Ayurveda is the ancient holistic healing system of India, and the name translates from Sanskrit as “the science of life.” Ayurveda includes a vast collection of interrelated practices — from diet, to hygiene, to exercise — that encompass every aspect of a person’s health and lifestyle. Yoga, which is Ayurveda’s sister science, is the mental and spiritual development side of the same coin.
Ayurveda has very few absolute lifestyle rules, instead focusing on an individual approach to achieving optimal health. I have been teaching Ayurveda for more than 45 years, and during those years I have seen Ayurvedic remedies transform peoples’ lives time and again.
Seeking Balance with Energetics
Ancient Ayurvedic practitioners coordinated a classification system based on a number of different complementary qualities, including hot/cold, moist/dry, and heavy/light. If an herb or ingredient makes you feel hot, then it’s likely designated a “hot” food. Examples include ginger (hot), melon (moist), and cooked grains (heavy). Expanded to include all possible metabolic actions, these concepts form the basis of an extensive system of “energetics.”
To help people understand and use energetics — and to simplify assessment and treatment — the fathers of Ayurveda condensed these sensory experiences into three primal metabolic forces called “doshas.” These master forces of well-being are responsible for promoting and sustaining balance in the daily and lifelong health of the individual.
The doshas are characterized by the energies intrinsic to each master force. For example, the “vata” dosha causes cold, dry, and light energies; the “pitta” dosha causes hot, wet, and light; and the “kapha” dosha causes cold, wet, and heavy. Ayurveda defines disease as an imbalance of the doshas, and your every action affects their balance.
Our concern during autumn is with keeping the vata dosha balanced. As the weather cools, vata becomes more aggravated, and attention should be turned toward keeping it from becoming excessive (too cold, too dry, too light), which could make you feel fatigued and spacey, with dry skin. You can keep vata balanced by counteracting its nature with warm, moist, and heavy (nourishing) foods coupled with grounding activities.
21 Tips for Balancing Autumn’s ‘Vata’ Nature
Autumn is a time of transition as we shift from hot weather to cold weather. We return from vacation and leisure time to reenter school and structured activity. It feels like a new beginning for many people, and it’s a time of adjustment — and sometimes confusion — for your mind and body. Autumn is also a time when it’s easy to “fall” into ill health. Follow the 21 tips below to remain centered, healthy, and energized during autumn’s vata season.
- Wake up early during autumn, when the world is calm, to prepare your mind for the day. After going through your wake-up routine and cleansing procedures, brush your teeth and flush your mouth with a warm mouth rinse, such as a mild cinnamon and clove infusion.
- Balance autumn’s cold, dry, and light vata nature with a warm, moist, and heavy (wholesome) diet.
- Eat small, frequent, regular meals.
- Eat mild, warming spices, such as cinnamon, ginger, and black pepper.
- Well-cooked vegetables, grains with ghee, and soft, mushy soups are grounding autumn foods, especially as the weather becomes colder. Radishes, fenugreek, soy milk, almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, tortillas, and whole-wheat breads are also good options.
- Don’t skimp on sweet foods during autumn. Sweetness is grounding and doesn’t mean sugar: Think milk products in moderation, as well as avocados, carrots, cherries, and grapefruit.
- Consume onions, garlic, basil, and ginger to keep warm and to support your endocrine and immune systems.
- Warming herbal teas are ideal for autumn. Choose blends featuring items such as basil, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon bark, clove, ginger root, and licorice root.
- Oil, assuming you digest it well, is Ayurveda’s main treatment for dry vata energy, so consume plenty of healthful oil and ghee during autumn. If autumn is dry where you live, massage your skin with sesame or almond oil daily.
- In moderation, sour and salty tastes, such as lemon and seaweed, will help boost your digestion.
- To top off your meals, Ayurvedic cuisine proposes a dessert of sweetened cream of wheat with almonds.
- Before bed, enjoy a delicious nighttime drink made from equal parts water and milk boiled with ginger, cardamom, and nutmeg.
- Because it’s a dry season, avoid dry food, such as dried fruits (unless stewed), and dry grains, such as rice cakes.
- Avoid loud noises, fast driving, and chaotic activities.
- Avoid raw vegetables, which have a cold energy that’s better suited to summer.
- Autumn, with its cold and dry weather, often makes people’s behavior flaky and unpredictable, so work a little harder to lead a stable life and stick to a healthy routine.
- Avoid large beans and items from the Brassicaceae family, such as cabbage, which create gas and aggravate the negative qualities of vata.
- Be kind to your immune system — you’ll need it soon enough, as the approaching winter means greater chances of catching colds and the flu.
- To balance vata’s light and flighty nature, embrace your inner calm and stay present while you eat.
- Constipation tends to worsen in autumn, so make sure you eat high-fiber, cooked foods, soaked raisins, and lubricating foods, such as healthy oils, to keep things moist and moving. (Triphala, the most famous Ayurvedic herbal blend, does wonders to keep the digestion functioning properly.)
- Don’t stay up late; instead, prioritize getting a good night’s sleep.
Autumn can be a time of exciting new changes, as well as a time to focus on healthy lifestyle routines. Ayurveda encourages us to find health and balance and to welcome the new season by focusing on how we can better eat, digest, and create new habits for a peaceful internal and external existence.
Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, A.D., D.N.-C., R.H., is an Ayurvedic doctor, herbalist, nutritionist, yoga teacher, and educator, who has been making holistic health approaches palatable to the modern mind for more than 45 years. He is President Emeritus of the American Herbalists Guild, and Director Emeritus of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association.