We can think of the environment as your extended body. The air outside becomes your breath as the temperature and moisture outside affects the internal body. The prominent qualities that we see outside in nature are also expressed through you.
In Ayurveda, the qualities of nature are described by the Five Elements—Space, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. These elements are a way of describing patterns that we see in nature including the seasons of the year, and gives us insight into why we may feel differently or find that adjustments to our nutrition, movement, and self-care practices depending on the season allow us to stay balanced throughout the year. When you are aware of the qualities that are dominant during different seasons, you can make choices that support and nourish you.
When these qualities of nature form certain combinations, they are described as doshas and represent the activation of these natural qualities within our physiology. These doshas are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Each of these doshas represent different combinations of the five elements so have their own unique qualities.
Let’s take a closer look at these doshas and the qualities they represent:
- The combination of Space and Air represent Vata with associated qualities of dryness, coldness, and lightness. Vata also represents movement.
- The combination of Fire and Water is Pitta with the qualities of heat and moisture. Pitta facilitates digestion and metabolism.
- The combination of Water and Earth describe Kapha with the qualities of heavy, solid, and moist. Kapha creates structure and cohesion.
Exploring the Seasons from a Doshic Perspective
These doshas and their qualities cycle with the seasons and can be used to describe what is happening in the environment:
- Fall into early winter is Vata time when space and air increase and things cool down and it gets dry and windy.
- Late winter into early spring is Kapha season where we feel the qualities of water and earth in the environment as snow melts and rain begins.
- Late spring through summer is Pitta time when the heat is rising, the qualities of fire and water elements are dominant, and plants are transforming the sun’s energy.
During any seasonal transitions certain doshas, and their qualities, accumulate and it’s common to experience imbalances.
For example, when a cold, dry wind blows, the Vata inside of you accumulates; hot weather increases Pitta, more so when it’s humid; and cold, wet weather or snow causes Kapha to accumulate.
During the fall season, our body cools down as the weather gets cooler. The days are becoming shorter and the air is drier. As the weather transitions, it can be a bit irregular and unpredictable so we can feel a little irregular as well. Our digestion and sleep cycles can get disrupted. Our skin can get dry and we can have cold hands and feet. We can also feel a little anxious or restless.
Ayurveda recognizes these tendencies and offers practices to stay grounded and balanced. The key to balance is to recognize these changes and bring in opposite qualities to stay balanced.
One of the main principles in Ayurveda is that “like increases like” and therefore opposites are healing. So we want to balance excess Vata energy that accumulates in this season by inviting in qualities such as heavy, warm, moist, and oily.
Keep the Fires Burning
Ayurveda recognizes the tendency for the digestion to become irregular during this transition to fall. In order to stay balanced, there are things we can do to keep our agni, or digestive fire, burning brightly:
- Establish a regular meditation practice – by reducing the stress response in the body, the digestive system can work optimally
- Drink warm water in the morning and throughout the day – by taking in warm drinks, and balancing the coldness in the air, we feel grounded and nourished. This also keeps the body hydrated.
- Sip some ginger tea before meals – the ginger helps to stimulate the digestive process and provides healthy anti-inflammatories.
- Drink CCF tea – this Ayurvedic tea is a combination of whole cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds that are steeped in hot water for 10 minutes. After straining the seeds, this tea can be sipped between meals to keep agni supported.
- Do some deep breathing throughout the day – by taking a few minutes at the beginning, middle, and end of the day to do some slow, deep breathing, we support the ‘rest-and-digest’ (parasympathetic) branch of the nervous system to optimize digestion.
Eating for Fall Weather
During Vata season, it is best to eat warm, cooked foods that are comforting, nourishing, and easy to digest. Also, look to nature and eat seasonal fruits and vegetables that are grown locally. Here are some tips for using food to balance during the fall season:
- Be sure to eat three times daily and eat your largest meal between 11:00-1:00, when your agni is naturally the strongest.
- Eat root vegetables, such as beets, turnips, sweet potatoes, and carrots, as well as squashes that are in season. Use them to make delicious soups and stews to stay warm on the inside.
- Try baking or stewing fruits with sweet spices like cinnamon or cardamom. The warm, moist fruits are comforting and easier to digest and are delicious on top of a grounding bowl of oatmeal.
- Roast, sauté or steam seasonal veggies with healthy oils, and add warming spices such as black pepper, ginger, cumin, or cloves. Try this on top of a bowl of rice or quinoa.
- Eat slowly and mindfully, taking in your food through all the senses.
- Eat to your hunger level – listen to the signals from your body to determine how hungry you are. This can take some practice if you are not used to it, but will help you learn to eat the appropriate amount, which can change from season to season.
A Fall Daily Routine
One of the best things to stay balanced during Vata season is to establish a regular daily routine. In Ayurveda, this is known as Dinacharya and is best when aligned with your natural biological rhythms. Here is an excellent daily routine for fall:
- Start your day with some gentle stretching or yoga, and then meditate.
- Drink a cup of warm water with ginger and lemon in the morning to start the digestive fire.
- Eat a warm, nourishing breakfast of cooked grains with cooked fruit and sweet, warming spices.
- Sip on warm water or teas throughout the day.
- Turn off electronics and spend some time in contemplation or journaling.
- Bundle up and take a short mindful walk in nature. Notice the sounds around you, the changing colors, and the fall aromas.
- Eat a healthy lunch with cooked seasonal root vegetables and a comforting vegetable stew for dinner to settle down in the evening.
- Listen to some peaceful, mellow music in the evening to wind down.
- Try a warm bath before bed if you are having trouble sleeping.
- Do a warm oil massage daily to nourish, moisturize and hydrate the tissues. You can do this as part of a bedtime routine to calm the system for a night of restorative sleep.
- Use calming and grounding aromatherapy before bed, such as sage, cedar, geranium, or lavender.
- Go to bed by 10:00 for the most restorative sleep.
By tuning into the qualities of the natural environment around us, we gain a deeper understanding of the qualities that reside within us as well. When we use Ayurveda to understand the seasonal cycles and the qualities that are dominant with each season, we can bring in simple yet powerful practices that keep us balanced and thriving all year.
Stay grounded this autumn with Ayurvedic practices that support a healthy mind, body, and spirit in Fall Remedy, a four-part program with Dr. Sheila Patel, available now in the Chopra App under For You.