September brings us the change of season – summer turning to autumn. Evenings become chillier; winds rustle the drying leaves and bring them floating to earth. A bounteous harvest fills the kitchen with rich, earthy smells of fresh fruits and veggies.
The air element predominates during this time of year. Light, dry and cool qualities of vata prevail. These qualities in nature tend to increase vata dosha in the body-mind complex and we may notice increased skin dryness, insomnia, and dry constipation. Vata dosha is also associated with the nervous system (including our thoughts and emotions). So autumn is the time to care for our internal air, providing grounded and stable factors in our life to keep vata from spaciness and excessive movement.
The recommendations below are relevant for everyone this time of year, but especially so for those who have a vata dosha predominance in their make-up. If you are vata, vata-pitta, or vata-kapha predominant by nature, you’ll feel the seasonal effects of fall even more keenly than others.
Our vata nature benefits from a regular daily routine, where we begin with cleansing and spiritual practices first thing in the morning. Include regular mild-medium exercise (such as yoga, swimming, or fast walking) in each day’s schedule. Eat at regular mealtimes, preferably every 3-4 hours. Daily elimination is important to keep vata balanced; a little additional oil in the diet can assist that process. Stay warm, especially in dry, cold, windy weather. Be sure to get a full night’s sleep (8-9 hours per night), aiming to be in bed by 10 pm. Avoid stimulating beverages and conversations, especially just before bed.
You may need a larger quantity of food than you ate in summer, but be sure to eat only as much as you can digest well. Focus on warm, oily, cooked, soupy foods, like gingery vegetable soup with olive oil. Favor grounding, nourishing foods (root vegetables and grains) that incorporate the sweet, sour, salty tastes. Reduce light, dry, cold foods and the pungent, bitter, astringent tastes. Reduce dry (crackers and rice cakes) and raw foods; use a little more oil in your diet.
Dairy products help reduce vata. Warm your milk (whether dairy, bean, seed or nut milk) before drinking. Favor heavier fruits like avocadoes and bananas. Reduce all beans, except for mung and tofu.
Herbs & spices
Helpful digestive spices include ginger, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, cloves, mustard seeds, and black pepper. Ayurvedic herbs for vata include turmeric, hingwastok, triphala, ashwagandha, brahmi, haritaki, and guggulu.
The fall season is an especially good time to practice self-massage with sesame oil. Take 2 tablespoons of warm sesame oil in a small bowl, and massage it into your skin (particularly the joints of arms and legs) before your morning shower or bath. Medicated oil (nasya) in nostrils and ears, oil basti (enema), warm epsom salt baths are also suggested.
Yoga practices to maintain our vata balance in autumn include nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breath) and ujjayi (victorious breath). Be sure to include them in your morning practice. A focus on balancing poses such tree pose, gomukasana and squats is helpful for vata, as are forward bends (standing or seated). Shavasana and other restorative poses are also essential for stabilizing our vata nature at the change of season.
Maintaining our own healthy balance using these basic techniques of Ayurveda and yoga is a birthright that’s been long denied by our modern western medical system. Bringing these simple suggestions into our life can become part of our 24/7 spiritual practice that honors the divine nature dwelling within each of us. It requires intention, attention, and remembrance, as well as desire for a long and healthy life. As we walk this path of yoga and Ayurveda, we manifest these positive qualities for ourselves and for others. May all beings walk the path of peace.
Pratibha Queen is a yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner, who attends Salt Spring Center of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. Feel free to email with any questions that arise as you engage in health practices to support your yoga practice: pratibha.que[at]gmail[dot]com.
Fall leaves photo by Karen Roe