In Ayurveda, as in modern scientific research, the idea that seasonal change brings with it internal change is paramount to the optimal functioning of our minds and bodies. For example, researchers are now recognizing that seasonal change, and the dietary shifts that naturally accompany it, alter our gut flora in ways that help us to adapt to the environment. It is widely recognized in modern medicine that this gut flora, called the gastrointestinal microbiome, is largely responsible for not only our ability to digest food and fluids, but for our immunity, inflammatory processes, and our mental and emotional health.
Ayurveda has always known about our direct relationship with our environment and that all change can effect us for better or worse, no matter how subtle. This isn’t just coming from a dietary standpoint, in encompasses everything from the colors we choose to wear to how we think. Our indivisible connection to the environment is one of the cornerstone, common sense, practical foundations of the medicine. With regard to seasonal change, variations in individual constitutional tendencies are recognized in Ayurveda as we move through the year.
As with most things, there are layers of understanding to any concept. In terms of seasonal change, constitution, and how to keep balance internally, various factors have an effect on us. One is that change is happening with any seasonal shift. We are used to one climatic pattern, then it starts to morph into something else on us. Length of daylight increases, then wanes. Some constitutions are ok with this and welcome it, and some have difficulty adapting to it.
Whether change is welcomed or not, our bodies still need to adapt to it. Right now, we are experiencing a shift from late summer (the hot, humid season in the Northeast), to autumn. Climatically speaking, we may still be experiencing rains and humidity, but things begin to look like they are drying out. The heat will go on indoors as soon as the outside air cools. The leaves become brittle, and the wind increases to help them fall from the trees. These things combined with the fact that there is a change in general will tend to rustle vata dosha. Vata is already prone
to aggravation at this time of year because the strong solar radiation has evaporated moisture all spring and summer.
Vata dosha is basically a natural force that has qualities. In Ayurveda, like increases like. This means that any of the qualities of vata externally in the atmosphere will create a resonance with our internal vata qualities and heighten them. Vata’s primary qualities, or guna’s, are: lightness, mobility roughness, dryness, and cold. This means that any change in the environment that mimics any of these things may increase them in us physically and mentally. Wind is mobile, it may make us feel unsettled, restless, or encourage an over active mind. Cold makes us feel cold and makes us contract. Dryness means our skin or mucous membranes may feel dry in response to a decreased fluid intake or overexposure to wind.
Another influence at this time of year that may feel more subtle and less direct but is indeed just as potent is the Earth’s relative angle to the sun. In late summer and fall, we move from the yang or solar radiation dominant time of year to the cooling, yin, lunar time of year. This is moon time, roughly from July to January. This is when the days are shorter. Although certain things may make us feel dry, there is actually more moisture in the Earth because of the lunar dominance. The moon is associated with water and going inward. Sometimes this inward momentum can be mistaken as being something negative.
We basically wipe ourselves out all summer long doing things that are out of seasonal rhythm. Bodily energy wanes in the summer, yet we eat things that are difficult to digest, party, travel all over the place and rarely get enough sleep. Schedules are a hectic mess in the summer. By fall, we need a rest but rarely get it. There may be more routine, but the fact of the matter is that the digestive fire has waned, we’ve worked on aggravating pitta all summer, and now it’s possible that it will also go out of balance.
Pitta is a combination of the elements of fire and water. The watery lunar nature lends itself to building pitta back up after it’s been weakened in the summer months, particularly the digestive fluids, known as agni or digestive fire. This is wonderful, but pitta will increase systemically as well, and this is a time where we see more inflammatory conditions arise including allergies.
What I recommend to do for any seasonal change is follow what you feel. If you’re recognizing more aggression and judgmental thinking in yourself, your pitta is aggravated. Aggravated pitta, as mentioned, is associated with inflammation, and heat conditions. These include heartburn, nausea, and skin eruptions. If there is a spacey feeling with more anxiety, insomnia, and fear, vata may be the primary force out of balance.
In either case, grounding and being more present with what is happening in the moment can be very helpful. It allows us to take the energy back from the emotional charge associated with the imbalance. Another helpful thing to do is breathe. Taking deep breaths not only helps rid the body of inflammatory energy and toxins, but helps to calm an overactive nervous system. This all balances pitta and vata. So does exercise.
Mindful exercises like a grounding yoga practice or deep breathing on a nature walk do wonders for the mind and body. Eating seasonally, as mentioned above, has its advantages too. The body tends to be more attuned to the environment than the mind when it comes to food. Eating cooked, whole, local, and seasonal foods that your body feels drawn to having are best.
If there are cravings that feel like they could be unhealthy, ask yourself why you are having them. Are there feelings of loneliness? Anxiousness? Grief? Oftentimes we sedate our emotional body with shallow breathing and poor dietary and lifestyle choices. Fall is considered the metal time of year in Chinese Medicine, and is associated with grief. Grief is known to adversely affect the lungs. The lungs are responsible for the entire respiratory system in Chinese Medicine. When grief is unresolved, it perks back into our conscious awareness in the fall, even if we don’t know what it’s related to. This is another reason to ground, be present, and breathe deeply.
There are loads of online resources and books about seasonal change and best self care practices.
I recommend taking the time to find something that resonates, pick out a practice that feels comfortable, and start doing it today.
Have a wonderful autumn.