Looking after Ourselves in Autumn

  Petals, earth and fire*

 

Autumn is a time of beautiful change and here we will look at simple ways in which to stay at our optimum during this season. In order to help understand what is happening in these months, we will look at some basic Ayurvedic theory regarding the elements and Autumn. With this we will be able to further understand what is happening in the environment and within us, and what symptoms may arise in our bodies, emotions and mind. Then we will cover how to address these changes and also how to prepare for them through simple daily regime, lifestyle, exercise, cleansing and herbs.

 

By observing the processes of Mother Nature we can better understand the processes within us. In Ayurveda there is a law which states that like increases like. The weather is cold, dry and windy in Autumn. The characteristics of vata are dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, mobile and clear. It is a time when vata naturally predominates as the characteristics of vata are much like those of the Wind or Autumn – dry, cold, windy/ mobile, rough.

In Autumn, people may experience drier, tighter, rougher skin. We may feel a little ungrounded, constipated, bloated, anxious or suffer insomnia. Some people feel more lonely at this time, insecure or restless. Our joints may crack more, or we may feel more pain in them. People also report more stiffness in the neck and back area.

 

 

autumn leaves fallenIt is a time of transition, a time personified in many ways by the crisp leaf falling off the tree and being carried on a blustery wind. We are certainly more aware of the wind, of the cold. It unveils a certain emptiness. And this can affect us, sometimes feeling a bit bare and exposed. It can be a tender time. In this letting go into the dark, into the mystery, it can be very nourishing. It is a time of potential, a time where we can naturally reconnect with our source. The Ayurvedic ways can help soothe the mind and nourish the body so that our spirit can reconnect with the inherent deepness that is revealed to us at this time.

As the temperature drops, it is beneficial to protect the body from this heat loss, to refortify tissues and to nourish the skin. With colder temperatures there is less blood flow to skin. Just like with trees who loose their leaves now. The sap goes within and into the roots. This reduced blood flow can leave muscles fatigued. An unctuous and nourishing lifestyle helps smooth muscle tissue without and within so as not to be sluggish. It is also a good time of year to receive massage.

The movement of blood from our extremities to our core increases blood to the inner environment – the heart and brain. It is naturally a time of inspiration, of new ideas. The leaves falling off the trees are actually the bud emerging and pushing off the old leaves! And the beautiful array of colours we see in this time have always been there – it’s the green chlorophyll disappearing with the going of the sun that lets the other ones emerge!

 

last leaves

 

Vata is comprised of Ether and Air. It’s etheric nature can give a sense of space. In this we may feel free or lost. It’s inherent Air element can lead to creativity and imagination or to anxiety and worry. The emotions can be scattered by this windy outer and inner environment. Relaxation rather than over-booked calendar will help one prepare for winter rather than continuing apace with the summer! Simple and regular routine has a deeper balancing effect that an ‘as needed’ approach. It is a good time for re-setting – acknowledging that we’re overly busy, slowing down and restoring. If not, something may come along which may do just that!

 

If you are a vata-dominant person then you are more likely to feel the natural increase in vata during this season. This is good news as all the tips in this article are well suited for you! Vata-dominant people have light, flexible frames, smaller eyes, more irregular teeth. Their veins are usually more visible due to not having the thicker subcutaneous layer that kapha individuals have. They have irregular appetite and thirst and are prone to digestive and malabsorption problems and can have dry skin, hair, lips and colon. They have light scanty sleep, and cold hands and feet.

Vata individuals are easily excited, and may act quickly without thinking. They can be very creative, have good imagination, and also a tendency to change.

The quality of being mobile is quite unique to vata and it is capable of aggravating the other two doshas. Often in the Ayurvedic approach we pacify vata so that it doesn’t help move the aggravated dosha around the body, further complicating the issue. Seasonally vata is exacerbated in the Autumn, which expresses the same qualities, while pitta in the Summer and kapha in the Winter.

 

Balancing Vata

 

Seasonal routine and daily routine are seen as cornerstones of health in Ayurveda. As such it is good to know the pathways to health as well as the pathways that are a detriment to our health and it is up to us to be responsible for both.

We cure in Ayurveda with the opposite qualities. For vata we encourage nourishing, warming, softening, still, oily, heavy qualities. The aim in balancing vata is to improve our digestion and assimilation, calm our nervous system, settle the mind, regulate the inner workings of the body, avoid a wide-range of symptoms of ill-health and disease and live a long and healthy life.

 

Daily Regime

 

It is an investment in our health and vitality. One of the best ways to support vata is to be regular – do things at the same times each day.

  • Go to sleep before 10 and wake early – while there is the peace and quietness of this special time of transition. It is good to rise before the sun – it is a time full of magic.

  • Brush teeth with licorice/ mint based toothpaste.

  • Oil pulling – removes toxins, nourishes teeth and gums, strengthening the teeth and preventing receding gums, freshens the breath and soothes and stimulates the sense organs and mind. It has profound and systemic influence on body; circulatory system, skeletal system and nervous system.

    After having brushed the teeth, take approximately a tablespoon of organic, cold-pressed sesame oil in the mouth and swill it around/ hold it for a few minutes. Then spit it out and massage the gums.

  • Abyhanga (Oil massage)

    Abyhanga revitalises the tissues, cleans the body, protects us from old age and is one of the best remedies for pacifying vata. It moves excess doshas back into the digestive tract so that they can leave the body, enhances tissue growth and promotes strength, relaxation and sound sleep. It aids in healthy joints and ligaments, and in nourishing the nerves.

    Have a towel or mat for this purpose. In a heated room warm up some organic, cold-pressed sesame oil and apply to the whole body. One can start feet up or head down. Rub in the oil so that it goes beyond the superficial fascia and aim to leave on for 20 minutes. In that time one can massage themselves, practice some yoga, meditate etc. After, wash off in a warm shower.

     Snigdha – the quality of oiliness, unctuosity is seen as one of the qualities of love in sanskrit.

  • Nasya – placing a drop of sesame oil in each nostril and massaging the inner walls of the nose helps clear the mind, awakens the senses, helps with good vision, protects and nourishes the beginning of the respiratory tract and increases our sense of smell.

  • Yoga

    shiva lingamIn looking after our health there is a lot of focus on what we eat. This is great, but should be balanced with a consciousness and responsibility to the other side – to what we do!

    Exercise – it is such simple way to look after our health and one that is not practiced enough. It helps tremendously with how we feel about ourselves too.

    Vata is aggravated by fast, mobile activities. So calming, tranquil and slow exercise is great for balancing vata. Walking, gardening, swimming, tai chi and yoga are perfect. Ayurveda also recommends exercising to 50% of our capacity. This awakens us without straining us.

    It is a time when there is a predominance of Air element and also of prana which is the subtle essence of Air – the breath of Life. Due to the copious prana in the atmosphere at this time of year one can start with alternate nostril breathing. It purifies the channels that of the mind and energy body and has a very beneficial effect on vata.

    Asana

    -slow, steady pace

    -deep, continuous breathing

    -ground feet and hands on mat

    -joint-rotation exercises (pawanmuktasana) are good for removing vata from the joints.

    -sun salutations (surya namaskar), to be done slowly with deep breathing

    -corpse pose (sarvasana) frequently, for grounding

    -heavenly stretch (tadasana) moves vata throughout the system

    -camel pose (ushtrasana), cobra (bhujangasana) and cat (marjarasana) help open out the contraction in the abdomen and spine

      -spinal twists are good for regulating vata in nervous system

      -moon pose (shashankasana), child’s pose (balasana) and thunderbolt pose (vajrasana) ground vata

      -inverted poses like shoulder-stand (sarvangasana) and headstand (shirshasana) regulate the upward movement of vata.

      For help with these postures please ask a yoga teacher to help make sure you are practicing them well.

  • Scent – Wear grounding oils like Vetiver, Spikenard, Patchouli, Ouds and uplifting oils like Geranium and Citrus.

  • Clothing – wear clothing that is soft and warm and protect yourself from cold winds, especially the ears, head and neck. The appropriate colours for this time of year are red, orange, yellow, bit of white. They strengthen the auric field. 

  • Breakfast -rice/ quinoa/ wheat/ oat/ porridge with cinnamon, anise, clove.

    (8am-ish) -stewed apple with spices and ghee

    -chyawanaprash or other medicines

  • Lunch -kicharee, soup, steamed veg, basmati rice and mung dal soup

    (12ish)

  • For extreme cases of vata imbalance it’s ok to take nap after lunch

  • Afternoon schedule – not too busy as this is vata time of day.

  • Dinner -steamed veg, rice with ghee, soups

    (6-7pm)

  • Evening – read, rest and relax.

  • Triphala

  • Hot milk – nourishes reproductive tissues – heat till boils and rises then mix in spices like cinnamon, clove, cardamon, nutmeg. Can start by having it with water.

  • Foot massage before bed

 autumn glory

 

Diet

 

Decrease    -cold food and drinks, ice

                    -salads, raw food, fermented foods

                    -dried foods

                    -yeast products

                    -bitter, pungent and astringent tastes

                    -black tea/coffee/

                    -apples, pears, foods from the brassica family (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower), raw veg, aubergine, kale, white potatoes,                         millet, corn, yeasted bread, dry oats, most beans, crackers

                    -If you do eat some of the grains, beans etc, have them soaked, well cooked and with ghee.

 

Increase       -mushy, warm, easily digested foods

                     -sweet, sour, salty and mildly spicy foods

                     -root veg, soups, stews, soothing meals, steamed vegetables

                     -warming tea’s – cinnamon, ginger, liquorice, cardamon

                     -calming tea’s – chamomile, or cumin/fennel/coriander

                     -warm cow/ almond milk with cardamon and nutmeg before bed

                     -favour plenty of warm beverages throughout day, sweet fruits, most cooked vegetables, especially root vegetables –                              beetroots, carrots, sweet potatoes, cooked oats, rice, wheat products, mung beans, some red lentils, most dairy products,                          sesame oil, olive oil, ghee, almond milk, fennel, licorice, peppermint, rosehip, most spices, honey.

 

Avoid           -skipping meals/ fasting (too depleting)

                      -excessive snacking

                      -late nights.

 

pumpkin soupWe are naturally drawn in Autumn to roast pumpkin and squash dishes, hearty soups, warming cups of tea. These foods and approaches maintain internal reserves of moisture and help keeping us grounded. Now is a good time for substantive foods and hearty grains, and meat and eggs if you eat them, as well as nuts and seeds.

These are general guidelines. Diet should be adjusted for one’s individual constitution, namely, if there is an imbalance of kapha or pitta the diet should take that into account.

It is also a good time to undertake a simple cleanse. More can be read about this in the coming article on Autumnal Cleansing.

 

Herbs

 

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)- revered in Ayurveda, similar to Ginseng in Oriental medicine. Rejuvenates muscles, bone marrow and nervous system. Fortifies immune system with its adaptogenic properties and also promotes deep calm. Helps induce sound sleep (somnifera), while also building iron levels, muscle tone and bone density. Rejuvenating at deep levels it affects the hormones and nervous system. Meaning the ‘strength of a horse’, it is also an aphrodisiac. Take in warm water/milk.

 

Chywanaprash – very good for building immunity, preventing common cold and sore throats. A medicinal jam, it is usually very tasty and has great healing benefits. Made of in the region of 40 herbs (dependent on recipe) it is a very powerful anti-oxidant, aids in rejuvenation, recovery from disease, improving mental clarity, treating breathing disorders and heart problems. Take in warm water/ milk.

 

Ghee – considered a food and a herb, it kindles the digestive fire, removes toxins, increases ojas (the vital essence), nourishes the seven dhatus (tissues) of the body, increases liver function, improves brain function, promotes intelligence, strengthens the nervous system, bestows lustre, nourishes the eyes, balances all the doshas. It is also used as a vehicle to carry herbs deeper into the body.

Ghee is simple and very satisfying to make. Slowly simmer unsalted butter for approximately 20 minutes to allow for the water content to evaporate and the milk solids to sink to the bottom. When it is a clear golden liquid and has changed from a baby-sweet smell to one of popcorn, let it cool slightly and strain into a glass jar. It can be left unrefrigerated and increases in medicinal potency with time!

 

Ginger – known to destroy toxins, it enkindles the digestive fire while also rejuvenating the body. It cleanses the blood and cells, helps with absorption of food in the intestines, prevents arthritis and protects the lungs. Known as a universal medicine that helps everybody and all diseases!

 

Triphala – meaning three fruits, it is one of the most famous Ayurvedic formulas. It gently cleanses the digestive tract, supports regular bowel movements, supports healthy respiratory, cardiovascular, urinary, reproductive and nervous systems. Contains a powerful anti-oxidant, amalaki, used lots in the rejuvenation therapy branch of Ayurveda. It supports the liver and immune system, clears mucus, removes toxins, and is good for weight loss. Gently cleanses and detoxifiers while at same time replenishes. And can also be used as a tonic for the eyes and hair. It is said of triphala that if you don’t have a mother, it will nurture you like a mother.

 

the tulsiTulsi (Ocimum sanctum) – Good for settling the nervous system and digestive system, it also helps protect us from seasonal colds and fevers, building immunity and rejuvenating the spirit. It aids with sleep and dispersing negative thoughts, clearing the mind. Seen as a sacred herb, with protective virtues, in latin it is named ‘sanctum’.

 

Other helpful herbs are dashamoola (ten roots), haritaki (terminalia chebula) and jatamansi (spikenard).

 

 

 

Taste is important, it starts the process of receiving the medicine in the body. Tasting the herb in the mouth, though maybe not so nice has very important affects on the brain, as well as signalling to the rest of the body the medicine that is being introduced. Sometimes the tastes we find hard to swallow are what we need.

 

Autumn Talk

 

In general, include rest and relaxation, take it easier, and don’t overbook or overtax yourself.

Find that stillness and remember the beauty around and within you.