||an Ayurvedic Autumn
If you read and followed my last article on how to have a healthy summer you will hopefully have avoided too much heat and pitta accumulating in you and are ready for the glory of a multi-coloured autumn.
Using the practise of awareness of the five elements (panch tattwa) you can simply tell what changes are occurring in nature. You can hear the wind blowing through the trees and along the streets and the crisp sound of leaves underfoot. You can feel the slight drop in temperature, the increase in dryness, the stronger gusts of wind. You can see the changing colours of the earth, the leaves drying on the trees, the branches bending in the wind. You can taste the delicious ripeness of the seasonal berries and fruits and smell the richness of the earth.
Autumn is a time when the Air element (vayu) is predominant; there is more lightness, dryness and coolness. There is also the tendency for ‘the winds of change’ to blow ever more erratically. These qualities in nature have a tendency to aggravate vata which is the dosha primarily associated with the nervous system. Vata also regulates the levels of moisture in the body, how relaxed we feel and how well we digest food. Autumn is naturally a time of balancing vata and reducing any symptoms of wind, dryness and erratic behaviour. Remember that in Ayurveda you do not want the dosha to accumulate as dosha means your ‘enemy’!
Autumn qualities: Light, dry, cool, erratic, rough, mobile, subtle and clear
Air anatomy: Vata can build up in the lungs, nervous system, brain, large intestine, hair, nails, bones, skin and hands. This can especially cause dry skin, constipation and increased anxiety, which may cause nervousness and insomnia.
Air physiology: Breathing, speech, nervous impulse, touch, muscular movement, thought movement, cellular communication, burps, hiccups, and flatulence.
Psychic Air: Anahata chakra: located behind the centre of the chest at the cardiac plexus. Related to emotions, feelings, communication, compassion, sensitivity, empathy, love, psyche and inspiration. These experiences and feelings can be enhanced by the natural increase in openness and creativity that the air element can create.
Air flavour: Wind is increased by pungent, astringent, bitter flavours that are found in very hot spices, too much black tea and raw salads.
Air Asana: To decrease too much vata practice grounding, relaxed, opening and slow movements using slow and steady breathing practices.
A Yogic Autumn
One of the main causes of disease in Ayurveda is crimes against wisdom (prajnaparadha). This means violating your inner sense of intuition as well as ignoring your past experience. Denying this wisdom results in acting inappropriately for who you are. This gives you great responsibility for your health and is a very empowering tool for taking control of your health. Also classified under this heading is the restraint of natural urges (vegavrodha); there should be no withholding the need of thirst, hunger, sneezing, yawning, crying, urinating, defecating, farting, burping, orgasm, sleep, waking and breathing due to over exertion. This does not mean wanton indulgence of your needs but also appeals to you to follow your physical needs without letting your mental attractions and aversions get in the way. A teacher once taught me “graze like a cow and let your spirit soar”, meaning live simply according to the needs of your body and let your consciousness flourish. Simple and true! Ayurveda and Yoga both teach us that the practice of observation is the path to understanding.
It is important to say that the suggestions below are for seasonal balance and that you must always pay attention to any personal needs above and beyond this. If you have a vata constitution ignore them at your peril!
• Rising early when the world is still and calm brush your teeth with some nourishing tooth powder such as licorice, haritaki and mint.
• Hold some warm sesame oil in your mouth for three minutes. This sounds strange but it has a wonderfully nourishing effect on the mouth, strengthens the teeth and stops bleeding and receding gums.
• A specific autumnal practice is to then rinse your mouth with haritaki water (1 teaspoon of haritaki soaked in warm water overnight). After rinsing you can swallow some of the haritaki, as it is the main rejuvenative for balancing vata and sending apana vata downwards. Apana vata is one of the sub-types of vata that is responsible for moving everything downwards. As wind can aggravate constipation it is a very useful practice for this time of year.
• Massage yourself with warm sesame or mahanarayan oil. This can offset the seasonal tendency to dryness, joint cracking, and stiff muscle pain. Wash off in a warm shower. Place a drop of oil in your nostrils and ears to offset the damaging effect of the elements. A special oil called nasya nasal oil is prepared with herbs that protect the nose and ears from infections and can be useful during the autumn.
• Start your yoga practice with some alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodhana). The Hathayogapradipika says, “By proper practice of pranayama all disease are eradicated….. The vayu should be skilfully inhaled, exhaled and retained so that perfection is retained.” (HYP 16 and 18). What better time to master the art of breathing than in autumn when there is such high prana in the atmosphere? Nadi shodhana does what it says; it purifies the channels of toxins, and especially vata-toxins that accumulate from tension and constriction of the channels. We all know that breathing helps us to relax, but it also relaxes the subtle channels that can easily become constricted and tight.
• Do asana that regulate vata and send apana vayu downwards; this especially includes pawanmuktasana (the wind relieving poses of Swami Satyananda), all inverted poses where the head moves below the waist (as air moves up and inverting ourselves can help apana vayu move down), all twists as this helps to regulate samana vayu in the intestines, slow sun salutation with breaths in each pose and then lots of shavaasana (corpse pose) for proper grounding.
• Apply grounding scents such as vetiver or a vata essential oil on the eyebrow centre and throat.
• Your autumnal diet should consist of warm foods that are sweet, mildly spicy, sour and salty as these are all flavours that increase moisture and encourage feeling nourished and grounded.
• Break your fast with a small bowl of porridge of oats, rice or quinoa that can be flavoured with maple syrup and cinnamon.
• Take a teaspoon of organic Chywanaprash in the morning to keep your energy and immunity intact at this time of change. Chywanaprash is a great remedy for reducing vata and maintaining your inner strength.
• If you are easily destabilised by the changes in the autumn season and can suffer from vata imbalanced symptoms such as insomnia, erratic digestion, constipation and anxiety then the most famous Ayurvedic remedy is Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). It is great for calming whilst strengthening, giving you energy whilst also settling the nervous system. You can take it morning and evening. It’s a great herb for enhancing stability and strength in your yoga practice as well.
• For lunch and or supper have more nourishing foods such as steamed vegetable, soup or kicharee. Kicharee recipe:
1/3 cup organic mung dal, 2/3 organic basmati rice (or other grain) simmered in 3-4 cups of water (a ratio of 1:3 or 1:4).
Add 1/4 tsp each of organic turmeric, fresh ginger, roasted cumin and coriander. Add seasonal organic vegetables: carrots, beetroots and squash for an all round healing, healthy and digestive fire enkindling meal. The rules are to cook it on a very low heat in a covered saucepan and DO NOT stir it after all the ingredients are added (or you end up with a mush!).
• Avoid too much raw salad, cold drinks, ice, beans, fermented foods and yeast in autumn as they cause gas and may destabilise your digestion.
• Autumn is a common time to perform a seasonal cleanse to prepare for the winter ahead. These recommendations are similar to the shat karma recommendations in the Hathayogapradipika to clear the phlegm, bile and wind from the system. A very simple home cleanse programme would be to follow the above recommendations and to take organic Triphala at night to ensure that you have a complete cleansing every morning. Triphala is the most famous Ayurvedic remedy and is a combination of three fruits that very gently detoxify the body and rejuvenate the digestive system. Follow this programme strictly for two weeks.
• At the end of your busy day make yourself a delicious cup of milk simmered with a pinch of nutmeg and cardamom and settle in for a blissful nights sleep!
Sebastian Pole Lic OHM, Ayur HC is an Ayurvedic and Chinese Herbalist using Yoga therapy in his clinical practice. He has trained with the Satyananda School of Yoga.
He runs Pukka Herbs specialising in Organic Ayurvedic herbs, teas, capsules and tinctures. View www.pukkaherbs.com for lots of information on Ayurveda.
He has an Ayurvedic herbal practice in Bath: 01225 466944 for appointments