The Wisdom of Ayurveda: A Healthy Transition from Summer to Autumn
As we begin the transition from late summer to early autumn, Shama Palmer explains how to ease as gently as possible into the new season using the wisdom of Ayurveda.
by Shama Palmer
In recent articles I have written about the dosha influences of the seasons in Ayurveda, and their potential effect on body and mind. Summer is recognised as a Pitta-dominant season, with warmer, lighter, longer days. However, just as we do not suddenly shift in one day from one season to the next, likewise Ayurveda recognises that we do not shift overnight from one seasonal doshic influence to another.
Rather, Ayurveda teaches us that as one dosha reaches its peak within its season of influence, the dosha of the next season will already be steadily accumulating. And once the dosha of a season reaches its peak, it begins to dwindle as we move towards the next season and the influences of its accumulating dosha start to take their effect.
This means that even though autumn is the season of Vata dosha influence, as we move towards late summer and early autumn, Vata dosha is already starting to accumulate. These months, therefore, require that we begin to pay attention to Vata dosha and to take steps to prevent its accumulation from becoming excessive and spilling over to cause discomfort in body and mind.
In addition, not only are we transitioning towards a Vata time of year (during which Vata is already increasing in our environment), but in Ayurveda, any transitional phase in our life is said to be a time when Vata dosha may rise and become aggravated. This time of year, as summer transitions towards autumn, is therefore seen as one of the most important transitions in the yearly calendar in Ayurveda. It is known as ritu sandhi, the gap between seasons, and we are exposed in this gap to a double-dose of Vata dosha: the season itself and the transition to that season.
What, you might ask, are the signs of the effects of this transitional time of year? A commonly-felt symptom is that we can begin to experience more sensitivity in our digestive systems. Heat may have accumulated in our tissues and digestive tracts through the summer months, and we can experience this as greater sensitivity to foods we eat, or in a tendency towards upset tummy and loose stools, or even as a drying effect on the intestines and elimination caused by too much heat accumulated.
Likewise, Vata dosha may already have been accumulating through the summer months if we have been eating a lot of raw and cold foods, and as Vata rises in the environment, we may start to notice the effects of such a diet in the late summer, with a less regular or efficient elimination, or drier skin and hair. As Vata naturally rises in nature and within our own bodies, we may experience some of the psychological as well as physiological symptoms of excess Vata dosha: a sense of unease, anxiety or worry, and a tendency to insomnia may surface or be worse than usual.
There are some lovely, nourishing protocols to follow which can help pacify the after effects of the summer season and guard against new effects of rising Vata dosha. Making a few lifestyle and dietary adjustments at this time of year can support an ongoing sense of well-being within us even through this delicate transitional time.
Here are ten tips to support your body and mind to adjust smoothly as move into the cooler seasons ahead.
1. As always, ensure that you’re eating seasonally. Nature gives us the foods that combat the effects of the seasons. At this time of year, on our walks around the beautiful Warwickshire countryside, my dog and I love to forage on the many fruits we find growing wild: blackberries, plums, apples, pears. This is the perfect time of year to enjoy these fruits. Blackberries are cool and light, and so may help to clear any accumulated heat in the digestive tract from the summer months, whilst also pacifying Vata dosha with their sweet and sour tastes. The sweet and sour plums that come later can help to calm Vata dosha – though in moderation, as they also have a drying effect. Apples can cool the intestines eaten raw as a morning snack, though are best eaten cooked, perhaps as an afternoon snack to pacify Vata dosha.
2. It’s time to start moving away from the raw foods and salads of summer. Eat lightly and move towards warming, soothing seasonal foods such as seasonal vegetable soups.
3. Your body may start to crave more carbohydrates. This is appropriate for the time of year, but make sure that you’re choosing healthy varieties: sweet potatoes, quinoa, rice, rye, spelt, barley and oats, and even wholegrain wheat if you’re able to digest it.
4. Drink freshly-made root ginger tea daily. Sipping a little before, during or after each meal, for Vata, Pitta and Kapha dosha types respectively can be a nice support for the digestive system.
5. Use spices in your food which will not create more heat, but which will support the potentially more delicate digestion. This could mean avoiding pungent spices like cayenne, chills, hot paprika, too much black pepper, and garlic (especially raw). Instead, favour digestive aids such as cumin, coriander seeds and leaves, fennel, cardamom, anise, turmeric, fenugreek, rosemary, basil, parsley. Using asafoetida in your foods is said to help relieve any Vata-type gassiness building in the digestive system.
6. Stay hydrated! Drinking a lot of cold water is not the true way to hydrate our tissues, according to the teachings of Ayurveda. It is much more hydrating to sip room temperature or warm boiled water throughout the day.
7. Avoid sweets and dairy. The body will struggle to deal with these heavier, congesting foods at this time of year. This includes ice cream and its challenging combination of ice-cold and dairy.
8. Keep yourself grounded and the body lubricated with daily abhyanga, or self-oiling, of the body. If you have a lot of Pitta in your constitution choose a cold-pressed organic olive oil or sunflower oil. Vata types can use a cold pressed (untoasted) organic sesame oil. Always warm the oil before using it by standing the amount you need each morning in small container placed a bowl of hot water or in a baby bottle warmer. It’s best not to apply cold oil, and never reheat the oil afterwards if it’s already been heated. Only leave the oil on for 10-20 minutes, and keep warm whilst the skin absorbs the oil. If you have a lot of Kapha dosha in your system, you may not want to oil your body daily: a couple of times per week with sesame oil will suffice, with skin brushing on other days using a natural bristle brush or raw silk glove to stimulate the lymphatics.
9. Nasya, nasal oiling, is another great way to help keep Vata dosha happy. Take a dropper and place one drop of warmed sesame oil in each nostril with the head tipped back.
10. Keep to a regular routine, especially in sleeping, waking and eating. Try going to bed by 10pm, rubbing warm sesame oil on the soles of the feet and temples before bed to support and quiet night. Wake early, clean your tongue and mouth and enjoy a glass of boiled warm water. As always, try to have your main meal at midday and to avoid taxing the digestion by eating in between meals.
Stay well, and enjoy these beautiful, fruitful months of late summer and early autumn. This is a great time to journal and to take an enquiry into what the fruits of this year have been for you so far. In both your outer material and inner spiritual worlds, what have been the gifts of your endeavours? What blessings, including blessings in disguise has the year brought to you which have opened your heart and expanded your mind? Gather these into your field of awareness and prepare to celebrate them, and your Self, in your own personal harvest festival once autumn arrives once more.
About the author
Sara Palmer (Shama) is an ayurveda practitioner and registered senior yoga teacher and therapist. If you’d like to learn more about agni, ama, ojas, your constitutional type and self care in ayurveda, Shama is running Ayurveda Living courses online.