6 Ayurvedic Tips for Fall Health and Wellness
As the leaves begin to turn from summer green to the yellows and reds of early fall, the air around us becomes cool and crisp. Routines shift from summer leisure to the business of work, school and structured activities. From an Ayurvedic perspective, fall is Vata season, bringing with it a predominance of air element in the atmosphere.
Vata is characterized as being dry, rough, windy, erratic, cool, subtle, and clear. Anything that moves in our bodies and mind is controlled by Vata. Vata controls blood flow, the elimination of wastes, breathing and even our thoughts.
When balanced, Vata blesses us with an alert, quick mind that is flexible and creative. However, when the restlessness and high activity level typical of Vata become unbalanced, we are more prone to fatigue, irritability, and interrupted sleep. Particularly in autumn, excess Vata can manifest as —
- Dry, itchy skin; dry, rough or brittle hair, lips, cracking skin or dandruff
- Digestive complaints, such as bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, stomach pressure heartburn, dehydration, and irregular appetite
- Poor circulation, muscle spasm or constriction, asthma, pain and aches, tightness or stiffness
- Excessive movement: anxiety, fidgeting, agitation, muscle twitching, palpitations
During fall and early winter, we can reduce Vata and counteract its qualities by adding more qualities of Pitta and Kapha doshas into our daily regimen. This means bringing more moisture, warmth, calming energy into our daily routines.
Consider adding one or more of these six (6) strategies for optimal heath in throughout the fall:
Tip #1: Routine, Routine, Routine!
Vata tends to be unstable and veer towards extremes. When Vata becomes excessive, it can manifest as feeling nervous or ungrounded, difficulty sitting still, trouble quieting the mind, rapid heartbeat and restless sleep. Therefore, establishing a daily routine and sticking to it is essential for keeping Vata in check. Follow these simple guidelines to establish a steady, grounding routine:
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Ideally, this means rising between 6:30 to 7:30AM and heading to bed by 10PM.
- Eat meals at the same time daily. Ayurveda suggest breakfast by 9AM, lunch around midday and dinner by 6PM.
- Be consistent in your daily self-care practices, such as tongue scraping, tooth brushing, and self-massage, or daily abhyanga (see more below).
- Stick to a regular exercise routine. Ideally exercise should happen early in the day (between 6-10AM). Remember it is better to move for 10 minutes than not at all.
Tip #2: Oil Up
Just as a car engine needs adequate lubrication to function properly, so do our bodies. Due to the dryness of fall and early winter, massage helps keep your skin moist and supple. Nurture yourself with a professional massage, or daily self-massage, known as abhyanga.
Classically performed before bathing, warm some sesame or almond oil by placing the bottle in a bowl of hot water for 5-10 minutes. Next, apply the warm oil from head to toe, massaging it into your skin. Ideally, it is best to let the oil seep into your skin for a good twenty minutes or so before rinsing off in the bath or shower. When it’s time to bathe, apply soap only where needed and allow the warm water and steam to assist your skin in absorbing the oil.
In a hurry? Massage a bit of oil onto your arms, legs and torso post-shower. Additionally, consider adding sweet, calming essential oils to lessen feelings of anxiety, increase focus and stabilize your entire system. Experiment with the following fragrant oils to find a pleasing combination for you:
- Warming: ginger, clary sage, cardamom, bergamot
- Sweet: lemon, sweet orange, jasmine, rosewood
- Calming/Peaceful: lavender, vetiver, geranium, clary sage
- Grounding/Stabilizing: sandalwood, lavender, rose, patchouli, neroli
Keep your blend simple, using only 3 or 4 essential oils. A ratio of about 48-90 drops of pure essential oil to 4 oz of carrier oil is standard depending on how potent you want your blend.
Tip #3: Stay Warm
One of the chief characteristics of Vata is coolness. Individual’s with strong Vata constitutions tend to run cold and are prone to weak circulation. This results in cold hands and feet as well as an overall aversion to cold temperatures. Even if you are a pitta or kapha type, as summer turns to fall and temperatures drop, it is important to take extra care to keep warm. When you head outside on cool, fall days, be sure to cover your head and ears to protect them and when possible, minimize your exposure to drafts.
Warmth, however, means more than putting on a sweater or coat. Heat is most powerful when it radiates from deep within. One way to do this is to consume warm, cooked foods and beverages (see more below). Start your day by drinking hot or room temperature lemon water to stimulate your digestive system and warm you from the inside out.
Tip #4: Avoid Raw, Cold Foods
Digestive problems, such as gas, bloating or constipation, are signs of excess Vata. To keep your internal fire or agni strong, eat foods that are warm, moist and cooked. This is the time to skip the dry and raw foods like salads, cold fruit and vegetables. Instead, focus on stews, soups and root vegetables. In addition, eat more sweet, sour, and salty tastes such as avocado, bananas, pumpkins, quinoa, rice, almonds, carrots which pacify Vata’s drying effect.
Tip #5: Cleanse and Protect Your Sinuses
As we spend more time inside, allergies and dry, indoor air frequently lead to nasal congestion or irritation. According to Ayurveda, the delicate mucous membranes of the nostrils and sinuses, as well as the Eustachian tubes of the ears require adequate lubrication to remain healthy, especially in the dryer fall and winter months.
One way to combat this is through nasal irrigation using a neti pot. Readily available in pharmacies, a neti pot can be used to gently flush out allergens and congestion using a mild saline solution. One caution: if you suffer from chronic nose bleeds, excessive dryness of the nostrils, or have a structural block (such as a deviated septum), skip this practice as it can exacerbate those conditions.
Another way to keep your nasal passages moist, improve immunity and ward off germs is to practice nasya. Nasya is the Ayurvedic practice of lubricating the nasal passageways with oil. Be sure to purchase a good quality medicated nasya oil. Then use 1-2 drops of the oil on your pinky finger to gently massage the inner rim of the nostril, inhaling deeply to draw the oil upward into the sinuses. The practice of nasya can also help with other conditions such as head, neck, shoulder, or jaw pain; headaches and migraines; insomnia and emotional stress.
Tip #6: Enhance Your Immunity with Sleep
Adequate sleep is especially important in Vata season, as it counteracts the lively, moving Vata. It is also essential for anyone in any season who wants to enhance immunity and resist disease. To get a good night’s sleep—
- Avoid too much stimulation or activity after 8PM.
- Pre-bedtime, set aside at least an hour of distraction-free time. Turn off the TV and any electronics and engage in relaxing activities, such as a hot bath.
- Hit the sack by 10PM. According to Ayurveda, the best quality sleep comes between 10PM and 2AM. These four hours are a Pitta time and recharge your batteries by helping you to build prana.
- Endeavor to get 8-9 hours of sleep nightly. This is especially important in the fall and early winter to help keep Vata balanced.
- Struggle to fall asleep or with insomnia? Try drinking this Ayurvedic “bedtime tonic” about 30 minutes before bed: grate 1/8 tsp of nutmeg (which works like a natural tranquilizer) into ½ cup warm milk or almond milk. If desired, add a small amount of raw honey to sweeten. You’ll be in dream land before you know it!