Ayurveda uses the gunas to help us understand and remember each thing we encounter in the material world. These gunas are qualities and attributes which we perceive through our five senses, including the way we experience nature and our bodies. The rishis (ancient sages) of India determined that there were exactly twenty qualities, arranged as “pairs of opposites.” When I talk about vata season, I’m also referring to the gunas of vata dosha.
Everything begins in the cosmos. The earth-sun arrangement changes progressively throughout the day, the seasons, and the year. Small currents of energy build to a noticeable flow and accumulate. With time, these subtle energies overflow from the cosmos into nature, where they take form as excess molecules of air and space. And excess air and space can create disruption for vata.
In the upper Midwest haven of Wisconsin, summers are short. The first signs of vata season arrive in late September. The cold guna comes at night, bringing fall weather. Mornings take on a crispness—a great relief from the heat of August. While the chill is welcomed at first, over the duration of vata season it permeates the body and causes irregular digestion. I combat the cold by drinking hot water and warming beverages, including spiced tea and golden milk. The cold guna informs me that the cooling raw veggies of summer need to be replaced with warmly spiced, cooked foods.
In October, vata season colors abound, turning the drying leaves on the trees into festive hues. Meanwhile, the browning corn and golden soybeans rustle in the fields. The dry guna is suddenly all around us. This astringent dryness of nature also makes its way inside the body. Excess vata dries the skin and slows the process of waste elimination. During this time of year, I increase my consumption of oils, adding more Ghee to my hot breakfast oats. Nightly triphala assists in regular elimination. I have no desire to oil my body during the summer, but when the dry winds blow, an oil self-massage followed by a warm bath sounds good. This also balances vata.
Fall season marches onward! A cool and dry wind sneaks into the days, stripping dry leaves from the trees. Vata inspired air seems to move in all directions at the same time. Irregular and unpredictable, it is a manifestation of the mobile guna.
Halloween often brings a “vata storm.” It’s a cold, dry, unpredictable wind that rages for hours. As it blows away the last color from the trees, the subtle storm energies penetrate the body. People will tend to lose their voices, and their minds feel scattered too! The vata tide peaks.
In fall, I have trouble focusing and sleeping; the monkey mind is on 24-hour watch. This is the light guna, enhanced by the dry and mobile gunas. I meet lightness with heaviness at the weekly farmers market where I find root vegetables, ready to be roasted and used in generously oiled and warmly spiced soups and curries. Maple syrup is perfect for adding a sweet touch. These heavier foods calm the vata mind.
Wisconsin is cold, and the winter is long. Unlike the heat of summer, which brings expansion and spontaneity, the cold and windy vata season begins to constrict my space. I find balance by creating a routine: doing the same things at the same times on the same days of the week, keeping to a reasonable bedtime, and getting back to regular yoga classes. Balancing vata by re-establishing routines creates a sense of being grounded, and helps me weather the season with a balanced body and a calm mind.