Ritucharya Series # 1 Sharat Ritucharya – Autumn Regimen
Sharat Ritucharya – Autumn Regimen
Early sunsets, cozy blankets and warm tea – Autumn is a season of mystical panorama as nature embraces itself in a golden hue. When John Keats, poetically opined it as the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, we cannot but appreciate the true beauty of nature during this time of the year. A transition from the exceptionally long warm summer to the delightfully cool and serene autumn brings several changes not just in the atmosphere, but within you as well.
Ritu sandhi – The Ritucharya way to let go…
Look deep into nature and you will understand there is no better teacher than her. Letting go of something that we held onto could be difficult at times but nature reminds you periodically how to do a sensible withdrawal as per Ritucharya. On observing closely you will find, the transition from one season to the next is a gradual process. Subtle changes take place in the environment enabling us to cope up with the climatic transitions. Ayurveda acknowledges this transition phase as Ritu sandhi – the junction between two seasons when you gradually avoid the habits of the previous season and adapt to the regimen of the upcoming season. The last 7 days of the previous season and the first 7 days of the upcoming season constitute a Ritusandhi.
The ancient Ayurveda texts elucidate Ritucharya based on the seasonal variations in India and hence monsoon season precedes the fall season. Since the monsoons are not as pronounced in the Northern and Western hemispheres, the Ritusandhi that comes adjacent to the autumn season can be considered as the changeover from summer. The last 7 days of summer and the first 7 days of autumn- these fascinating 14 days mark a Ritu sandhi where nature slowly embraces the new changes in all its glory. This is also the phase where human beings must also undergo metamorphosis by letting go of the summer regimen and adopting an autumnal regimen in their diet and lifestyle.
Sudden withdrawal and adoption of regimens do more harm than good. During summer, to beat the harsh sun and its dehydrating effect, you may have indulged in a cooling regimen throughout. But autumn comes as a doorway to the cold winter season and presents itself with a gentle cooling breeze. The Ritu sandhi between these two seasons is the perfect time to replace that intensely cooling diet and activities with a healthy autumnal regimen. Variations can happen at the onset of a new season but most often the Ritusandhi before autumn happens during mid-September every year.
[Note: The ancient Ayurveda texts are written from the viewpoint of people living in the Indian subcontinent and mentions seasons as 6 – Shishira (winter), Vasanta (Spring), Greeshma (Summer), Varsha (Monsoon/rainy season), Sharat (autumn) and Hemanta (Pre-winter) in order. As per this, the monsoon season precedes autumn. But in the northern hemisphere that includes North America and Europe, the seasons are 4 – winter, spring, summer, and autumn. This blog is based on the 4 seasons of the Northern hemisphere and hence the description of seasonal dosha variations is different from that explained in ancient Ayurveda texts].
When the fall arrives….Follow Ritucharya
In Ritucharya Sharat Ritu or autumn season is a pleasant season, neither too cold nor very hot. The season comes under Dakshinayana where the sun moves in a southern direction and is influenced by the moon’s cooling effect rather than the hot rays of the sun. The skies are more clear without thick clouds, yet the sun’s rays are not very dry and moistureless like the previous summer season due to the dominant cooling rays of the moon.
Each season or Ritucharya’s has a specific effect on each dosha – either accumulation, aggravation, or normal balance of each dosha takes place in each season. The answer to the question of why we should change the regimen according to seasons lies in this aspect as the seasons and doshas transform they produce a concurrent change in our body as well).
Sharat or autumn season is marked by the aggravation of Pitta dosha as per Ayurveda treatises. But autumn in the northern hemisphere is predominated by Vata dosha and not Pitta. Let’s examine why. The authors during those times considered only the seasonal variations in the Indian subcontinent. According to them, Pitta dosha gets accumulated during the monsoon, which is the preceding season of autumn. This accumulated Pitta gets aggravated during the succeeding season – autumn. Contrary to this, in the northern hemisphere, monsoon is not so prevalent and we can observe a direct transition from summer to autumn. Autumn is also marked by dryness and coldness which are qualities of Vata dosha. Thus, autumn in the northern hemisphere may be considered as a season of Vata dosha rather than Pitta. So, the diet and lifestyle activities should also primarily aim at balancing or pacifying Vata dosha.
Diet modifications for Autumn Ritucharya
If summer was more dehydrating due to the intense sun rays, autumn serves as the gateway to winter and is dominated by cold, dry, and light environments. So the diet should also be with the opposite qualities of the notoriously inconsistent Vata dosha. The cold, dry and light food can further vitiate the vata and cause troubles. Hence in Autumn Ritucharya the diet should be warm, unctuous and a bit denser or nourishing to combat the negative effects of Vata.
Vata balancing diet should have sweet, sour, and salt as predominant tastes as these three decrease Vata dosha. All grains and cereals are sweet to taste predominant and they also serve as nourishing dietary sources as favored during this season. Compared to the previous summer season, your digestive fire kindles fairly well due to the light nature of Vata dosha. So to satisfy it, a bit heavy yet nourishing whole grains like brown rice, basmati rice, etc. are a good choice. Try delicious nourishing and warm recipes with amaranth, wheat, oats, and quinoa which are also great additions to balance the Vata dosha.
Almost all sweet and sour fruits are favorable to be used during this Vata predominant season. Seasonal sweet fruits like apple, banana, grapes, kiwi, lemons, lime, pineapple, and raspberries should adorn the meal table. The sweet and sour taste in them helps in grounding the unstable Vata dosha in the body. The fiber-rich fresh produce helps in keeping constipation at bay and aids in smooth bowel movement every day. Adequate intake of these fruits also ensures good skin and helps combat the dryness caused by the weather. Not just that – the intake of fruits helps maintain healthy body weight while satisfying the Agni, during this high appetite season.
Autumn leaves and pumpkins are what make the fall season mesmerizing. The golden yellow or bright orange color they carry is far beyond beauty. This is the season of vegetables like pumpkins, carrots, beets, peas, green beans, cauliflower, spinach, and much more. It is truly astonishing how nature provides everything according to the dosha predominance! All the seasonal vegetables during this time are mainly Vata balancing due to their mild sweet taste. Seasonal root vegetables like potatoes, onion, radish, parsnip, yam, etc. are also favorable to balance Vata dosha. Soups and stewed veggies served warm are not just warming and nourishing for the body, but your soul too. Vegetables roasted in your choice of oil can also balance the Vata dosha in the body and make a great meal for themselves.
Dairy And Meat
Dairy products are for the most part heavy to digest, which is why they could be a good choice to satisfy the appetite of kindling Agni inside you. Cow’s milk, butter, and ghee may take a place in your diet but remember not to use them in every meal. Freshly made cottage cheese and not-so-sour cream & yogurt may also be relished during the fall season.
Save the pork and turkey for the upcoming winter, and nourish yourself with the meat of chicken, duck, and buffalo. Lamb is a wonderful option too but you may want to think if you want to go for such a heavy treat often. Fish like salmon, sardines, and Tuna can also elevate the autumn meal spread to a higher level with the uniqueness in recipes.
Spices And Herbs
No Ayurvedic regimen or ritucharya is complete without mentioning suitable spices and herbs. Stock bundles of Rosemary, Thyme, Parsley, Cilantro, and Mint as they are available fresh during autumn. They help calm the Vata dosha and can be included in the diet in various ways. Herbal teas or overnight infusions with these herbs also bring variety to your everyday life. This is the perfect time to play with a variety of spices in your kitchen. Spice up your recipes with any of those warming digestive spices like turmeric, ginger, cumin, black pepper, cinnamon, oregano, etc. as they help balance the Vata dosha, even if the main ingredient is a pulse or a lentil. Prepare nourishing soups and khichdi more often where you can blend different herbs and spices and relish the benefits of it.
Lifestyle Modification For Autumn Ritucharya
The dehydrating effect of the sun during the summer might have allowed you to skip your fitness routine. The arrival of the fall season reminds you to fall back to your daily fitness routine, which is essential for maintaining optimum health. Not just that, an improper regimen during this Vata predominant season can even let you experience the long-forgotten aches & pains, especially related to joints.
Exercise daily, preferably in the morning according to your body capacity. You need not feel exhausted; rather, half of your strength can be utilized for exercising. This correct way of exercise will not further vitiate the Vata dosha and helps burn out the excess calories that you might happen to consume during this Agni predominant season. Performing 10 to 12 Surya Namaskaras early in the morning is also a great option to balance the body and mind.
Oil to the body is like love to the heart.
Abhyanga with a suitable oil is recommended daily to combat skin dryness that happens due to Vata predominance. Spend some quality time oiling and massaging the body every day before a hot shower, irrespective of your Prakriti. Vata Prakriti people can choose sesame oil, Pitta dominant people can choose coconut oil and Kapha predominants can go for a combination of sesame and mustard oils for Abhyanga. The oil may be made lukewarm before application for better results in Ritucharya.
Maintain Your Well-Being
Keep yourself warm. Your skin and body are very sensitive to cold and so you have to keep it comfortable during this season. Use hot water or warm water for all purposes and dress appropriately. Residing in warm places, sunbath and moderate indulgence in sexual activities is recommended.
No Day Sleep~
Avoid sleeping during the daytime even if the pleasingly cold atmosphere tempts you to do so.
Mind Matters In Ritucharya !
Meditation and daily yoga practice help to protect the mind from the unwanted effects of Vata. Try concentrating on your breathing and it helps in calming down the excess Vata activity on your mind. It makes you grounded, helps in enjoying the freshness of air while you are grateful inside for your beautiful existence.
Seasons are not just for nature. It is for us, human beings, to transform and tune in with the changes that happen around us. Man is an intrinsic part of nature and has no existential relevance on his own, if separated from nature. Hence Ayurveda gives great importance to each seasonal regimen or Ritucharya and guides you all along to blend in with nature throughout the year. Autumn is a phenomenal season with its rustic natural beauty and appreciable dosha effects on the body. Embrace the changes with the help of an Ayurvedic autumnal regimen and ensure the balance of doshas for natural healthy living.