The Air Element is predominant in autumn: more lightness, dryness (temporarily), coolness, the erratic ‘winds of change’. These qualities in nature have a tendency to aggravate vata (one of the three constitutional types, or doshas, in the Ayurvedic system) , which has already begun accumulating at the end of summer. As vata regulates the nervous system, the levels of moisture in the body, how relaxed we feel and how well we digest food, these can easily become unsettled. If our digestion is functioning below par then harmful ama (toxins) can also increase. Diseases where toxins and vata mix together, such as arthritis, can appear. To balance vata, limit exposure to cold winds and dryness and try to minimise erratic behaviour. Towards the end of autumn, when it is colder and wetter, kapha begins to accumulate, and in turn requires balancing. At this time your diet should comprise warm foods that are sweet, mildly spicy, sour and salty to increase moisture and help you feel nourished and grounded. Begin the day with a small bowl of oat, rice or quinoa porridge, which can be flavoured with maple syrup or honey and cinnamon. For lunch and supper choose nourishing foods such as steamed vegetables, soup or kicharee. Avoid too much raw salad, cold drinks, ice, beans, fermented foods and yeast, as they cause wind and may destabilise your digestion.
Sebastian is an Ayurvedia practitioner, yoga teacher and founder of Pukka Herbs. He lives and works in Bath.
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STAYING HEALTH WITH THE SEASONS
• Rise at 7am when the world is still and calm.
• Brush your teeth with nourishing herbal toothpaste that includes gum-strengtheners such as liquorice, haritaki and mint.
• A slightly quirky but nevertheless effective idea for balancing vata is to hold some warm sesame oil in your mouth for three minutes (use about 50ml). Although it sounds strange, it nourishes the mouth, strengthens the teeth, stops any bleeding and prevents receding gums.
• Massage yourself with warm sesame or mahanarayan oil, which offsets the seasonal tendency to dryness, cracking joints and stiff muscles. After a warm shower, place a drop of nasya oil in your nostrils and ears to offset the damaging effect of the elements.
• Start your yoga practice with ‘alternate nostril breathing’ (nadi shodhana) to eliminate the vata toxins that restrict your nervous system, circulation and subtle channels.
• The yoga poses that regulate vata include the Wind-relieving pose (pawan muktasana), all inverted poses where the head moves below the waist (e.g. Headstand, Shoulder Stand), all twists and slow Sun Salutations, with breaths in each posture.
• Apply heavy scents, such as vetiver, patchouli or a vata essential oil, on the ‘third eye’ (eyebrow-centre) and throat.
• Take a teaspoon of chywanaprash in the morning to keep your energy and immunity intact. If you feel out of sorts, are not sleeping as well as you usually do, or are stressed, take ashwagandha as a replenishing tonic.
• Early autumn is a common time to perform a seasonal detoxification to prepare for the winter ahead.
• At the end of the day enjoy a delicious cup of milk simmered with a pinch of saffron, nutmeg and cardamom, and settle in as early as possible for a blissful night’s sleep.