Crisp air, erratic winds and falling leaves are the first signs of autumn in many parts of the country. And, according to Ayurvedic tradition, these are also the first signs Vata season. Rather than winter, spring, summer and fall, Ayurveda divides the year into three seasons: Vata, Kapha and Pitta, which are also known as the three life energies, or ‘doshas’.
“The Vata dosha is associated with the wind and air elements, and thus with movement in the body, including nerve impulses, circulation, cell division and breathing,” says Caroline Rasmussen, a trained herbalist, Ayurvedic expert and founder of Antara. “Vata season balances the intense heat of late summer and its quality of extroversion and abundance with a shift towards inner restoration and renewal. Shorter days, longer nights and colder temperatures give us a natural opportunity to focus more on resting and nourishing ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally.”
By practicing a little self-care this Vata season, you’ll be able to nourish your body and help stay balanced, calm and well-rested. Here are some idea for how to do that.
1. Eat hearty foods
Diet is an easy place to start, says Austin Vantastic, an Ayurvedic chef and consultant. Foods that are heavy and warm are best to combat the coldness and dryness of vata season.
Soups and stews are cozy go-tos, and so are root vegetables like turnips and potatoes. Vantastic suggests baked sweet potatoes “with some warming spices like cinnamon, clove, ginger and nutmeg.” Other heat-inducing spices he recommends using in your cooking are black pepper, ginger, pipali, hot peppers/ chilis, horseradish and wasabi. He also recommends including healthy fats, like nuts, seeds, plant-based oils and ghee in every meal to keep the body nourished and hydrated.
2. Start a new project
“With the increase in the air element we can experience a surge of mental activity and creativity,” says Rasmussen. “Vata season is therefore a great time to consider new projects and begin to plant the seeds for our coming year.” To keep Vata in balance, refrain from multitasking and instead focus on one thing at a time (if at all possible).
3. Foster good digestion
With the change in season, it’s common for your digestive system to feel a little off. Vantastic suggests drinking hot water with a bit of ghee or sesame oil before bedtime to keep yourself regular. “This helps improve digestion, and is heating and grounding,” Vantastic says. Dashamoola tea, a combination of 10 different Ayurvedic root herbs, with ghee or sesame oil, can aid digestion as well.
4. Start a meditation practice
The experts says mental activity can skew towards excessive worry, distraction or spaciness during Vata season. This is why Rasmussen suggests taking up a meditation practice, or least committing to regular periods of introspection, peace and quiet.
“Mornings are ideal for this as we haven’t yet been exposed to excessive stimulation and thinking yet,” she says. “Creating an enjoyable morning ritual that emphasizes mindfulness and gratitude, whether it’s a seated meditation, journaling or just making a healthy warm drink, will help stabilize excessive Vata.”
5. Do more yoga
“Yoga is a great way to stay grounded during Vata season,” says Vantastic, who adds that sticking to your normal yoga routine (if you already have one) is fine, but the important thing to remember during Vata season is to go slow.
“Vata season is an air element and is all about movement,” he says. “The Air element being more predominant in our environment is going to increase that inside of our body, which manifests as feeling ungrounded, anxious, fearful and cold.” Vantastic suggests counteracting that negativity by taking long slow intentional breaths, staying in your poses for longer than you normally would — including shavasana —and moving very slowly and steadily.
6. Get plenty of sleep
While fall and winter can naturally make us crave more sleep, it can be difficult to actually wind down for the night. “Making an extra effort to maintain a regular circadian rhythm and even go to bed early can help us balance the tendencies of Vata season,” she says. “Take time to wind down and get comfortable before bed with things like lavender oil diffused into the air or a favorite cashmere wrap that signal relaxation to the body and mind.”
7. Moisturize your skin
Dryness is a key feature of Vata season. Rasmussen recommends staying moisturized with warming body oils like sesame and almond, “which are best applied right after a warm shower or bath. On the face, luxurious oils like Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum can provide protection against chapping and irritation.”
8. Encourage blood flow
“Blood circulation can stagnate in the winter, especially to extremities like the hands and feet, as temperatures drop and we reduce our activity levels,” says Rasmussen. “Saunas, yogic inversions such as headstands and shoulder-stands and massages are great to promote blood flow and peripheral circulation. Infrared saunas can be particularly beneficial as we are normally sweating and detoxing less during Vata season.”
“In Ayurveda we are always working towards balance. When we are considering our balances with the season, we are trying to get our inner environment to harmonize with our external environment,” says Vantastic. Thankfully, the cooler temperatures may make us naturally crave the comfort of self-care. By taking Mother Nature’s lead and making these easy seasonal changes to your lifestyle, you’ll instantly feel more balanced and supported as the weather turns cooler.