An Ayurvedic Approach to Staying Balanced in Autumn
I've recently become increasingly drawn to learning about - and very slowly implementing - an Ayurvedic lifestyle. I promise it's not just an attempt to become more of a "yogi" - that word itself will never resonate with me. The Ayurveda diet, on the other hand, is something that generally sits well with me - both on a physical and emotional level.
As the fall chill hits, and life somehow becomes even more hectic, I feel the need to prioritize a kinder and gentler approach to living. That is why I asked my dear friend Melanie, who also just so happens to be very well-educated on the topic of Ayurveda, to share her thoughts and guidance on this new chapter for me...
The following is her beautifully written wisdom on implementing Ayurvedic practices to maintain a sense of balance in the season of Autumn.
Autumn is a beautiful season, full of the vibrant colours of changing leaves, the rustling of wind through the trees, and dryness to the humid summer air. It marks the transition of summer to fall, and with it, changes come, and we adapt.
Ayurveda is an ancient Indian wisdom, sometimes deemed the sister to the Yoga philosophy. The word itself stems from the medicinal Hindu view of health through balancing body and earth elements with mindful attention to diet, lifestyle and breath, or “Prana”. Our Prana, or our “Life Force” is deeply innate in each of us, and we are all born with a unique constitution of the elements of Earth, Wind and Fire.
Autumn is a season of the Vata dosha, a subcategory of the air and space elements. Vata’s qualities are cold, dry, light, clear, and moving. When someone of the Vata constitution is in balance with the other elements, all is well and they thrive in health. Although, if excess Vata is not neutralized, imbalance can breed a sense of restlessness, anxiety, dry skin, gut flora disorders and digestive issues, emotional dis-ease, headaches, and other forms of poor wellbeing. The other two doshas are Pitta (fire) and Kapha (earth). Ayurveda emphasizes the need to balance the elements as the outside environment shifts. When one element predominates, we neutralize it through therapies involving the other elements. In this way, we stay healthy and balanced.
To stay grounded, practice balancing the Vata-qualities through diet, lifestyle and breath.
Follow a Vata-pacifying Diet
Ayurveda is a sound medicinal guide as it prescribes innately the intuitive behavioural changes we tend to follow with seasonal shifts. For example, in the Canadian climate, foods like squash, cabbage, cooked stews, warming herbs and spices tend to be favoured in autumn. Ayurveda explains the need to nourish ourselves with these calming and warming foods in order to balance the ungrounding cold climate outside. General diet guidelines are:
- Eat warming foods that are fresh and cooked like squash, soups, stews and avoid raw foods like salads as they further imbalance the Vata qualities
- Substantive, oily, nourishing foods that are high in protein, high in fat, cooked using warming and stimulating spices
- Drink lots of warming liquids such as hot water and herbal teas to prevent dehydration. You can prepare a fresh ginger tea by placing a teaspoon of fresh grated ginger into a pint thermos bottle and filling it with hot water
- Eat more of the sweet, sour, and salty tastes and less of the bitter, astringent, and pungent ones. Avocados, bananas, mangoes, peaches, lemons, pumpkins, carrots, beets, asparagus, quinoa, rice, mung beans, almonds, sesame seeds, and ghee are a few excellent Vata-pacifying foods.
- Eating meat, eggs and organic dairy products are suitable for the autumn season
- Don’t worry if your appetite seems stronger than usual as this is a natural tendency in winter and helps pacify Vata, intuitive eating is critical here in order to rekindle a trust in your newly adapted appetite
Nourish Your Senses
- Stay warm. Vata is a cold, dry dosha, so it’s important to make sure that your home and work place are well heated and that the air has enough humidity. Since Vata is extremely sensitive to moving air, it’s wise to avoid drafts or sitting near fans or ventilators.
- Give yourself slow, gentle self-abhyanga massage in the morning or before bed. Use a nourishing, warming oil such as sesame or almond. You may also want to gently rub a drop of sesame oil inside your nasal passages, which tend to become dry during winter.
Sleep and Restful Awareness
- Get enough sleep! This is vital for Vatas, who tend to push themselves to the point of physical or mental exhaustion. Good rest is vital to balance.
The practice of single-pointed awareness, breath work and calm self-soothing through a meditation practice can help to bring balance in the up heaving shift of the autumn season. Any practice that resonates with you will do, be it 5 minutes or one hour. The simple implementation of a self-care routine will have a huge impact on how you carry yourself in a loving, kinder, gentle way. It is a celebration of your beautiful existence to give yourself the gift of space and calm.
In the fall season, movement is to be done with mindful awareness and to avoid overexertion. Good exercise types are moderate aerobic activities that are warming and engaging like light jogging, restorative or warm yoga, indoor aerobic classes of moderate intensity, brisk walking and hiking in nature. These activities serve to warm the body, and calm the mind that might be anxious with an abundance of space. A word of caution to the over-achieving Vata types, as over-doing it will only furthers the imbalances present in the body and environment.
By adding little bits of these habits into your routine, trust in the timing and the impact they have in building to change and support your health. The Vata dosha thrives on routine and regularity, so try to choose what you can maintain consistently, and harness a mindful dedication towards your goals. Especially important is to habituate to regular times for getting up and going to bed; eating meals on a predictable schedule rather than “grazing” or skipping meals or eating on the run; and planning time each day for exercise, rest, and relaxation.
Breathe, trust, habituate, and watch yourself in ease, knowing that you are taking good care of yourself and that you deserve to feel your best. Ayurveda’s guide is a lovely way to gently help you find inner peace in an outer shifting world.
By Melanie Sakowski
Melanie Sakowski is a Triathlete, Yoga Instructor, and outdoor enthusiast from Canada. With an Honours Specialized degree in Kinesiology from the University of Western Ontario, she found through her own triathlon training the benefits of pairing nutrition, movement, mindfulness and breath work in a holistic view. After battling mind-body issues around self-acceptance and image, training and food, she focuses on hormone balancing and rekindling body awareness in mindfulness-based techniques.
After traveling to New Zealand, she grew more aware of the fundamental need to have baseline knowledge of true body system functioning encompasses mind, body and spirit, and so became certified though Holistic Performance Nutrition. She is working towards helping others to find balance in their lives. She provides one-on-one, online, and workshop sessions focusing on the paradigms of mind, body and soul in hopes to share the gift of wellbeing. Her services include meal planning, personal training, triathlon coaching, yoga instruction and meditation, all stemming from a stress-reduction standpoint. Currently based in Toronto, she plans to further her practice in British Columbia in the near future.