Temperatures are down, wind is up, trees have changed colour and leaves are being shed and are blowing everywhere. Autumn has its own distinctive weather, colours and qualities. The air element and the vital force called Prana have become abundant in the atmosphere and the dry, rough, windy, erratic, cool, subtle, and clear Gunas or qualities now predominate. As these Gunas are shared by Vata Dosha (the principle of movement), autumn is considered the Vata season and taking a few simple steps to balance Vata is vital for maintaining optimal health.
Why seasonal diets and routine?
Nature is far more powerful than us tiny individuals and despite central heating and air-conditioning, our psycho-physiology is strongly affected by the changes that occur throughout the year.
Ayurveda helps us go with the flow of nature and adapt to seasonal changes. It suggests diets, seasonal routines, lifestyle choices and purification treatments such as Panchakarma, that keep us balanced and in tune with our local climate.
What is Vata season and how will I feel its influence?
Seasons, and the qualities they embody, may vary from one place to another. But in general, when the Vata Dosha’s dry, cold, light, mobile, rough, subtle, and clear qualities prevail, that is Vata season. Autumn and early winter tend to contain these attributes and is considered the season when the expansive and dry Vata qualities are most present.
During this time, you will find your feelings subtly change. Space is one of the Mahabhutas (elements of nature) that make up Vata, so a sense of clarity, expansiveness and all-possibilities may be present.
Air is Vata’s other Mahabhuta, so feelings of movement and readiness to change may be in your awareness. Air has cold and drying quality and you will feel this in your body, especially on your skin, which is considered a Vata organ.
You may find your mind more clear and agile at this time of year, though when Vata is not well balanced your mind can become erratic and lacking in decisiveness and certainty; you may also find good quality sleep becomes elusive.
Without being conscious of doing so, your habits naturally change with the seasons. In summer, you probably enjoyed cooling foods such as salads and melons. By October and November, warmer and more grounding foods such as baked root vegetables, breads, oils, dairy and thick soups may be more to your taste. These more substantial foods help balance the dry, light, and erratic nature of the Vata season.
By consciously making diet and lifestyle changes that balance the effects of each season, you can help maintain your internal sense of equilibrium throughout the year.
Navigating the ups and downs of Vata season
Ayurveda uses the principle of opposites to maintain balance in both mind and body. Since the Vata season has dry, cold, light, windy, unpredictable and changeable qualities, you should tend towards things that supply oiliness, heat, nourishment, stability, routine, warm relationships, and a sense of groundedness.
To help you address any problems that may arise, or prevent problems before they arise, see a Maharishi AyurVeda Practitioner for advice. You can also familiarise yourself with the signs of Vata imbalance.
If you have a Vata body-type you will need to take special care of yourself during Vata season. Yet all of us, no matter what our underlying body-type, will be affected by the elevated Vata influence during autumn and early winter and should adjust our diet and lifestyle to ensure Vata does not go out of balance.
The following recommendations are appropriate for most people, but if you know your body-type or constitution, you can adjust your seasonal routine accordingly.
Vata Season Diet
Whatever you eat becomes your body, so diet is the first consideration when it comes to balancing Vata. Nourishing, substantial, and unctuous foods that are high in protein, have sufficient fat, served hot, and that contain warming spices, will help maintain your reserves of moisture and keep your feet on the earth.
- Favour foods that have the sweet, sour, and salty tastes
- Reduce bitter, pungent and astringent foods
- Eat soft, mushy foods garnished with ghee or oil
- Breakfasts that include cooked grains – such as wheat, oats, rice or tapioca – are great at this time of year. You can cook them with water, milk, whey, coconut milk or almond milk. Add dried fruit as a sweetener. You can also add a little ghee or coconut oil, and nuts that have been soaked overnight
- Baked or boiled fresh fruits plus some soaked dried fruit with added nuts make a good breakfast
- Lunches can include green and root vegetables, grains, beans suitable for Vata (though less or no beans in the evening) and panir. Soups, and stews add moisture and are grounding
- Your digestive fire – called Agni in Ayurveda – is naturally high in Vata season, so this is the time when you will gain most benefit from high nutrition foods, such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy and nuts.
- Suppers can include green and root vegetables, plus grains, such as oatcakes and toast with a little ghee. You can add an easy-to-digest and well-cooked bean such as red lentils or yellow split mung dhal
- Avoid raw vegetables as they have cold and rough Gunas that increase Vata
- Avoid all cold and frozen foods (unless they are cooked)
- Reduce cooling, light, and drying foods such as potatoes, most beans, corn, crackers, millet, and dried fruit (unless soaked). Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, sprouts and leafy greens also tend to be Vata increasing, so eat such foods in moderation and ensure they are moist, well-cooked, have Vata-reducing spices and herbs added to them, and are sautéed or served with ghee.
Agni increases to heat up your body when the weather is cold and during the Vata season you may notice you desire more food. Just be careful and follow what your stomach is telling you and don’t over-eat.
Vata needs adequate nourishment, so avoid fasting this time of year.
Vata is drying and can quickly create wrinkles and signs of age on the skin. So it really pays to nurture your skin during the Vata season.