The one thing that we can rely on in the relative world is that sooner or later, everything changes. Some change comes about by the choices we make but many happen due to natural laws beyond our control. Either way, change invariably causes some degree of disruption to our body-mind continuum. Recognizing these times of change and taking the necessary steps to maintain or re-store balance is an important part of our health, happiness and spiritual growth.
Rhythms of Nature
Nature moves in rhythms and cycles of rest and activity. The four cycles we are most familiar with are the 24 hour circadian cycle of night and day; the changing seasons; the ebb and flow of the tide; and the lunar cycle as the moon makes its journey around the earth. We are fully paid up members of nature. We cannot separate ourselves from the environment for an instant. Eve-rything we do influences the environment and everything that happens in the environment has an effect on us. Therefore, all nature’s rhythms and cycles have an effect on our body, mind and emotions. When we are in harmony with nature we experience joy and vitality, when we fall out of harmony, we open ourselves to discomfort and dis-ease.
In previous times, most people tended to live more harmoniously with nature. They went to bed when it grew dark and got up with the sun. They ate crops that grew locally and were available in that season. Nowadays, modern conveniences like electricity, rapid transportation and refrig-eration, have opened up a wide range of alternative possibilities. While we are not necessarily advocating moving to an isolated cabin with no utilities and growing our own food, it is im-portant that we learn use these conveniences without allowing them to dominate and disrupt our lives. In this article we will focus on the changes that take place during the yearly seasonal cy-cles and how to regulate our lives accordingly. However, these same principles can be used dur-ing any significant periods of change during your life – moving your home, changing your job, changing a relationship, etc.
The Ayurvedic Approach
The ancient Indian medical system of Ayurveda divides everything in nature, including our-selves, into three principles called the Doshas, which between them, reflect the five elements. The Vata Dosha represents space and air, Pitta reflects fire and water, while the Kapha Dosha is composed of the water and earth elements. Ayurveda then divides the year into three periods, reflecting the Dosha which dominates at that time of year. The Vata Dosha, as space and air, has cold, dry windy qualities, which we generally experience during the late autumn and early winter time. Pitta is hot and fiery and so dominates during the mid-summer and early autumn time. The Kapha Dosha, comprised of water and earth has a cold, damp heaviness about it, which we mostly find during the late winter into early summer. Of course the intensity and duration of these effects will vary depending upon where we live but they will apply to a greater or lesser ex-tent anywhere.
Everyone regardless of their Ayurvedic body type will experience an increase in the Dosha pre-dominating during these three periods. However, when the Dosha predominating in nature matches your individual body type Dosha, there may be more of a tendency for that Dosha to in-crease and go out of balance.
The main focus of Ayurveda is prevention – “avert the danger that has yet to come”. It does this by making recommendations to be followed during each doshic period.
Vata Period (late autumn and early winter)
- Favor warm, well cooked, easy to digest foods and warm liquids.
- Favor foods with sweet, sour and salty tastes.
- Reduce raw, dry foods.
- Perform light, gentler exercise.
- Stay moisturized and hydrated.
- Dress warmly, cover the ears.
- Get sufficient rest and sleep.
Pitta Period (mid-summer and early autumn)
- Favor cool foods and drink (not ice cold).
- Favor foods with sweet, bitter and astringent tastes.
- Avoid over-heating.
- Avoid over-working, take a vacation.
- Avoid too much exposure to the sun or humidity.
- Moderate exercise, swimming, walking, team sports.
- Get sufficient rest and sleep.
Kapha Period (late winter into early summer)
- Favor a lighter diet with warm food and drink.
- Reduce dairy products and oily foods.
- Favor pungent, bitter and astringent tastes.
- Perform more vigorous exercise, aerobics, jogging, active yoga.
- Avoid naps and over sleeping.
- Dress warmly.
Times of Change
In olden times, during periods of seasonal change, the wealthier people in India, would undergo three weeks of a detoxification and rejuvenation treatment program called Panchakarma. The purpose of this was to flush out any toxins and accumulated Doshas in preparation for the next season. While this probably isn’t possible for most of us, we can do modified versions in our own homes.
- Simplify your diet (see below)
- Moderate, regular exercise
- Regular routines
- Get enough rest and sleep
- Connect with nature
- Occasional fast/cleanse (see below)
- Detoxify to flush accumulated Dosha of previous season
- Eat healthy, fresh food, locally grown as much as possible
- Favor fruits and vegetables
- Avoid packaged and frozen foods
- Homemade soups and stews
- Lightly cooked, warm foods
- Freshly prepared vegetable and fruit juices
- One day liquids only fast
- Sip warm water throughout the day
- Drink ginger tea regularly during the day
- 1-2 teaspoons of aloe vera juice twice daily
- In general those having a predominance of Vata Dosha should only fast/cleanse for one day, Pittas can fast/cleanse for 2-3 days, Kaphas for longer if comfortable
- A simple fast/cleanse anyone can do daily is to finish the evening meal around 6-7pm and not eat (or snack) again until breakfast the following morning at around 7-8am
- Meditate regularly twice daily
- Release toxic emotions (see below)
- Practice forgiveness, for others or yourself
- Maintain an active lifestyle with social contacts
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help
- Avoid victimization and self judgment
- Practice gratitude
- Observe silence for one day, including no electronics.
- Take responsibility for your emotions, no one can make you feel how you do.
- Witness the physical sensation, associated with the emotion, in your body
- Breathe into the sensation and do something physical to release it
- Journal your feelings
- Share your feelings with a confidant who won’t judge
During times of change, it can be useful to look back over the previous period and ask yourself:
- How have my body and health been?
- In the Vata season was I overly active, Pitta season overheated, Kapha season sluggish?
- How have my sleep patterns been?
- In the Vata season was it disturbed, Pitta restless, Kapha excessive?
- Was there any significant emotional turbulence?
- In the Vata season did I tend to blame myself, Pitta blame others, Kapha become withdrawn?
- What other significant things have happened?
- Don’t judge yourself, just observe, have the intention of releasing what no longer serves you and flushing out whatever might have accumulated.
As you move forward into a new season or period of your life, now is the time to rejuvenate the body and mind.
Ayurveda recommends several herbal preparations known as rasayanas, including Amalaki, the main ingredient in Chyawanprash (the Chopra Center’s Biochavan); Ashwaganda, and Shatavari. The Indian yogurt drink, Lassi made with fresh mango or banana is also recommended.
Achar rasayanas are behavioral practices recommended for balance and rejuvenation. These in-clude:
- Being truthful
- Being free from anger
- Abstaining from excessive behaviors and habits
- Practicing non-violence
- Being generous, loving and compassionate
- Being respectful, simple and humble
- Being self controlled
- Following a regular spiritual practice.
The Rhythm of Life
In addition to the yearly seasonal influences, we past through three lifetime seasons, where again, different Doshas dominate.
- During our youth (Spring), up until early twenties, there is more of a Kapha influence in our life – we grow, gain mass ands muscle.
- During our middle, adult years (Summer), from early twenties until sixties, there is more of a Pitta influence in our life – we organize our career and family, establish our home.
- During our senior years (Autumn), the main influence is Vata.
While these periods are much longer than the yearly cycles, it is important to bear them in mind and how they might influence our health and wellbeing.
As mentioned earlier, everything has an effect on our well-being. The environment where we live or where we go for our vacations, can either enhance or diminish our degree of comfort.
- Those with a predominance of Vata Dosha will be more comfortable in warm, moist or tropical climates. They will do better in smaller, less busy communities, with access to nature and should avoid cold, dry, windy and chaotic environments.
- Those with Pitta Dosha fair better in cool or medium warm, drier climates such as the mountains. Choose less intense areas such as the suburbs rather than downtown in a city and avoid very hot or humid places.
- Those with Kapha Dosha will be balanced by a warm dry climate such as the desert. They need to be stimulated by busier, active environments and should avoid cold, damp, “laid-back” loca-tions.
In addition to everything discussed above, the most important principle of Ayurveda is to “Learn to listen to your body”. It’s very simple as your body only gives two signals, “I’m comfortable” or “I’m uncomfortable”. This applies to every area of your life, your diet, relationships, job, lei-sure activities and where you live. Ask, listen and begin to move your life in the direction of comfort, health and happiness.