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Yoga and Ayurveda for Autumn Balance

  • DateAugust 26, 2014
  • AuthorEmma

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Autumn is dry, rough, windy, erratic, cool, subtle, and clear – qualities shared by vata dosha, so autumn is considered a vata season.

Ayurveda teaches us that like increases like, so autumn tends to increase vata, especially if vata is predominant in your constitution.  If you are unsure of your Ayurvedic constitution, there are plenty of online questionnaires that can at least give you an indication.  I trust Deepak Chopra’s one as much as any other.

Doshas

Whatever your constitution, it is a good idea to make some seasonal adjustments as we move into autumn.  Most of us do this to some extent without thinking about it too much.  We start to leave behind the salads and cooling fruits like watermelon for doughy breads and warm, grounding soups – foods that naturally subdue the dry, light, and erratic qualities of autumn.  If like increases like then opposites balance and vata season will be less aggravating if you fill it with warmth, oiliness, deep nourishment, loving relationships, and a sense of stability and groundedness.

Vata

Some common signs of vata accumulation include:

  •  in your mind – anxiety, nervousness, fear, loneliness, insecurity, restlessness, hyperactivity, giddiness, spaciness, forgetfulness and confusion;
  • in your digestion – burps, hiccups, gurgling intestines, excessive thirst, gas, bloating, constipation, an irregular appetite and mild weight loss. When vata is high, you are also likely to crave meat and fatty, salty, sour, or spicy foods.
  • in the rest of your body –  dry skin, lips, or hair, split ends, cracking heels, nails or cuticles, dandruff, poor circulation, cold hands or feet, eczema, psoriasis, lack of coordination, weakness, muscle fatigue and aches and stiffness.

General Tips for Everyone in Autumn

Some general tips that will serve us all well include

  • eating foods that are easy to digest, but also grounding and nourishing, such as root vegetables, soups, and stews.
  • Eat regular meals at regular times.
  • Drink fresh ginger tea with a little honey between meals so that your agni (digestive fire) remains strong and your appetite is stimulated prior to eating.
  • Drink room-temperature, warm, or hot beverages, and avoid iced drinks.
  • Do your best to limit your intake of raw vegetables, salads, and cold or frozen foods.
  • Reduce the pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes and avoid overly fiery spices, strong black teas, and coffee.

Vata is always moving and changing so establishing a simple daily routine is one of the most powerful ways you can balance it.  It’s good to rise early at this time of year so that you can benefit from the stillness of the early morning hours.  Before you bathe, massage your skin with warm sesame oil or, if coconut oil you’re a pitta type, to counter the dryness affecting the skin and joints at this time of year.  For exercise, relax your pace a bit and choose fluid, strengthening activities like walking, tai chi, swimming, and yoga.  If you practice yoga, move at a slow, relaxed pace, maintaining of course, an attentive awareness of your breath.  It’s always good to get input from an experienced teacher if you are working with a regular practice as it will genuinely impact your system and you want to make sure it does so positively.

Tips for Vata Constitutions

If vata is strong in your constitution you will need to be especially mindful of calming its effects in autumn.  Foods that are inherently warming, well cooked, and well spiced (but not fiery hot), can significantly reduce your risk of vata imbalance.

Mango

Especially supportive are things like: ripe bananas, lemons, mangos, oranges, peaches, plums, carrots, olives, onions, kidney beans, miso, nut butters, almonds, cashews, peanuts, walnuts, butter, cheese, eggs, chicken, and fish.

If you enjoy red meat, now is a great time of year to indulge.  Sweet treats to enjoy would be moist dessert breads, like banana bread, pumpkin bread, and carrot cake.  Great before bed is spiced milk (almond milk if preferred) with a maple syrup, agave, or natural sugar, and a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.  If you want to get really ayurvedic try a teaspoon of ghee in there too! Avoid too many raw vegetables and legumes; they are drying and can create wind in the body.  If you do enjoy salad, eat it at lunchtime and garnish generously with an oily dressing.  Minimize your intake of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, and beans, and if you do eat them occasionally, try to make sure they are well cooked, well spiced, and well-oiled.  If you can, soak your beans overnight before cooking them.  It is best to forego black tea and coffee, and if this sounds difficult it does get easier as you notice the effects they have on you when you do take them.

Try to make time for regular self-massage with sesame oil, gentle exercise in the morning or evening, and time out for a few deep breaths throughout the day.  Self-reflection or meditation on a daily basis is so beneficial as you get more attentive to your fluctuations, tendencies and any erratic-ness.  Some tips for your yoga practice include wearing warm clothes if necessary, working in an attentive flowing manner with your asana practice and starting and ending with a few minutes of alternate nostril breathing.  If you’re anything like me, your tendency may be to fill your days with constant activity, accumulate stress and become ‘a bit’ flighty.  Give yourself plenty of time to simply relax.  If you feel your energy waning, try a short afternoon nap.  Remember that “less is more” and that multitasking is certain to disperse your energy.  (Note to self Emma, note to self!)

Tips for Kapha Constitutions

Kapha’s heavy nature is actually balanced by the qualities of autumn so if you have a lot of kapha you will want to embrace these qualities without going too far and you should always be mindful of not ‘getting too kapha’ with too much heavy oily food as winter isn’t far off and that’s the kapha season.  Go with foods that are heavy and grounding enough to soothe vata, but not so much so that they weigh you down.

Some good examples are apricots, berries, cherries, peaches, soaked prunes, soaked raisins, asparagus, beetroot, cooked carrots, chillies, green beans, leeks, okra, cooked onion, honey, basmati rice, seitan, cottage cheese, goat’s milk, shrimp, and sunflower seeds.  You may also find that you can continue to enjoy lighter, more astringent foods than most during vata season – some salads for lunch, lots of vegetables, and some beans for protein.

Kapha tends to be grounded, stable, moist, and slow by nature, so you may find that you’re not disturbed by the light, dry, erratic characteristics of autumn.  In fact, autumn can promote more of an active balance for you if you struggle with an internal sense of inertia.  Start your day early and do something active before 10am, if possible.  A more vigorous exercise program may well suit kaphas better during vata season so pull on your joggers, get the bike out, or go with an invigorating yoga practice.  Aim for a balance between the active, engaged approach that benefits kapha and the quiet, reflective activities that calm vata – be aware of overindulging in either one.

Tips for Pitta Constitutions

For pitta types, autumn can be welcome, especially if you live in a climate with hot summers.  It’s good to take advantage of the vata season to clear out any excess pitta you accumulated during the summer.  If you don’t you too can be susceptible to feeling disturbed by autumn’s dry, light, mobile, and subtle qualities.   Seasonal apples and pears offer the perfect combination of cooling energy, astringent taste, and fibre content to clear out built up pitta in the early autumn.  From here you want to stick with foods that balance vata without aggravating too much pitta.  Some examples include avocados, sweet berries, coconut, dates, figs, soaked raisins, asparagus, coriander, cucumber, green beans, okra, parsnip, sweet potatoes, courgettes, oatmeal, quinoa, basmati rice, wheat, tofu, soft cheeses, fresh yogurt, soaked and peeled almonds, and sunflower seeds.

You can be aggravated by the light, mobile qualities of autumn so some focus on grounding and stability can be helpful.  Sesame oil massage can irritate or dry out pitta-type skin so combine with or switch to coconut oil.  Tone down your ambition when exercising and try not to finish your workout feeling too flushed or out of breath.  In your yoga practice, don’t go for too hot and sweaty, don’t go mad with inversions, and practise maintaining a grounded, relaxed effort.

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