"Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns."
- George Eliot
As autumn rolls in, the leaves change colors and nature starts creating stores for the winter. Likewise, you’ll benefit from preparing your body for the shifts in season. While cool fall breezes provide a sigh of relief from the summer’s scorching heat, they also tend to imbalance vata, especially if they are dry winds. When vata is high, the body’s joints can easily become affected. So this month is a great month for attending to joint health. Everyone knows what joints are, but rarely do we consider how intricate the anatomy of a joint is. It’s often not until we are suffering from joint pain that we become aware of the critical functions our joints play in our bodies. A joint—a knee, elbow, or shoulder, for example—is a place where two (or more) bones come together. Can you imagine how clunky our movements would be if the only thing in the space of a joint was two bones rubbing together? The bones would rapidly wear down and deteriorate. Instead, there is a layer of cartilage, a firm tissue that provides support, structure, and cushioning at the ends of the bones. In the larger joints, there is also a thick fluid called synovial fluid, which lubricates and nourishes the joints and allows for ease in movement. This is the natural state of affairs, but imbalance and disease can hamper normal joint function. Ayurveda teaches us that excess vata can wear down a joint’s protective mechanisms, leading to what we call arthritis. In Ayurveda, arthritis is differentiated into three overarching categories: there is vata-provoked arthritis, arthritis caused by pitta dosha, and also kapha-type arthritis. In this newsletter, coming at the apex of the vata season, we shine light on the vata-provoked arthritis, characterized by “cracking and popping” joints and discomfort in movement.1 The fall season is a prime time to attend to vata imbalance and ease any discomfort caused by excess vata. But please note that any arthritis or joint concerns should be evaluated by your physician or health practitioner. Healthy joints help us move freely. To keep our joints in top form during this fall season, we can look to both vata and ama. Ama is the toxic buildup in the body resulting from improper digestion, which can hamper the optimal, smooth functioning of any bodily system or part, including the joints. Ama buildup can lead to irritation and discomfort in particular. So the combination of excess vata and ama can really disrupt joint health.
“A woman is as young as her knees.”
- Mary Quant
For those with healthy joints, Ayurveda can support them and keep them sound. If your joints are compromised, Ayurveda also offers helpful tools. You can’t change the vata nature of the season, but you can follow routines that will alleviate and soothe vata for healthy joint function and more.
Fall Tips for Balancing Vata
To keep vata in check this season:
- Eat warm, cooked foods.
- Drink warm or hot drinks.
- Favor sweet, sour, and salty tastes (always in moderation), as these help balance vata.
- If your health allows, use high-quality oils or ghee (clarified butter) in your cooking.
- Use warming spices such as cinnamon, black pepper, and ginger.
- If your digestion allows, include grounding grains like wheat, rice, barley, amaranth, and quinoa.
- Avoid raw, cold, dry foods.
- Keep yourself appropriately dressed and bundled when going out in the wind and cold.
- Perform a regular self-massage with warm oil, followed by a warm bath. To nourish the joints, pay keen attention to massaging both large and small joints in circular motions, with straight long strokes along the spine.
- Find a gentle exercise that builds strength and calm. Grounding yoga poses for vata bring stability and balance. Qi gong, walking, and swimming can also be good, as long as you stay warm.
- Pay attention to and promote the regularity of your bowel movements. If you face occasional constipation, taking herbs like Triphala can help keep things moving optimally.
- Lack of routine agitates vata, so establish a routine and stick to it. For example, try going to bed at the same time every night and eating meals at the same time every day.
Reducing Ama Buildup
To support your joint health, and your health in general, keep ama buildup in check. How do you know if you have collected ama? One simple indicator to look at is your tongue. If you have a thick white or yellow coating on your tongue, it is likely that the rest of your body is also “coated” (in a manner of speaking) with incompletely digested buildup. Other signs of ama can include foul odors (bad breath, foul smelling gas, offensive body odor, etc.); a foggy or sluggish feeling (physically and/or mentally); and lack of appetite. If these are ongoing symptoms for you, we recommend that you visit your health practitioner. Panchakarma with an Ayurvedic practitioner is an excellent means of eliminating ama and regaining optimal balance. You can also help prevent ama and cleanse light amounts of buildup with a gentle food-based home cleanse. A food-based cleanse gives the digestive system a rest, giving your body the chance to reset itself. To read more about Ayurvedic cleansing, download our free Ebook and try one of our new Ayurvedic Cleanse Kits, developed in conjunction with Ayurvedic, TCM, yoga teacher and practitioner Dr. Scott Blossom.
Herbs and Exercise for Healthy Joints
By attending to vata and ama, you can do a lot to keep your joints healthy. It’s also very helpful to do gentle strengthening exercises that tone the muscles, and to maintain ideal body weight to keep stress off of weight-bearing joints. Herbs can also be a great boon to joint health. Formulas such as Banyan’s Joint Support contain boswellia, guggulu, ashwagandha, turmeric, and other herbs traditionally recommended to keep you moving at your best. Here’s to a happy and healthy October!
- Lad, Vasant. The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies. Three Rivers Press, New York, 1998. P. 128.
Dr. Premal Patel, MD, Ayurvedic Practitioner and Wellness Director at Banyan Botanicals