Ayurveda is defined as the “knowledge or science of life.” It is a 5000 year old tradition that is based upon the wisdom of living in harmony with the basic laws of nature. Ayurveda offers a holistic guide by which we can discover our healing potential. Ayurvedic medicine helps us to understand and reach our healing potential so that each of us can be our own best doctor. Health is participatory and continuous, in Ayurvedic terms. While many medical systems emphasize only the body, Ayurveda sees the human as a triangle of parts—physical, mental and spiritual—each equally important in defining true health.
The basis of Ayurveda is built around the idea that the five elements—air, ether, fire, water and earth—are the building blocks of all material existence. Both organic and inorganic matter is comprised of all five elements, though with varying levels of each. Us humans, as mini-cosmos’, are also comprised of the five elements, each of us with our personal, balanced level of each element. Have you ever wondered why some people are naturally very quick and alert but also scattered and flighty, while other people are naturally slow to move, grounded and stabile? Certainly genetics are at play; however Ayurvedic principles help us to understand that this is also based on each person’s elemental makeup. The quick and alert friend may be predominantly made up of air, ether and / or fire, while the grounded friend may be predominantly made up of water and earth. A person’s predominant elements are defined as their “dosha.” The three Doshas, which are energetic principles that govern all physical and mental processes and provide an understanding of each person’s guide for health, are defined by their combination of elements. Vata is largely air and ether; Pitta, largely fire and water; and Kapha, earth and water. Understanding that each of us has an (or perhaps two) overriding dosha, helps us also to understand our personal blueprint for health. Looking to find balance in our life, we turn back to the principle that “like increases like.” When things are out of balance, it’s typically because we have too much of some element. So we look to add in something else to balance that. For example, overheated mentally and physically? Add something sweet (like icecream, yum!) which has an elemental makeup that is cooling and will pacify that fire.
As we enter the fall season, then, we must look to the elemental qualities of Vata as this is the predominant dosha, or make-up, of the fall season. Fall is a cooling time, when nature becomes lighter, dryer, and often windy. Sticking with the “like increases like” motto, we need to balance those qualities so that they don’t become abundant in our systems, creating too much dryness (dry and cracking skins, eczema), too much lightness (scattered minds), or too much wind (intestinal bloating and gas), and eventually lead to disease.
How do we stay in balance during this change to fall? Fall foods offer us a bounty of possibilities. It is important, Ayurvedically, to eat seasonally. Autumn foods such as apples and other late harvest fruits are the perfect sweetness to incorporate at the beginning of the fall to help cool any residual heat from the summer. As fall continues, we are wise to favor warm foods and drinks, especially sweet potatoes, cooked apples rather than raw ones, Basmati rice, wheat, soups, most cooked vegetables (lessening onions and nightshades), avocado, and warm chai. Begin to include more heavy foods in your diet again, as the body is preparing for the upcoming hibernation of winter. Allow yourself more nourishing dairy products, olive oils, creamy dressings. Lighten up on things that will dry you out more, like too many legumes, garlic, crackers, popcorn and carbonated beverages. Cover your head on windy days, and in fact, avoid coolness in the head, as this is a big aggravator for Vata times. Stay well hydrated (the rule here is that if you feel thirsty, you’ve waited too long to drink). Avoid fasting in the fall, because of the need to build energy for the winter.
Vata time allows for more sleep and rest. We need to restore after the heat of summer and conserve much needed energy for staying healthy during the winter months. Start going to bed a bit earlier, preferably between 10-11 PM at the latest. It is important to get outside during the fall-Vata time and enjoy the bright colors. Spend some time outdoors everyday, especially if you experience that 2-6PM lull that is so common when Vata is out of balance. Steady yourself with grounding practices, like grounded yoga, meditation, long outdoor walks, as the transformative qualities of fall create a lot of movement and wind that can affect us physically.
Finally, think about incorporating some warm oil massage in the mornings, 2-3 times per week. In Ayurveda, the process of oiling the body is called Abhyanga. This is a type of self-massage in which you use warm sesame oil (specialized vata pacifying oils are available online too) to help remove toxins from the body and to increase moisture. To do this, begin with the feet, massaging circularly around joints, the abdomen and chest, and in long strokes over the rest of the body. Move in sections (feet, to ankles, to calves, to thighs, etc), massaging each section in a downward motion 7 times. Allow the oil to remain on the body for 20 minutes to remove toxins (no longer than 2 hours), then rinse in the shower, using warm water but no soap, and blot dry. The massage has a wonderful moisturizing effect.
As we say goodbye to summer, begin now to apply the principle of “like increases like” to your daily routines to avoid the negative effects that this transition can bear. Becoming more in tune with how you’re feeling means being able to look at each of your three components. If something becomes elementally out of balance, Ayurveda offers knowledge that will help to bring you back into balance. More information is available online at www.banyanbotanicals.com or www.ayurveda.com.
A version of this post is also featured as an article in the current issue of Be Well magazine.