Ayurveda teaches us that Autumn corresponds to the Pitta and Vata doshas. Pitta dosha rules as long as hot weather prevails. Vata dosha becomes the dominant force when it becomes colder, drier, and windier. Generally, Vata season lasts from fall through the middle of winter. Late Autumn tends to be a favorite season for Pitta types as it is the time of year in which Pitta is in alleviation. However, those with a strong Vata constitution need to take special care to manage the dry, cool, mobile, and light qualities at this time of year. Otherwise, these attributes can build up within the body and mind causing Vata imbalances. Keep in mind that even Pitta and Kapha types can develop Vata imbalances so it's important to know how to keep yourself balanced no matter what constitution you have.
How To Stay Healthy During Vata Season
Staying healthy is a broad concept in Ayurveda. Optimal health is more than the absence of illness and disease. Ayurveda teaches that one of the keys to staying healthy is to live in harmony with the natural world and to make choices that are respectful of one's inherent constitution. Since Vata is cool, dry, light, and mobile, it's helpful to embrace diet and lifestyle choices that reflect warmth, moisture, weight and stability. Follow these tips to stay healthy during the fall season.
Enjoy Autumn's BountySince Vata dosha is light in nature and is composed of the air and ether elements, invoking the earth element is supportive during Vata season. You can stay grounded by eating foods that are heavy as opposed to light. For example, emphasize root vegetables over salads and leafy greens (which are light and bitter). This does not mean that you shouldn’t include leafy greens in your diet. Just make sure that you are including dense, heavy foods as well. In addition, it's also important that we start to favor certain tastes. While you should generally aim to have all six tastes at each meal, it's beneficial to incorporate more sweet, sour and salty foods while minimizing astringent, bitter and pungent tastes. Fortunately, many of the seasonal foods available to us this time of year pacify Vata. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully it helps inspire your fall grocery list!
- Fall Fruit: Apples, Dates, Figs, Pears, Raisins
- Fall Vegetables: Beets, Carrots, Leeks, Parsnips, Pumpkin, Rutabaga, Spinach (cooked), Sweet potatoes, Squash
- Fall Herbs and Spices: Cardamom, Cinnamon, Cloves, Rosemary, Sage, and Thyme
If you're finding it difficult to think of fall sour foods, try adding a squeeze of lemon, a drizzle or vinegar, or a naturally fermented food, like sauerkraut, to your meals.
Eat Warm, Moist and Well-Cooked MealsDuring Vata season, it's important that we emphasize warm, moist and well-cooked foods:
- Strive to serve food warm and add heating spices, like cinnamon and ginger to your meals.
- To add more moisture and heaviness to your foods, incorporate healthy fats. Ghee (or Ghrta / Ghruta / Ghrita) is an ideal food for the Vata season as it is heavy, warm and oily, which brings balance to the light, cool, and dry weather. In addition, Ghee increases rasa within oneself, which ultimately helps with digestion and detoxification, including relieving constipation, a symptom that occurs with Vata imbalance. Other oils to incorporate this season include olive, nut, seed, and avocado.
- Try to cook foods well. The more cooked our meals are, the easier they are to digest, which guards against common Vata digestive issues, like bloating and gas.
A Vata-pacifying diet in the Autumn might include:
- Vata Breakfast: A warm bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon, ginger, maple syrup and ghee
- Lunch or dinner: Soup, stew or hearty grains with roasted or sauteed vegetables (especially root vegetables) and ghee
- Snack: Stewed apples with Vata balancing spices, like cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg or almond butter stuffed dates
Foods to avoid this season include raw vegetables, salads, smoothies, dry snacks like crackers and popcorn, and other cool, light, dry and rough foods. Keep in mind that the transition from Pitta season to Vata season should be gradual and based on how you're feeling. If you're feeling heated with Pitta symptoms, opt for a Pitta balancing diet and lifestyle. If you're feeling an increase in Vata, introduce a Vata balancing diet and Vata foods.
Hydration is important for countering the drying effects of the autumn season. In addition to getting sufficient fluids, it's important to choose beverages that pacify Vata. On the whole, beverages are best served warm. A cup of Vata tea is an excellent way to bring in warming spices, like ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, black pepper, turmeric, fennel, and cumin. Beverages to avoid include cold or carbonated drinks. You may also want to stay away from coffee, tea and other forms of caffeine. For Vata types, these are often too stimulating.
Commit to a Vata Balancing Daily RoutineVata’s light and airy nature needs a daily routine to stay grounded. Sticking to consistency with meal times, sleep schedules, exercise and work habits will help quell any Vata dosha uprisings. Here are a few more ways you can enhance your routine to balance Vata and stay healthy:
- Do Abhyanga daily with warm sesame oil. Sesame oil is warm, moist, nourishing, and grounding, and is therefore a great choice for Vata.
- Practice jal neti with a neti pot every morning. As you are probably aware, the shift to fall and then winter marks the onset of cold and flu season. Now more than ever it is important to guard your body against viruses, allergens, and pathogens. Rinsing the nasal passages daily with warm salt water helps to rid the airways of potential irritants. You can learn about proper technique for using a nasal rinse cup here.
- Make extra time for self-care. Fall is all about coziness, comfort and self-care. This is the time to slow down and get in touch with your physical, mental and emotional health.
- Dress warmly. Staying warm is a simple way to practice self-care and keep Vata in balance during fall. Snuggle up in layers, wear a hat, scarf and gloves outside, and put on soft socks or slippers at home. Don't forget to always dry your hair after bathing.
- Enjoy quiet-time. Another way to stay balanced during Vata season is to make time to experience quiet. Vata dosha is closely linked to the nervous system and Vata types tend to like movement and creativity. All of this is wonderful in and of itself, but too much noise, movement, and change is very aggravating for Vata dosha. Take time to pause, unplug your electronics, and enjoy the quiet during the fall. This can look like a silent yoga practice, mindfulness practices, sitting in silence, or a warm bath at the end of the day. A walk in nature is also tremendously nourishing to the nervous system.
- Get adequate sleep. As a result of Vata's light and mobile nature, sleep can become disturbed this time of year. Try to practice good sleep hygiene and give yourself at least 8 hours each night to rest.
- Be nourished. Vata dosha is linked to the end of the life cycle. An excess of Vata dosha can manifest as weakness, debility, and even emaciation. Even if you are young and in the Pitta time of life, the Vata season is a good time to keep on eye on your energy reserves. Be sure that you are not depleting yourself or spreading yourself too thin. Consider taking a spoonful of Chyawanprash each morning to build ojas.
Celebrate the Season
Most of us have a favorite season. Some love the hot, lazy days of summer. Others relish April showers and spring blossoms. Or perhaps the smell of evergreen and sight of red holly berries against fresh white snow sparks joy in your heart. Autumn is certainly not without its charms. Golden light, fall colors, crisp air, and hints of the holiday season can all bring about a certain sense of romance and delight. In order to fully enjoy this Vata season, it helps to make choices that balance out Vata dosha. So delight in warming, nourishing foods and cozy, grounding practices. Look to the bounty of nature as guidance. Often times, the foods that are in season are also most balancing for both the body and mind.
Greta Kent-Stoll is a Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner (NAMA), as well as a writer, editor, and Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher. Her Ayurveda practice is based in Asheville, North Carolina and she is the co-owner of Iyengar Yoga Asheville.