As autumn approaches it brings a unique energy to the pace of life – kids are back to school, the holiday season builds, the to do list tends to grow bigger than ever. This “season of change” ushers in a quality of movement, which along with colder temperatures and a drier climate, makes it notorious for taking a hit on our immune systems.
Yet autumn doesn’t have to be a one track season to imbalance if we are equipped with seasonal practices to strengthen our system.
Ritucharya: the Ayurvedic way of aligning and balancing with nature
The primary goal of Ayurveda is to preserve health and prevent disease by aligning ourselves with nature. We call seasonal practices or regimens, Ritucharya. While you cannot control the change in seasons or the unique mind-body constitution you were born with, you can adjust your daily choices to help yourself adapt to weather patterns. You change your wardrobe for the weather, right? It’s the same principle with Ritucharya, but with all aspects of your lifestyle.
Detecting the true elements of autumn and how they uniquely affect you
The calendar does not dictate the seasons according to Ayurveda; Nature does, of course. From an Ayurvedic perspective, autumn is marked by seasonal qualities such as:
The summer’s qualities of Pitta (sharpness, heat, lightness) continue to linger into the fall calendar season, so one of the first key steps to balancing during autumn is checking in with the weather each day and adjusting accordingly.
Once you are certain fall weather is upon you, you can make simple adjustments to your diet and daily routines to counter the effect fall’s qualities in your system. Depending on your unique constitution, you may require more or less countering. For example, if you already have a high level dryness such as dry skin, brittle hair and constipation, fall is likely to be particularly aggravating for you. Other constitutions who have a problem of too much moisture and oil may benefit from the additional dryness in the climate.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” -Hippocrates, “the father of Western medicine”
The magical things spice does for our bodies
Spices play an important role in a dish. Spices enhance the flavor of a dish, though they have the capacity to do much more than taste good. Indian cuisine has a variety of the healthiest traditional spices. Some spices are used year-round, though may or not be particularly beneficial during a particular season. During the colder months, red pepper, black pepper, cumin and garlic make a seasonal spice medley to boost health and stay balanced.
Red pepper for digestion and weight management
If you want to add more flavor to your food plus health benefits like weight loss and pain relief, try adding crushed red pepper to your meals. Both in Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine, red peppers have been used to treat digestive problems, circulatory problems, infections and arthritis.
How it works? Polyphenols are antioxidants found in crushed red pepper that give them a strong disease-preventing property. The antioxidants in red pepper strengthened the immune system’s ability to reduce oxidative stress and prevent from diseases such as cancer, swelling, heart disease and increased immune function. In addition, capsaicin in hot peppers promotes circulation, which may prevent hardening of arteries and reduce risk of heart attack and stroke.
Red pepper flakes are great alternative to salt. If you’re watching your salt intake, red pepper flakes can be an excellent alternative. They’ll add the much-needed flavor without packing on the sodium.
Mineral-rich black pepper for digestion, immunity and metabolism
Black Pepper is one of the most common spices used in cuisines around the world. Millions of people who consume black pepper every day might not be aware of the fact that it is classified as a medicinal spice and is very rich in mineral content. Black pepper is a hot, pungent spice. It has an active component called piperine that gives black pepper its characteristic taste. In fact, it is used extensively in Ayurvedic medicine. It also contains iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, chromium, including vitamins A and C.
An essential volatile oil. Black pepper usually is added to dishes when they are done cooking, otherwise its volatile oils tend to evaporate and diminish its flavor. Freshly ground black pepper has the most flavor. It is main ingredients to prepare various sauces. Black pepper aids digestion and also helps in relieving cough and common cold. It also has an antibiotic property. Apart from these uses, black pepper contains helpful chemicals that support the body in managing gastrointestinal disease, bacterial infection, cold and cough, flu and congestion, free radical suspension, metabolism, skin treatment, dental health, antidepressant, carminative, anti arthritic, diuretics and regulate blood pressure.
Cumin for weight management, digestion and acne
Cumin, a tiny seed coming from a plant of the Apiaceae family, is native to the Mediterranean. Many people are often confused between cumin seeds and caraway seeds because they look the same in appearance: long and brownish in color. Cumin seeds can be discerned by their lighter color, hotter taste and larger size.
Trying to lose weight? Jeera, or cumin seed is an essential Indian spice for most cooking. Originally, we added this spice to our dish not only for its wonderful flavor and aroma, but also for the number of health benefits it has. It may surprise you, but a pinch of cumin powder or seeds can lead to a major improvements in weight loss. New research shows that cumin powder can help jumpstart weight loss, decrease body fat, and improve unhealthy cholesterol levels naturally.
Why cumin seeds in diet are so important? The presence of thymol and other essential oils in cumin seeds stimulate the salivary glands, thereby helping in the digestion of food. Apart from this, they strengthen a sluggish digestive system. Cumin seed also manages and prevents acne. When toxic substances accumulated in your body, your skin will become more vulnerable to breakouts. One of the recommended Ayurvedic preventions for acnes is including cumin in your food. The possible reason may be that cumin contains active components such as Thymol, Cuminaldehyde, and phosphorous, which have detoxifying properties; hence, eating cumin regularly will help to remove the toxins from your body.
The myriad benefits of garlic
While garlic is a common ingredient in every kitchen, in ancient times, it was highly valued for its numerous health benefiting properties, which are still followed in many cultures today. Our ancestors have used it as a bug-repellant, Medieval Europe against the plague and the Egyptians would even bury it along with their dead!
Traditionally called stinking rose or rocambole, garlic is more than just a spicy, pungent addition to food. It was used as long ago as ancient Egyptian times as a traditional remedy to maintain health and treat disease. Other uses include treatment of fever, coughs, headache, stomach ache, sinus congestion, gout, joint pain, hemorrhoids, asthma, bronchitis, shortness of breath, low blood sugar, snakebites, diarrhea and bloody diarrhea, tuberculosis, bloody urine, a serious nose and throat infection called diphtheria, whooping cough, tooth sensitivity, stomach inflammation (gastritis), scalp ringworm, and a sexually transmitted disease called vaginal trichomoniasis. It is also used for fighting stress and fatigue.
How does it work? Garlic produces a chemical called allicin, a sulfur compound similar to that found in onions which is cited as the active agent for many health conditions. Allicin also produces the well-known garlic odor. Some products are made “odorless” by aging the garlic, but this process can also make the garlic less effective. It’s a good idea to look for supplements that are coated (enteric coating) so they will dissolve in the intestine and not in the stomach. The allicin in garlic can help with hair loss and its anti-inflammatory property can help with psoriasis. Our red blood cells can take some types of sulfur-containing molecules in garlic and use them to produce H2S. This H2S in turn can help our blood vessels expand and keep our blood pressure in check. Interestingly, some processed garlic extracts cannot be used by our red blood cells in the same way and do not seem to provide the same level of cardio protection that is provided by garlic in food form.
All energy in our natural world is composed of five basic elements according to Ayurveda – ether, air, fire, water, and earth. These elements give rise to the Doshas: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. These Doshas help us identify the elemental makeup of our natural world, so we use them when referring to the qualities of the seasons, foods, herbs, activities, or an individual’s constitution.
The elements of the Vata season
In the Northern hemisphere, the season shifts from warmer and moist tending towards dry and cold in the autumn and winter – this is known as the Vata season in Ayurveda. Vata Dosha is composed of air & ether and is qualified by action, transportation, and movement. Vata is considered the “King of Doshas” as it energizes the other two Doshas (Pitta and Kapha).
We recognize Vata’s elements in nature as:
Vata Dosha in the mind-body
The Vata Dosha is manifest primarily in the abdominal cavity below the navel – colon, pelvis, pelvic organs, as well as the thighs, skin, ears, brain, nervous system, and lungs. It is responsible for all actions in the body, including movements of the body and mind, sensory impulses and motor regulation, breath, removal of waste, speech, and the pumping of the heart. It is furthermore the energy that kindles our Agni, or digestion, allows for the absorption of nutrients, and delivers a baby.
In a sense, you could say Vata makes it happen.
According to the Tridoshas of Ayurveda, we all have a unique combination of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, with one or two Doshas, manifested more prominently.
Vata-dominant individuals tend to have the following qualities:
Slimmer build, lightweight, either very tall or short
Quick-moving mind and actions
Tendency to do many things
Thinner skin and hair, prone to dryness
Oval, narrow face, and smaller eyes
Variable appetite, the tendency towards constipation
Light sleep, possibly interrupted, dreams full of movement
Lower stamina with bursts of activity
Drawn to creative activities, dance, and travel
If you can relate to several of the qualities above, Vata may be a dominant Dosha for you.
How to detect a Vata imbalance
While some of Vata’s qualities sound like imbalances, such as dryness or interrupted sleep, having a Vata-dominant constitution is not inherently an imbalance. All the Doshas have certain qualities which we can learn to balance through Ayurveda’s guidelines. Understanding one’s constitution is key to determining which of those guidelines is most crucial.
Anyone can experience Vata imbalances, though Vata-dominant individuals are more prone to them.
Signs of a Vata imbalance include:
Dryness of skin, hair, ears, lips, and joints
Dryness internally – bloat, gas, constipation, dehydration, weight loss
Dry and lightness of the mind – restlessness, dizziness, feeling ungrounded
Cold: poor circulation, muscle spasm or constriction, asthma, pain and aches, tightness
A combination of the following diet and lifestyle adjustments can return Vata to balance and prevent seasonal allergies, colds, and flu.
It almost goes without saying that an imbalance during the “dry season” requires additional hydration. But don’t just hydrate with any water – filtered, warm or hot water is most pacifying to a Vata imbalance.
Additionally, hydration of the skin is recommended through self-abhyanga, or massage with warm oil (sesame or almond) 15 minutes before bathing.
Use of Vata-pacifying oils in cooking can further hydrate the body internally: sesame, almond, or avocado oil.
Adopt a seasonal diet
Reduce the amount of astringent, dry, light, cold, raw, and processed foods.
Pumpkin, sweet potato, beets, carrots, and zucchini, brussel sprouts, avocados, dates, figs, lemons, limes, papayas, grapefruit, and grapes are all beneficial vegetables and fruits.
For grains, legumes, and nuts, try rice, oatmeal, quinoa, split mung beans, almonds, walnuts, pecans, and cashews.
Beneficial spices include black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, fennel, ginger, turmeric, and saffron.
Stick to a regular schedule
Lack of sleep imbalances Vata very quickly, so getting enough sleep and at the right time is key – between 10 pm-4 am.
Eating three meals a day with regularity also pacifies Vata.
Excessive exercise can exacerbate Vata, so don’t push it during this season.
Generally: it is ill-advised to exercise more than 45min to 1 hour at one time or more than twice per day.
Honor your body’s needs with modifications of your routine, opting for gentler workouts that also calm the mind and body, such as Yoga.
Incorporate meditative or calming practices
Meditation is instrumental in pacifying Vata as it requires the withdrawal of senses or external distractions. If entering meditation is more challenging during this season, consider practicing Yoga asana or an equally calming routine before meditation, to allow the mind and body to work out some of the clutter.
Mantra and chanting can help to focus the mind and can also be especially beneficial for balancing Vata.