Ayurvedic principles balance seasonal and personal characteristics for good health.
One of the oldest holistic health modalities (dating back at least 2,000 years), Ayurveda is a system of traditional Indian medicine designed to restore mind-body balance for healing to take place. It’s an individualized approach to health and well-being that takes each person’s physical constitution, emotional nature, lifestyle and spiritual outlook into account – believing optimal health, function and well-being are a delicate balance of mind, body and spirit.
The word Ayurveda translates as “knowledge of life” (“ayur” meaning “life” and “veda” meaning “knowledge”), offering a body of wisdom that teaches and guides us how to live a healthier, more vibrant and fulfilling life so that you may realize your full human potential.
According to Ayurveda, which is known as the sister science of yoga, we are not separate but intrinsically connected to nature. Everything in existence is made up of the five basic elements — earth, fire, water, air and ether — including our bodies, minds, emotions, personalities and so forth. The ancient system then groups the five elements into three basic types of governing principles known as the Three Doshas: vata (air and ether); pitta (fire and water); and kapha (water and earth). They are considered the three fundamental or biological energies governing everything in existence in both our inner and outer worlds, including all physiological functions and mental processes.
Everything in existence is made up of the five basic elements — earth, fire, water, air and ether.
Each of us has our own unique constitution or make-up of these three energies (with one or a combination of two doshas more prevalent), determining our unique blend of physical, emotional and mental characteristics, as well as general likes and dislikes. It also provides every living being with an individual blueprint for optimal health and personal fulfillment. These dynamic energies at play within each of us continually change in accordance with our thoughts, behaviors, emotions, sleep patterns, food we eat, external stimuli, seasonal changes, even our relationships. Ayurveda wisdom aims to help us restore and maintain balance within our mind-body constitution.
The Three Doshas
Vata energy governs bodily functions associated with motion, including blood circulation, breathing, blinking and heartbeat. Characteristics of the dosha are dry, light, cool, rough, subtle, mobile and clear (qualities of air and ether). Vata-predominant types tend to be tall, thin and slender; creative, lively and enthusiastic; quick learners and easily adaptable. They generally walk fast, skip meals, keep irregular habits and are easily excitable.
Pitta energy governs the body’s metabolic systems, including digestion, absorption, nutrition and body temperature. Qualities of pitta include hot, light, mobile, liquid, oily and penetrating (qualities of fire and water). Pitta-predominant types tend to be strong and well-built; confident, intense and assertive; as well as goal-oriented with a strong appetite for life. It’s very pitta to live by your watch, feel ravenous if lunch is 30 minutes late, dislike wasting time and love spicy foods.
Kapha energy governs the body’s physical structure and controls growth. Slow, dense, heavy, soft, cold, static/stable and smooth (earthy qualities) are all associated with kapha. Kapha-predominant types are generally heavier with larger bones; calm, relaxed and easy going; as well as stable and reliable with an aversion to cold, damp weather.
When an individual’s dosha is in balance, he or she experiences optimal health and function in support of life; however, when we are out of balance, we experience various health problems and mental/emotional disease. For example, an imbalance of vata can manifest as insomnia, dry skin, anxiety and racing thoughts. An imbalance of pitta often manifests as inflammation in the body as well as anger and hostility; and an imbalance of kapha may cause weight gain, excess mucous, and lethargy, as well as complacency.
An imbalance of vata can manifest as insomnia, dry skin, anxiety and racing thoughts.
Vata season starts now
Throughout the year, each of the three doshas is more present in our environment according to the seasons. Rather than winter, spring, summer and fall, Ayurveda divides the year into three seasons: vata season, which goes from late fall into early winter; kapha season, from the coldest, darkest part of winter into spring; and pitta season, the hottest time of year from late spring to early fall.
Right now, as we transition from fall to winter, it’s dry, cold, windy, rough, light and erratic — qualities associated with the elements ether and air, and characteristics of vata (hence vata season). This means that there’s an excess of vata energy at the moment that can easily lead to a vata imbalance, which can look like dry skin, constipation, insomnia or general spacey-ness.
One of the driving principles of Ayurvedic medicine is that like increases like. If you’re a pitta-predominant type, then eating spicy foods will increase the pitta in your constitution (spicy being a quality of pitta). If vata dominates your mind-body constitution, then chances are you will experience symptoms of a vata imbalance during vata season. However, depending on where you live and what your seasons are like, it’s not uncommon for pitta and kapha-predominant types to show signs of a vata imbalance during this time of year.
“Like increases like, and opposites bring balance,” explains Kripalu Ayurveda health counselor Erin Casperson. “So if it’s cold out and we’re eating cold, dry, raw salads or smoothies, and then we’re running outside without any gloves or hats and it’s freezing out, we’re going to create more cold, dry qualities in our own bodies.”
One of the driving principles of Ayurvedic medicine is that like increases like.
Balance vata season
We naturally begin to do the things that mitigate the excess vata, like turning on the stove, firing up the crock pot, baking more; we start eating cooked foods, casseroles, soups and stews — warming and grounding foods to mitigate the dry, cold and light qualities of vata. According to Ayurvedic principles, it’s the best time of year to eat animal protein. Casperson also suggests adding high-quality oils like extravagant olive oil to your diet, and cooking with herbs such as turmeric, or turmeric powder, which is anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and supports the immune system. Drinking more herbal teas, including ginger and organic tulsi tea to help support the lungs and immune system while warming the body is another way to help counterbalance the excess vata.
As the days grow darker and darker, it’s a time of year to really restore the body. “The time is changing, so one of the biggest things in the winter months is taking advantage of the darker days and getting some really good sleep,” explains Casperson, who advocates going to bed earlier during the winter months.
It’s also a building time of year, whereas spring and summer are a lightening time of year when we’re naturally more active and eating less. Vata season is supportive for gaining strength and building mass, but make sure to properly warm up; bodies become cold, tight, sore and more constricted. Things like hot yoga, saunas, steam rooms, whirlpools and hot tubs are ideal for vata season (and would be aggravating during the hot summer months).
Vata season is supportive for gaining strength and building mass.
“One thing that’s really important is using oil on our body, so get a high quality self-massage oil like sesame oil (not toasted!) or almond oil to use and massage your body for like five minutes a day. It’ll moisturize your skin, help alleviate sore muscles and tight tendons, and it’s grounding for the nervous system,” Casperson explains. He suggests using oil right before the shower and then letting the hot water help your skin absorb the oil.
Finally, even if it’s cold, you still need to get outside, especially if you tend to experience symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Make sure you have the right clothing for your climate so that you can walk outside, breathe fresh air and be in nature from time to time during the darker, colder months of fall and winter. And if it’s hard to wake up in the morning when it’s dark out, try a mug of warm lemon water or a spritz of rose water on your face first thing — both are natural, vibrant ways to wake up your senses during vata season.