An Ayurvedic Guide to a Calm and Balanced Vata Season
Fall is a time of transition. It is evident everywhere around you. Many trees and shrubs are quietly undressing in preparation for the winter. There is a subtle browning of the earth. Temperatures, which, just a few weeks ago were raging with the intense heat of summer, are beginning to hint at the telltale crispness of autumn. And there is the wind: slowly gathering strength, carrying the tides of winter on its breath. The autumn harbors a certain emptiness that can leave us feeling exposed and a little raw, but it is also filled with possibility – a time when we, too, can strip down to a quiet essence of being and savor the simplicity. The fall brings with it a predominance of air element and prana, the vital breath, the subtle essence of life, is abundant in the atmosphere. Autumn is dry, rough, windy, erratic, cool, subtle, and clear. These are all qualities shared by vata dosha, and because like increases like, autumn is considered a vata season. This same principle illustrates why taking a few simple steps to balance vata this fall can be tremendously beneficial.
Why Bother With a Seasonal Routine?
Ayurveda considers a seasonal routine an important cornerstone of health, year around. Balancing the nature of your local climate with lifestyle choices that offset the potential for seasonally induced imbalance is one of the simplest ways that you can protect your wellbeing. But, keep in mind that the seasons vary widely from one place to another, as do the qualities that they engender. Vata “season” is whatever time of year most embodies the attributes that characterize vata dosha: dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, mobile, and clear (or empty). Autumn is the classic vata season. However, depending on where you live, the dry and expansive qualities of vata may be prevalent components of your environment as early as summer, and the autumn may be followed by a very drying, cold, isolating, and/or windy winter.
Beginning to observe your environment from this qualitative perspective empowers you to respond to both daily and seasonal fluctuations in your local climate. The truth is that many of us adopt seasonally appropriate habits already, without even being conscious of doing so. For instance, summer is a time when we often enjoy salads and watermelon in abundance, both perfect antidotes to the heat and intensity of the summer. Whereas by October and November, we’re often baking delicious pumpkin breads and dining on hearty, grounding soups – foods that naturally subdue the dry, light, and erratic nature of the fall. By making diet and lifestyle choices that counter the effects of each season, you can better maintain your internal sense of equilibrium throughout the year.
Navigating Vata Season Gracefully
If we consider the Ayurvedic principle that opposites balance, vata season (which is cool, light, dry, windy, and unpredictable) will be less aggravating if you fill it with warmth, oiliness, deep nourishment, loving relationships, and a sense of stability and groundedness. In addition, you may find it helpful to familiarize yourself with signs and symptoms of vata imbalance so that you are better prepared to address those immediately, if they do arise. The following recommendations are appropriate for most people, but if you know your constitution, you can tailor your seasonal routine to your unique Ayurvedic body type. For constitution-specific considerations, see the sections following these general recommendations.
Vata Season Diet
Your diet is a powerful way to soothe vata this fall. Heavy, oily, nourishing foods that are high in protein, high in fat, brought to life with warming, stimulating spices, and served hot, will go a long way toward maintaining your internal reserves of moisture and keeping you grounded through the vata season. You’ll also want to favor the sweet, sour, and salty tastes. In general, eat mushy, soft foods and garnish them generously with ghee or oil. Breakfasts of cooked grains – like oatmeal, tapioca, cream of rice, and cream of wheat – are perfect this time of year. Lunches and dinners that include steamed vegetables, hearty grains, soups, and stews are grounding and moisturizing. If you eat meat and eggs, this is one of the best times of year to enjoy them. Dairy products and most nuts and seeds are also beneficial. In general, you’ll want to reduce your consumption of raw vegetables, cold and frozen foods, as well as the bitter, pungent, and astringent tastes. It is best to minimize light, cooling, and drying foods like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, sprouts, leafy greens, white potatoes, beans, popcorn, crackers, millet, and dried fruit. If you do eat these foods, eat them in moderation and make sure that they are soaked, well cooked, and/or served with ghee.
You may find that, during the course of the fall, you’ll naturally want to increase your intake of food, but be careful to follow the lead of your appetite and digestion. This is also a great time of year to do a mono-diet type of cleanse. Vata requires adequate nourishment so it is best to avoid fasting.
The following is a list of ideal vata season foods:1, 2
Fruits to Favor
Vegetables to Favor
Grains to Favor
Legumes to Favor
|Kidney Beans||Mung Beans||Urad Dal|
Nuts & Seeds to Favor
All nuts and seeds are supportive of vata season
Dairy to Favor
|Butter||Cream||Milk (not cold)|
Animal Products to Favor (if you eat them)
Oils to Favor
|Honey||Maple Syrup||Rice Syrup|
Spices to Favor (All spices are good for vata season)
Vata Season Lifestyle Choices
One of the most effective ways to support vata is by establishing a daily routine. Try to do the same things (wake up, exercise, eat meals, go to bed, etc.) at roughly the same times each day. Set the tone for your day by rising early, taking full advantage of the silence, stillness, and peace that are intrinsic to the early morning hours. Then, you can calm your nervous system, awaken your tissues, and ground your energy by massaging your skin with warm, organic sesame oil. Follow this practice with a warm, relaxing shower, leaving a coat of oil on the skin to absorb throughout the day. Steam baths and humidifiers can help to preserve internal moisture as well. Some gentle yoga and 10-15 minutes of meditation will further your sense of stability and wellness. If you enjoy a little fragrance, vetiver, geranium, and citrus essential oils are very appropriate this time of year. Dress in autumn colors when appropriate – reds, yellows, oranges and whites – and wear enough clothes that you are warm throughout the day. When you step out into the elements, cover your head and ears to protect them from the biting wind and cold. If possible, minimize your exposure to drafts, loud noise, aggressive music, fast driving, and excessive sexual activity. Try to be in bed by 10pm so that you get plenty of rest before dawn.
Vata Season Exercise
The best times of day to exercise are in the early morning and evening hours (6-10am and 6-10pm). Vata is very easily aggravated by fast, mobile activities, so consider slow, gentle, strengthening forms of exercise instead. Walking, hiking, swimming, biking, yoga, and tai chi are good choices, provided they are done at an appropriate level of intensity. Ideally, exercise at about 50-70% of your capacity, breathing through your nose the entire time. And remember to balance your activity with adequate relaxation and sleep so that your tissues can rejuvenate properly.
Vata Season Yoga
Incorporating a sense of warmth, grounding, stability, and focus into your yoga practice has a profoundly calming effect on vata and can work wonders during vata season. Your breath should be deep and fluid. If you practice pranayama, alternate nostril breathing is very balancing this time of year. Warm up slowly and include some joint rotations. Move with intention and fluidity – grounding the hands and the feet on the mat whenever possible – and avoid jumping between postures. Gentle flows like a relaxed sun salutation are perfect for vata. You can also favor standing and balancing poses such as mountain, warrior I, warrior II, and tree pose to increase stability and strength. Connect with the earth beneath you in poses such as thunderbolt, cat cow, cobra, and child’s pose and quiet the mind with forward bends such as intense westward stretch. Gentle inversions and restorative poses such as legs up the wall are also very good for vata. Close your practice with a long shavasana, covering yourself with a blanket so that you don’t get chilled. For instructions on any of these poses and for more information on vata balancing yoga, click here.
Herbal Support for Vata Season
Taking chyawanprash in the morning can help to reinforce immunity, strength, and energy during the autumn season. Ashwagandha is stabilizing to the mind and nervous system and can promote sound sleep, strong digestion, proper elimination, and appropriate strength. Similarly, herbal teas such as ginger, licorice, or a combination of cumin, coriander, and fennel, can help to promote proper digestion and warmth. Other grounding, vitalizing herbs and formulas include bala, dashamula, haritaki, triphala, and vidari. Herbal tablets that are especially supportive of vata include: ashwagandha, haritaki, healthy vata, joint support, mental clarity, stress ease, triphala, tranquil mind, and vata digest.
The following considerations are specific to each of the seven Ayurvedic Body Types. If you don’t know yours, try this Banyan Botanicals questionnaire to help you determine your Constitution.
- Doulliard, John. The 3-Season Diet. Three Rivers Press, 2000. 86-90, 109-117.
- Lad, Vasant. Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing. The Ayurvedic Press, 2006. 220-238.
- Lad, Vasant. The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies. Three Rivers Press, 1998. 66-67.
- Pole, Sebastian. Ayurvedic Medicine: The Principles of Traditional Practice. Churchill Livingston Elsevier, 2006. 53-54, 324-325.