Shifting Gears for Autumn Health

I stepped off the plane last week from hosting a retreat in sunny Lefkada, Greece straight into what felt like the thick of the British autumn, or as we call it in Ayurveda, the ‘Vata season’.

Vata and the autumn season is ruled by the elements of space and air bringing with it a dominance of the cold, windy and dry qualities. An increase of these qualities in the environment mean that the temperature starts to drop, leaves start to fall and the winds increase, so we need to make adjustments to stay in flow with these changes and prevent ourselves from becoming imbalanced and sick.

Since the residing site of vata in the body is the colon, bloating and gas are often early signs of increased vata. Other signs of vata related imbalances include anxiety, increased stress, trouble with concentration, disturbance to sleep, tiredness, varied appetite, erratic bowel movements and constipation, dry skin, sensitivity to the cold and feeling ungrounded.

Based on the Ayurvedic principle that 'like increases like' the obvious way to prevent imbalances is to favour the qualities of the opposite in nature. During the autumn months we must therefore opt for a vata balancing diet and lifestyle.

The key words to remember during this season are grounding, warming, regularity, moisturising, nourishing, stillness, all of which will balance the negative effects of increased of vata during this season. Just reflecting on these words means that you don’t have to worry about memorising food lists, just ask yourself is this foods going to balance or imbalance vata.

Here are my top tips to stay in balance this Autumn:

  • Reduce intake of dry, rough, cold and raw food. E.g. brassica vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli), dried fruits, chick peas/beans, pop corn, salads, sandwiches, biscuits and crackers.

  • Reduce pungent, bitter, astringent foods. E.g. black tea, caffeine, chilies

  • Opt for a warming and nourishing diet of well-cooked food, rich in oils and ghee. E.g. carrots, beetroots, sweet potatoes, squashes, avocado, porridge oats, stewed apple, quinoa, soups, stews, steamed vegetables, kitchadi, dahls and rice, soaked almonds, almond milk

  • Favour nurturing spices: ginger and cumin, turmeric, coriander, cinnamon, fennel, liquorice

  • Drink plenty of warm water and herbal teas throughout the day

  • End your evening with a cup of hot spiced milk to aid a restful night sleep

  • Keep regularity to your sleep patterns and mealtime, with lunch as your main meal, and a small dinner eaten as near to 6pm as possible

  • Indulge in oil-based massage and steam baths

  • Stay protected in the cold and windy environment

  • Increase stillness in your day perhaps through meditation, writing, art, gentle walking

  • Practice calming breathing exercises such as nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breath) or Brahmari (bumble-bee breath)

  • Practice stabilising yoga postures. E.g. pawanmuktasana, tadasana, malasana, balasana

  • Take chywanprash herbal jam to prepare for winter health

  • Do an autumn digestive cleanse to reduce accumulated pitta from the summer and to prepare for winter health

  • It’s a great time for Ayurvedic enemas

  • Engage with the Ayurvedic daily morning cleansing rituals including tongue scrapping, oil pulling, warm oil self massage, hot lemon water, conscious eating

To learn more about balancig vata dosha, daily rituals and digestive cleansing you can pick up a copy of my recent book, Ayurveda – Ancient Wisdom for Modern Wellbeing.