How to Have a Healthy Autumn
Ayurveda teaches us the art of cultivating personal well-being. It teaches us how to balance our internal environment with whatever is going on around us healthfully and peacefully.
Health is Wealth
The greatest gift you can give yourself is the ability to live in health. Ayurveda expresses this idea of “health” in it’s fullest potential. In Ayurveda health means more than the absence of disease; health means possessing vitality. It means waking up every morning with energy, enthusiasm and a sense of purpose. Ayurveda can help you achieve this.
Flowing with the SeasonsAyurveda teaches us that everything moves in cycles: like the cycle of day and night, and the cycle of the seasons. In this article we will be focusing specifically on keeping healthy during the Autumn season, when the yearly wheel turns from the hot summer to the colder, drier Autumn. If you read my article on Clues for Easily Understanding the Doshas, you may already have an idea of how well Autumn fits the description of the windy nature of vata.
Of course, the seasons vary depending on where you live, and sometimes the weather is mixed, but for the sake of simplicity I'll keep to the typical idea of Autumn which is cooler, drier, and windier than the season it replaces. Cold, dry, and windy are all qualities of vata, so the general understanding of Ayurvedic Autumn health that by supporting yourself with the application of gentle opposites to cold and dry you can keep healthy during the Autumn season...
Understanding the Balancing Act
Ayurveda teaches that like increases like, so if the weather is cold and you drink cold drinks, you are increasing the cold in your body, but if the weather is cold and you drink warm drinks you are counteracting the cold outside by adding heat inside your body. If the weather is dry and you rub oil into your skin you are protecting your skin from becoming chapped by the dry Autumn winds, in doing these two simple things you are helping to keep yourself in balance.
Ayurveda teaches: gune gunam avarohanti "use one quality to balance another". If the weather is hot, keep cool and eat a diet that doesn't provoke more heat in the body by being too hot and spicy. If the weather is cold and wet avoid icy drinks and cold foods and use the opposite quality for balance: hot drinks, warm nicely spiced meals, and some activity to counteract the hibernating feel of winter.
Ayurveda, Autumn and You
Because of the cold dry nature of Autumn the key to good health is to keep lubricated and warm. The easiest way to do this is to oil your body with sesame oil daily before taking a warm to hot shower, or before doing some yoga stretches in a warm room. Using oil and bringing the body to the point of breaking a light sweat is the perfect antidote to the cold, dry influence of Autumn. This simple practice also serves as natural protection against the typical health challenges of Autumn such as: restlessness, insomnia, constipation, anxiety, arthritis and general aches and pains. These health complaints are all of a vata nature, so naturally if "like increases like" they are increased and provoked by the vata season of Autumn.
The art of nourishing your skin
In the west we tend to bathe and then use moisturisers, but Ayurveda says moisturise first and then bathe. When you oil the body before showering, the hot water further opens the pores of your skin and drives the oil deeper into the tissues. If you use a light natural soap you will find that your body remains very lightly oiled after showering. Not enough to stain clothes or feel strange, but enough to give further lubrication and protection throughout the day. If you are already of a vata nature yourself this is extremely beneficial and it would be good to do this on a daily basis throughout the Autumn. Kapha and pitta types are less likely to suffer with dryness, a light sunflower oil massage once of twice a week before taking a warm shower should serve them well enough.
In Autumn nuts are naturally in season and they are great for calming vata and the cold dryness of Autumn, walnuts are especially good and almonds are very good for vata and nourishing the nervous system too. Nuts are classified as warm and oily so remembering the model of using the quality of one thing to balance another, you can see that warm oily foods are a perfect counterbalance to a cold dry season. Soups and stews and dahl are good too, any food that is warm, slightly oily (this means adding a little good quality oil or ghee to food rather than eating deep fried foods) and heavy in nature is the best food for Autumn eating, again for vata types this is especially so. Rice pudding with cinnamon and nutmeg and warm stewed fruits with cinnamon and cloves are nourishing deserts for Autumn.
Vata provoking foods to avoid are foods that are cold and light like popcorn, potato crisps, raw foods and crunchy salads. These foods are too dry, rough and cold.
Other seasonally appropriate foods are pumpkins, including the seeds, autumn squash and zuccini, all these vegetables are abundant in the Autumn and are natural balancers for the Autumn energy, they are a good reminder of nature's intelligence and generosity.
Warm herbal teas with ginger, cinnamon, cloves or cardamon are all good Autumn balancing beverages. Vata and Kapha can benefit from spicy drinks but pitta should be careful as warm spices can provoke pitta.
Walking through Autumn leaves, yoga and meditation are the perfect Autumn activities. Vata and pitta types needs to wrap up warm and vata should be careful to cover their ears (vata types have very sensitive ears and they do not appreciate cold air entering them) for extra protection from earaches in cold windy weather try applying a little sesame oil to the insides of the ears with your little finger.
Establishing a daily routine is always good, but it is particularly important in the Autumn, vata weather can make us restless and absent minded and a steady routine is the key to balance and keeping Autumn type anxiety at bay. Try settling down to bed at the same time every night (preferably before 10pm) and give the computer an early night too so that your mind is not too active when you are trying to sleep. Regular mealtimes are also an important part of routine.
Seasonal Summary: Autumn is cold, dry and windy, so to keep in balance you need to keep warm, oily and regulated.