacification. When doshas come back to a state of balance after derangement.

The doshas occur in the following order in respective seasons.

Dosha
Chaya
season for accumulation of the dosha
Prakopa
season for aggravation
Prasama
season when dosha gets pacified
vatasummerrainsautumn
pittarainsautumnearly winter
kaphawinterspringsummer

Here’s an example of how you should read this table:

Vata dosha accumulates in the intestines during Grishma or summer and accumulates in the lower back region during the rainy or wet months and it is finally pacified in the autumn.

Why is it important to understand the relationship between dosha and seasons?

In people who are healthy, have good immunity, and live by the rules mandated by each season, these stages of accumulation, aggravation, and pacification occur naturally in them before the doshas settle down. But for those with poor immunity, or those who do not know or follow the seasonal regimen, the doshas do not settle and this cycle is wrecked. In fact, doshas may accumulate further and get vitiated even in the months when they should be returning to their balanced states, risking health and potentially manifesting in the form of illnesses and discomfort.

Food, Seasons, and Doshas

Imagine digging into frozen yogurt on a wintery January morning, or having a hot bowl of bean soup on a sweltering summer day. They don’t really go together, right? That is because different types of food influence your body differently based on the seasons or ritu in the year. There are certain cereals, fruits, herbs, and drinks that should be had during specific times of the year. When we act against these practices codified in classical Ayurvedic sciences or do not listen to our bodies, even ‘healthy eating’ can do us harm, compromise your immunity, lead to weight gain, affect your skin and hair, or even disrupt sleep.

Ritucharya: Seasonal Regimen

Ayurveda lays down an elaborate set of seasonal guidelines known as Ritucharya. ‘Ritu’ translates to ‘season’, and ‘charya’ is the ideal routine. Keeping in mind the changes that occur in physical nature in every season, these guidelines are prescriptions for the appropriate diet and lifestyle including the recommended Ayurvedic detoxes, treatments that promote vitality, good health and bring a balance in the body-mind complex, so we can lead our healthiest, happiest and most productive lives.

Autumn/Fall (mid-September to mid-November)

There is a slight nip in the air. You know it is time to start layering up. You know Sharath ritu or the orange-tinted autumn is at your doorstep. The season that runs from mid-September to mid-November is warm for the last time in the year before it starts getting chilly. Sharath Ritu begins in the middle of September and lasts until mid-November. During this time you have moderate energy and vitality levels; vitiated vata comes back to a state of balance and pitta dosha enters the state of aggravation, and the movement of agni in the body gains strength. The dominant taste or rasa is salty or lavana.

During this time when pitta is aggravated in nature, there may be a tendency for the development of ulcers, diarrhea, indigestion or acidity. Since pitta combines water and fire, you see an increase in the qualities of these two elements that result in sluggish digestion, more bloating and less appetite.

Diet for the Season

Autumn is also the time you prepare your digestive system for the harshness of the coming winter months. So, it helps to have foods that are sweet or sharp, astringent, light, or easy to process and cold; avoid fatty or salty foods. The general rule is to have foods that support the pacification of doshas during the particular seasons. So during autumn, have foods that calm pitta like wheat, jaggery, dry meat, honey, tomatoes, plum, root vegetables, clarified butter, pineapples, among other fresh veggies.

Ayurveda Treatments for the Season

Virechana. This is a process of controlled purging that involves eliminating toxins through the anal passage. This is a treatment that comes highly recommended for dousing excess pitta dosha that tends to be vitiated in this season. Studies have shown that virechana helps reduce the intensity of the illnesses caused by dosha imbalances in this season.

Late Autumn-Early Winter 

The time between mid-November and mid-January is what Ayurveda describes as hemanta ritu, or the late autumn. Agni is at its strongest, so you are hungry often and may end up eating more frequently. This is the time when kapha (earth and water) dominates, aggravates along with vata dosha. Vitiated pitta (fire and water) from the previous season is pacified. The rasa that dominates in this season is madhura or sweet.

Diet for the Season

In this season one can go for unctuous, sour, salty or sweet foods, and keep fueling the digestive fire by having warming foods. You can also have gooseberry juices on an empty stomach. You can also have sesame; fermented foods like sauerkraut kimchi and; and dairy products including clarified butter, milk and other edible oils this season.

The food you eat should be easy to digest and in a moderate amount. Ideally, have warm water throughout the season. Avoid cold, dry, and light foods. You can have carrots, cabbage, pumpkin, potatoes, onions, apples, dairy, dates, and beets.

Ayurveda Treatment for the Season

Virechana, Swedana, and Abhyanga are a must in these cold-to-the-bone seasons. You can also take sunbaths during this time if there is enough sunlight available to you. Do not sleep in the afternoons in this season.

Late Winter

Sisira is the deep winter that runs from mid-January to mid-March, and up until April and May in some regions. It is wet, cold, and slow.  Kapha increases during this time, so you need to make more efforts to fire up the agni. While this is a pleasant time for people with kapha prakruti, this may not be such a good time for vata people. This time of the year, the moisture from your skin is driven out by the cold windy clime and body heat is high.

Diet for the Season

Here you can continue with the diet from the previous season, which has more of sweet, salty, fatty, and sour or fermented foods. Have warm spices too. Stay away from cold and astringent foods.. You can have plenty of dairy, root vegetables, beans, wheat, rice, berries and sweet fruits.

Ayurvedic Treatments for the Season

Abhyanga that involves warm oil massage will help your skin stay hydrated and moist during the winter months; Swedana will help you stay warm and active in winter when the body tends to go into lethargy; and Kizhichil or potli massage, an ancient massage therapy that affects our body, mind and spirit. It relaxes the muscles, relieves stress from the shoulder, neck and back region. This massage technique uses an herbal bolus made of muslin, containing herbs and sometimes milk, which is warmed up before being massaged onto the body, letting the healing effect of the herbs seep into the muscle tissues and relax you totally. This stimulates blood circulation, manages inflammation and provides deep physical relief from pain.

Spring

Spring is one of the most pleasant times of the year when the tiny buds are beginning to sprout by the boulevards after a long and tedious winter. Now, the days promise to be longer and you get to enjoy more sunlight. Exposure to the sun also releases happy hormones like serotonin that explains the change of moods. Your strength and vitality remain moderate; kapha dosha remains vitiated, though the accumulation that happened in the previous season stands reduced; and digestive Agni is weak. This is also considered to be one of the best times to detoxify your system.

Diet for the Season

Since agni is weak, the diet should consist of easy-to-digest foods. Have foods that are bitter, astringent and pungent which will help pacify kapha dosha. You can have garlic, ginger, wheat, barley, rice, lentil, onion, neem leaves, spices like coriander, turmeric and water with honey. But avoid foods that are heavy to digest; salty, sweet or sour; dairy; deep-fried or cold foods.

Ayurvedic Treatments for the Season

Go for Nasya therapy. Nasya helps you clear your respiratory system, remove excess mucus and deal with the repercussions of seasonal allergies that tend to worsen this time of the year. You can also apply Udvartana or ubtan, made using several herbs including sandalwood powder, saffron, wheat flour, among other things. This helps manage the Kapha dosha. Avoid sleeping during the day in this season. You can also practice yogasanas that help with kapha reduction like forward bending, camel pose, and triangle pose.

Summer

This is the season for the scorching sun and the beach. At this time, fire and air elements are active in nature that increases both pitta and vata. The digestive agni is at its lowest and so is your vitality. Vata dosha accumulates and kapha is pacified during this time of the year.

Diet for the Season

Have more of sweet, unctuous, light, and cold food loaded with minerals. This is a good time to get in your share of fresh fruit juices, herbal drinks loaded, fruit salads loaded with antioxidants, butter milk, vegetables like celery, asparagus, cucumber, other leafy greens and soups. You can also have curd with pepper at this time.

Ayurveda Treatment for the Season

This is a good time for Abhyanga for its hydrating and deeply relaxing benefits and Shirodhara, where a steady stream of oil is poured on the forehead, instantly balancing and stabilizing the mind. This reduces anxiety, purifies the mind, reduces migraines and headaches and increases your awareness.

Apply sandalwood paste on your face and skin to calm the aggressive pitta dosha. Enjoy moon bathing in this season too. Ayurveda recommends you avoid working yourself to exhaustion in the summer. Activity can be in moderation during summer since the heat in the atmosphere saps your energy anyway.

The bottom line? The key to holistic health lies in listening to what nature has to say with each season and living it through what we consume, experience, and express in our life.

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