Staying Healthy this Fall: 4 Seasonal Tips from Ayurveda

(Originally published as a “Featured Today” Highlight, in the “Popular Lately” section and Top 10 Blogs of the Week on Elephant Journal)

One of the most inspiring things about the ancient science of Ayurveda to me is how it not only equips us with tools to transform disease, but also to actively promote real, abiding health.

Ayurveda is the sister science of Yoga. It is a full system of medicine, which is believed to have been revealed to Rishis (seers or sages) over 5,000 years ago in the ancient Indian civilization.

Ayurveda is still practiced all over India. These days, Ayurveda is in danger of becoming merely another prescription-writing medical practice in which more attention is increasingly given to treating disease than to preventing it. I am therefore so grateful to have been able to study the science of Ayurveda from a traditional Gurukula style of school, where the teachings of this ancient science have truly come to life in an amazing, experiential way.

One of the ways I have learned to really live by Ayurveda’s wisdom is by following its seasonal health protocols, called Ritucharya. “Ritu” means “season” in Sanskrit, and “charya” signifies “to follow.” Through following the specific seasonal regimens of Ritucharya, Ayurveda empowers us to live in greater harmony with the cycles of nature.

In Ayurveda, there are three fundamental constituents of the body, called doshas. These doshas are made up of the five great elements: ether, air, fire, water, and earth. Whereas many modern Ayurveda resources indicate that Vata dosha (made up of ether and air) is increased during the Autumn season, the ancient, traditional texts of Ayurveda, like Charaka Samhita and Ashtanga Hrdayam, inform us that it is actually the Pitta dosha (comprised of fire and water) that is dominant in the atmosphere at this time.

What does it mean for us to stay healthy in a practical, day-to-day way this fall? 

1. Avoid spicy foods.

Being primarily made up of the fire element, Pitta dosha causes our body to become more internally heated than at other times of the year. Have you ever noticed that your hyperacidity and/or heartburn is relatively calm for most of the year, but gets really bad right about now?

The Pitta dosha in our body has been building up throughout the heat of the summer months, and in Autumn, it has entered a state of excitation, which is why we are more prone to certain health challenges, like hyperacidity, hemorrhoids, heartburn, and other heat-related conditions during both the summertime and in fall.

Because of the Pitta dosha in the atmosphere, Ayurveda asks us to avoid, or at least really reduce, our intake of spicy foods. We may not feel the impact of doing so immediately, especially if we don’t have a lot of fire in our bodies to begin with, but in general, it would be wise to just say no to overly heating foods like green and red chilies, wasabi, and alcohol at this time of the year.

2. Absorb as much moonlight as you can.

Whereas Pitta dosha is connected with the sun (due to its qualities of heat and intensity), the moon is associated with a fundamental constituent of the body called Kapha dosha, which is comprised of the earth and water elements. Kapha dosha is naturally cool, calm, soothing, stable, grounded, and nurturing to the body at this time of the year. We, as a modern society, have lost touch with the natural elements of the sun, moon, and wind. Ayurveda, however, continues to urge us to return to nature and benefit from nature’s medicine.

Those of us who may be suffering from excess heat, whether physically, or mentally, from too much stress or having to meet many tight deadlines, can particularly benefit from the moon’s soothing, maternal medicine.

There is, in fact, a special holiday celebrated in India called Sharad Purnima, which is the full moon that typically falls in October. On this night, my teacher, Acharya Shunya, reveals how “it is believed in the Ayurveda tradition that exposure to the moon’s rays is very helpful in mitigating the adverse effects of excess Pitta dosha, including many kinds of digestive, blood, skin, lymph, and heat disorders, throughout the season.”

I have fond memories of getting together with my Ayurveda classmates to soak in the moonlight in years past, and how it felt like we were all in on some special secrets of nature. I remember how much of a difference it made one year in particular to absorb the moon’s special blessings as I was struggling with a heat-related condition; it actually began to go away shortly after Sharad Purnima.

Having grown up as a skeptical American-born Indian, I am certainly not one to simply believe in what people say – on the contrary, I always have to experience something for myself in order to believe it is true. And I have truly experienced the healing power of the moonlight.

3. Do not overheat yourself with excess exercise.

Excess exercise greatly aggravates the already-excited Pitta dosha during this time of the year, and hence, we are asked by Ayurveda to lessen the intensity and duration of our exercise. This is a great time of year to turn to more restorative Yoga classes, to practice cooling Pranayamas (breathing exercises) like Sheetali and Anuloma Viloma, to spend more time in meditation and reflection, and take calming, romantic walks under the moonlight. All of this will benefit both our body and mind greatly during this time of the year.

Though Pitta dosha is increased, the air is still cool in the fall, so it is important to keep yourself warm with a shawl or light jacket when going out for evening walks.

4. Embrace coconut oil.

For those of you who have a healthy and strong enough digestive system, try cooking with coconut oil to benefit from its nourishing and grounding qualities this Autumn. Coconut oil can also be warmed up slightly and applied to the skin in the form of Abhyanga (Ayurvedic self oil massage), which will have a strengthening effect on the muscles and help to calm the mind.

Try following Ayurveda’s seasonal wisdom this fall to optimally benefit from the gifts of the season, while actively preventing the occurrence of Pitta-related diseases and imbalances.

Wishing everyone a very happy fall!

~

References:

1. Lochan, Kanjiv. Ashtanga Hrdayam. New Delhi: Chaukhambha Publications, 2011.

2. Sharma, Priyant. Charaka Samhita Sutrasthana. Varanasi: Chaukhambha Oriental, 2003.

 

Advertisements

5 Comments

  1. Nikhil Jain says:

    Hi Ripa,

    Great article. And quite different advise from what I have read elsewhere, especially the part about the pre-existing accumulation of Pitta during winter. I am willing to give this a try and see for myself. 🙂

    That said, I do feel differently about some of the points. The ayurvedic texts have been written according to the 4 seasons of the Indian sub-continent. Here in California, the summer is not all that hot, there is no monsoon season and it rains during winter months. Needless to say the eating habits, the type of work and how it engages the mind in today’s world is poles apart. For one, I feel that a good number of people in the bay area have persistently aggravated Vata due to excessive ‘brain-work’ … I feel the effect of that is so huge that it might shift the effects of climate and food.

    Therefore, is it wise to apply the “suggestions” from the classical Ayurvedic texts as is. Wouldn’t it be better to understand the root principles, and apply them according to the conditions prevalent here?

    thanks
    Nikhil

  2. Nikhil,

    Thanks for your intelligent comments.

    Yes, you’re correct that the climate is different here in California than how it was in India where the Ayurvedic texts were written. There are actually six seasons described in the Ayurvedic texts. When we teach about Ritucharya (Ayurveda’s seasonal guidance), we always factor in the differences in climate. This was written for a general audience that wasn’t location-specific, so I wasn’t able to go into more detail, but one does definitely always want to account for the particulars of the atmosphere they are in, and the Ritucharya guidance would actually be opposite for folks living in Australia, for ex, where they have opposite summer and winter seasons.

    For California, the basic dosha accumulation and excitation patterns do remain the same as the standards that Ayurvedic texts describe…while there may not be as much heat in the SF area in particular during summer, there is definitely more dryness in the atmosphere, which increases and then excites vata. Pitta starts accumulating when there is more oiliness in the atmosphere, from mid-July thru mid-Sept, and then gets excited during the fall (not winter) season, from mid-Sept thru mid-Nov.

    When we are actually working with clients in Ayurveda, we always look at all the root causative factors (called hetus) present in a person’s life that are contributing to disease formation, including season, the particulars of climate, food, lifestyle, excess thinking, stress, work habits, etc. etc.. That is part of the diagnosis process and an essential aspect of the application of this science.

    When we’re just discussing the natural patterns the doshas move in during the course of the year, however (such as in the limited scope of this article), we just look at what is going on in nature.

    A person working in the Bay Area with persistently aggravated vata due to excess work and analysis will need to factor in their preexisting vata imbalances when applying fall seasonal guidance to calm the natural buildup of pitta. That is why understanding and application of the science of Ayurveda is, indeed, not as simple as just following the seasonal guidance that the texts outline, which are meant as general support for overall healthy people. That is why it is also wise to seek out the support of an Ayurveda practitioner when seeking to start applying Ayurveda, so that you can learn to do so in the best possible way for you, which will be according to the unique needs of your own set of hetus.

    Hope this answered your questions.

    If you are looking to apply Ayurveda and would like some customized guidance and support, I would be happy to help you.

    Warmly,
    Ananta

  3. polly says:

    hi anantha i really like the article i agree with it i read the seasonal regimen from charak samhita and also from the modern ayurvedic books which say pitta aggrivation occurs in summer and vata in autumn . but i live in canada nova scotia here summer is mild fall is very windy and wet and even the winters are wet .. so ayurveda texts suggest during rainy season digestion gets weak and water became amla paki so does that mean rain in fall and winter also makes digestion weak and one should eat the food which is sour ,unctous , salty food and light food if it is applicable the whole winter regimen in nova scotia will be changed. i hope i did’nt ask so many question . and i appreciate your reply
    thanks
    polly

    • Dear Polly,

      Thanks for writing in. The winter seasonal regimen (which your question inspires me to write an article about soon) generally recommends sour, unctuous, and salty food as it is.

      The winter regimen also involves eating foods that are heavier and sweet. Here in Northern California where I live, it also rains a lot and yet, I still find this regimen to work quite well as my digestion is still higher during the winter than the summer and fall. If your digestion is weakened during the winter due to the rain, then lighter will be preferable to heavier foods and you will want to have less of the sweet taste.

      Hope this helps,
      Ananta

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: