The saints of Ayurveda observed how the elements are involved in the different seasons and times of day. They brought to light the importance of understanding this in order for us to prevent imbalance and disease.
During fall, in the temperate climate, Vata predominates; leaves dry out and fall, wind increases, and it gets colder. Thus, at this time, in places such as North America and Europe, it is wise to include more digestive spices and soupy, moist, warm, oily, cooked foods with heating virya, and healthy sweet, sour and salty tastes. This is of great importance especially for people with a Vata constitution. Those having a Pitta constitution should be careful not to indulge in too much sour, salty, pungent and heating foods, and if Kapha, one should not eat too much sweet, sour and oily foods.
Suggestions for great meals include basmati rice, dal, vegetables such as pumpkin, beet, carrot, yam, asparagus, okra, parsnips, and spinach, paneer or other cheeses, prepared with an array of digestive spices such as turmeric, cumin, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, black mustard seeds, roasted garlic, dill, basil, hing/asafetida and fenugreek.
During winter, in temperate regions at low altitude and close to the ocean, such as at the coast lines of North America and Europe, Kapha accumulates. This is a time of clouds, wet and heavy snow and cold temperatures. Thus cooked warm foods with greater pungency and heating virya are preferred. Avoid old leftovers and excessive sweet and heavy foods. Enjoy hot water or herbal teas such as fresh ginger or cinnamon with honey throughout the day to stimulate the digestive fire.
If you have a Pitta constitution, be careful not to ignite the inner heat too much; instead of consuming pungent foods and drinks, enjoy the coziness of exterior heat by sitting next to a fireplace or wrapped in soft blankets with a cup of hot chamomile tea.
During winters that are particular long and cold as well as in high altitudes such as the Rocky Mountains in the USA, Austria, and Switzerland, the wind is more rough, the air is thinner and drier, and Vata is likely to get provoked, thus follow more of a Vata soothing diet as in the fall.
Spring is the junction between winter and summer. This is a time of increasing daylight and warmer temperatures; flowers bloom and hibernating animals leave their winter sleeping places. Mother Earth is awakening while the sun melts the snow. In early spring, Kapha easily gets aggravated because the water and earth elements liquefy. Just as rivers tend to overflow at this time due to spring floods, the body is exposed to internal overflow of the Kapha attributes. Thus it is important to favor dry, light, rough, warm, bitter, astringent and pungent foods to help clear mucus and excess moisture from the body. If suffering from ailments due to Kapha aggravation, this is a supreme time to cleanse the body.
During later spring, as the sun rises and it gets warmer, Pitta starts accumulating and the need for foods and drinks with more cooling virya increase. This of course is most important for people with a Pitta constitution or aggravation.
When the heat escalates and summer comes, the fiery, sharp and light qualities of pitta increase in the body and mind. It may appear that during this time, the digestive fire should be strong; however, due to certain physiological factors, it is not. Hence, it is very important to follow proper discrimination regarding what is good for us and not to indulge in what the mind and senses attract. For example, ice cream is a common food during summer, and while there is nothing wrong with a little ice cream during the heat of summer, we have to resist the desire of wanting a second serving. When we practice moderation and non-attachment towards the foods we take, we can enjoy the pleasure and nourishment it offers.
The foods to favor during summer consist of bitter, astringent, healthy sweet, light and easily digestible foods. One should especially enjoy the great variety of colors of vegetables and fruits such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale, cauliflower, turnips, purple potatoes, karela (bitter gourd), cabbage, dandelion, burdock, lettuce, neem, green beans, peas, cucumber, zucchini, yellow squash, apples, pears, sweet berries, ripe mango, peach and watermelon. Prepare the foods with spices such as fennel, coriander, cardamom, cilantro, and coconut. When cooking beets, carrots, tomatoes, pumpkin, okra, spinach, and chard, make sure to include a lot of cooling foods such as coconut, cucumber and cilantro in the menu – especially when living in places where the summer heat is intense.
During this time, it is best to avoid all red meats, garlic, onion, and tomato sauce, as well as pungent and excessively sour and salty tastes. The mind easily gets aggravated by the heat and the risk of imbalanced Pitta emotions, such as anger, irritation and criticism, increases. Thus, practicing more pranayama (breathing exercises) and meditating in the moonlight is recommended.
Please note that in tropical climate, the seasons are different; due to the high temperature and humidity, Pitta and Kapha prevail. Thus, it is recommended to favor cooling, bitter, astringent, healthy sweet taste such as grains and milk and lighter foods. Refer to the diets outlined during spring and summer.
Note that Vata can get provoked during tropical storms and other dramatic changes in the weather as well as lifestyle.
Healing Your Body Is Your Choice ~ Make It Now!
Suffering from any of the following?
All of these health issues are classified as Vata disorders. Vata Dosha gives light (versus heavy), dry, cold, rough, hard, subtle, clear and mobile properties to the body and mind.
Vata is the governing principle of movement and affects the nervous system, joints and bones; especially the pelvic girdle when aggravated.
1) Like Increases Like
When calming Vata Dosha, opposite properties are generally applied: heavy/grounding, oily/moist, warm, smooth/slimy, soft, gross, cloudy and static. Therefore, include in your diet lots of warm cooked grounding vegetable and chicken soups and stews, creamy sauces, healthy oils such as ghee, sesame oil and avocados, warm cooked cereals with soaked moist nuts and seeds.
2) Eat enough
Three square meals and two substantial snacks are ideal.
4) Digestive Spices
When Vata is disturbed, it is difficult to digest food, therefore, prepare your meals with several digestive spices such as ginger, black pepper, salt, cumin, turmeric, oregano, basil, thyme, tamarind and lemon juice.
5) Warm Milk Tonic
Before bed enjoy a warm milk tonic with cardamom, nutmeg, ghee and raw honey.
6) Abhyanga - Traditional Ayurvedic oil massage
ABHYANGA is very important when balancing Vata. For severe symptoms daily apply warm Vata oil or sesame oil to the whole body for 20 minutes before a hot shower.
Massage the whole body so you stimulate various Marma points to enhance circulation and blood flow as well as to open the subtle channels.
Each person has individual needs and while these recommendations may greatly help you, consider taking your health to a greater level by understanding YOUR Ayurvedic body-mind type, your current imbalances, and how to maintain your equilibrium and harmony when you are in balance.
Each season, your body and mind are affected by the changes in the environment and imbalances occur if you don't know how to prevent them by taking the necessary precautions.
If you are suffering from severe symptoms that are interfering with your life, diet and lifestyle changes are likely not enough. It will take the expertise of an Ayurvedic Practitioner to bring you back into balance; it will take Ayurvedic herbs, various herbal preparations and other Ayurvedic treatments.
This is your life. The longer you wait receiving the support you may need, the deeper the imbalance will go and more serious issues may develop.
Healing Your Body Is Your Choice ~ Make It Now!
Rasayana or rejuvenation for vata is needed in a variety of vata-related situations. In individuals of vata prakruti, during the management of diseases due to vata, in the vata season (autumn) and in the vata time of life, from age fifty onwards, it is important to address vata rasayana. Rejuvenation of vata is also important for those who live in jangala desha, the vata-predominant regions that are arid, with less vegetation and much high wind.(1) In terms of the United States, this description of jangala desha incorporates most of the desert and mountain West, with its high altitudes and arid or semi-arid conditions.
The king of vata rasayana herbs is of course Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) also known as winter cherry. Ashwagandha is a shrubby plant with greenish-yellow flowers and red berries. “Ashwagandha reduces increased vata and kapha and cures vitiligo, oedema, and wasting. It acts as a tonic and tissue vitalizer. It is bitter and astringent in taste and hot in potency and increases the quality and quantity of semen.” (2)
Although it is particularly famed for its action on the deeper dhatus, majja and shukra, Ashwagandha rejuvenates the dhatu agni of all seven dhatus. This broad spectrum activity is perhaps related to the large number of active principles in the herb root. The main active principles in Ashwagandha are steroidal alkaloids and steroidal lactones. At least thirty five different withanolides, or steroidal lactones as well as twelve alkaloids have been identified in Ashwagandha. Withanolides have anti-oxidant and adaptagenic actions and suppress generation of free radicals (ageing factors). They are anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory and anti-cancer. They act onmajja dhatu in supporting nerve regeneration and ameliorate beta amyloid neuronal dysfunction in Alzheimer’s disease. (3, 4)
In muscle aches and pains, and fibromyalgia, Ashwagandha can be used together with Yogaraj Guggulu. In vata type skin disease such as scaly eczema or psoriasis, it can be combined with Manjista and Turmeric. In sexual debility, a teaspoon of Ashwagandha can be taken at bed time in a cup of hot cow’s milk. For vata menstrual issues including irregular or painful menstruation, Ashwagandha can be combined with Shatavari, while to rejuvenate vata for the nursing mother, a combination of Licorice and Ashwagandha can be mixed in hot milk. The ultimate situation requiring rejuvenation of vata is balakshaya or vata type chronic fatigue. Ashwagandha is the herb of choice in this situation, and is traditionally taken with grtamadhu, a mixture of ghee and honey. For those who have systemic candidiasis and are unable to take gritamadhu as an anupan, almond milk is a good anupan that supports rejuvenation of ojas.
A fifty year old practitioner of yogic disciplines presented complaining of nervousness, anxiety, forgetfulness and nocturnal emissions. An individual of vata prakruti, he was also entering his vata time of life and was a resident of jangala desh, living at over five thousand feet in the windy, dry conditions of Colorado’s Front Range. His lifestyle was vata provoking in that he slept six hours or less a night and rose at three in the morning, unaware that vata prakruti requires at least seven hours of sleep a night. He quickly took to a more vata soothing lifestyle, incorporating self-abhyanga and svedan into his weekly routine. In addition, he was advised to take a cup of hot cow’s milk in the evenings with a teaspoon of Ashwagandha stirred into the milk. His sexual debility, manifesting in nocturnal emissions, was effectively relieved by this remedy. Although Ashwagandha is a celebrated aphrodisiac and shukral herb, it none the less supported this aspirant in his quest for brahmacharya or celibacy. His nocturnal emissions were unrelated to lust or excess libido, but were rather a manifestation of shukra gati vata—vata invading the shukra dhatu. Thus the vata soothing and shukra-rejuvenating impacts of vata served to eliminate his seminal emissions and support him on his yogic path. His anxiety calmed and his memory improved— impacts of Ashwagandha on majja dhatu.
Another important specific rejuvenative for vata is sesame oil and its derivative forms— medicated sesame oils such as Ashwagandha Bala Tailam. Sesame oil is considered a specific remedy for vata just as ghee is for pitta or honey for kapha. (5) Daily abhyanga is an essential feature of a vata-rejuvenating lifestyle.
“Abhyanga should be resorted to daily, it wards off old age, exertion and vata aggravation, bestows good vision, nourishment to the body, long life, good sleep, good and healthy skin.”(6)
The sages of Ayurveda noted special properties of sesame oil that are now being validated by scientific research.
“Clarified butter prepared from cow’s milk is the best of the animal snehas (oleaginous substances) while sesame oil is the best of the vegetable ones.” (7)
“Oil of sesame possesses properties like penetrating deep into the tissues and spreading throughout the body fast…capable of entering into even minute pores, hot in potency, not increasing kapha, it makes lean persons fatty and fat persons lean, is constipating, kills worms, with appropriate processing, it cures all diseases.” (8)
An important peer reviewed study published in the journal Anticancer Research showed that “sesame oil and its component linoleic acid, when added to human colon adenocarcinoma cells growing in tissue culture would inhibit their growth and that normal colon cells would not be similarly affected.” Both lipase-digested sesame oil (such as would result from eating sesame oil) and undigested sesame oil (such as in oil basti) showed in vitro capacity to kill colon cancer cells without harming normal cells. This interesting study points to the possible usefulness of sesame oil basti not only in rejuvenating vata but also in preventing colon cancer. A study in Delhi investigated the possible benefits of vegetable oil massage in infants, concluding, “Massage improved the weight, length, and midarm and midleg circumferences as compared to infants without massage. However, in the group with sesame oil massage increase in length, midarm and midleg circumferences by 1.0, 0.9 and 0.7 cm, respectively was significant.” (10)
Sesame oil is richly endowed with anti-oxidants, accoutring both for its special rejuvenative properties and for its ability be stored for long periods without becoming rancid.
A forty year old woman of vata prakruti complained of vata type chronic fatigue, depression, irregular menstruation and anxiety. . Her symptoms worsened every fall and had also greatly exacerbated once she moved from California to the jangala environment of Colorado.
She responded fairly well to a vata soothing formula including Ashwagandha, Vidari, and Dashamoola. However, her best ally was sesame oil and vata-soothing medicated sesame oils. Regular self abhyanga with sesame oil, as well as sesame oil basti, helped her make it through the challenging fall season. Over a five-year period of continuing to live in a vata provoking region, she found each fall and winter period went better than the preceding one, as long as she stuck with her practices of abhyanga and basti.
Above and beyond any herbal therapy, the best rejuvenative for vata is a good night’s sleep. “Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care,
The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
Chief nourisher in life's feast.” (11)
It is during sleep that the body engages in processes of growth and repair, and hence in the absence of proper sleep, even the best of rejuvenative herbs will prove ineffective. Yet all too often, as Wordsworth expressed,
“Even thus last night, and two nights more I lay,
And could not win thee, Sleep! by any stealth:
So do not let me wear tonight away:
Without Thee what is all the morning's wealth?” (12)
In vata provocation, sleep, important as it is for vata, is often hard to attain. In extreme cases of vata type chronic fatigue, day and night become reversed, with disruption of the natural cortisol cycle. The patient is tired all day, only to become hyperactive at night. Eventually falling asleep after sunrise ushers in Kapha time, they then sleep until mid morning or later. However, day sleep only serves to exacerbate their insomnia and fatigue, as these hours are not optimal for the body’s repair processes. Fortunately, our vata rejuvenation allies, Ashwagandha and sesame oil, both contribute to vata’s ability to obtain the most vital rejuvenative of all. Possessed of activity similar to the calming neurotransmitter GABA, Ashwagandha helps induce sound sleep. A teaspoon of Ashwagandha in a cup of warm milk at bedtime will help promote sleep in a vata-deranged individual. Sesame oil massage is likewise invaluable in promoting sound sleep. Simply oiling the soles of the feet at bedtime with sesame oil or vata massage oil calms the system and induces good sleep. In addition, soporific and nervine herbs such as Bhringaraj, passionflower, nutmeg, skullcap and chamomile can promote sleep, the greatest vata rejuvenative.
With our key vata allies, Ashwagandha and sesame oil, all vata systems can be rejuvenated, and the impact of obstacles to health such as a naturally vata provoking region or onset of the vata time of life can be minimized if not eliminated.
From the professional and student members of Colorama