Fall is here! The trees are changing, their leaves are turning to brilliant reds and golds and are starting to blow through the air. Change is quick; temperatures fluctuate wildly from day to night and from day to day. Creatures are on task preparing for the winter to come. Like creatures in nature, or more appropriately as creatures in nature, it is wise for us humans to prepare for changes too. There are many external forces in nature that are cyclically active everyday, such as the heat of midday and the cooling of night. There are others that are seasonally active. The body is susceptible to these forces and understanding them paves the way for good decisions regarding daily regimens to be followed. Enter one of Ayurveda’s many incredible contributions to the world, it’s sub-branch of preventative medicine known as “Svasthavritta”.
Svasthavritta is the branch of Ayurveda that is the most important for the layperson to understand, as it teaches how to preserve and protect our existing health and how to actively prevent disease by catching simple imbalances before they manifest as disease. The word “Sva” means “higher self” and “sthaha” signifies “to be established in”. “Svastha” is the Sanskrit word for health. The beautiful foundational view is that, when we are established in our higher self we are healthy. That is certainly the place from where we make good decisions. “Svasthavritta” then, means to “establish oneself in good, healthy habits”. As a system of preventative medicine, it puts emphasis on exactly how we can remain healthy and balanced despite all the changing forces of nature. How does it do this… by keen observation of nature. This is what really draws me to this system. By paying attention to details such as the qualities of things in nature, we have a tool to understand their effects.
In the season of fall, the predominant qualities are just like those of vata dosha; dry, cold, light, rough, mobile, clear and subtle. So, it is said that fall is “vata season”. Vata is a biological principle, it is ‘the mover’, and it governs how things move in our world. It is exemplified by the elements of space and air. Space, as a medium, allows for all movement to occur, and air, as wind, moves. By understanding the qualities of the season we are in, we can adjust our daily routines to make sure we have enough of the opposite qualities in what we do and consume to balance things out.
Here, I would like to share an Ayurvedic saying with you, it is “like increases like and opposites heal”. If Ayurveda ever gets confusing, this is the main thing to come back to. So, if fall has the qualities of vata (dry, cold, light, rough, mobile, clear and subtle) then the opposites of those qualities will be our medicine during this season. This is the biggest tip of all: unctuous, moist things balance dry; warm balances cold, grounding balances light, smooth or soft balance rough, still or stable balance mobile, and solid and dense things balance clear and subtle. Anything and I mean anything with these opposite qualities can and will be your medicines this season. In this way we can see that Ayurveda is the “science or study of LIFE”. It truly is this big…everything in our environment has the ability to be either: our medicine, or our poison, depending on when and in what quantiy we take it in. Now, if that is confusing the following should serve as examples to help.
Drinking is the most obvious way we stay moist and juicy. It can also be a way to stay warm. As fall is a dry season, remember to stay well hydrated. Drink at least ½ of your body weight, in ounces each day. For example a 100 lb. person should drink a minimum of 50 oz. This should be mostly water, not ice water, but room temperature water. If feeling chilly, then drink warm water. If that sounds strange add a little lemon juice, it’s great. I like to drink one 8 oz. glass of warm water first thing each morning. This does a great flush of the g.i. and the kidneys. Herbal teas are a great way to warm up while improving your health. Herbs are so different than the foods we eat day after day. They contain many unique compounds that can improve immunity, bolster nutrition, soothe a soar throat or up your bioflavinoids and antioxidants. Drinking chai tea at this time of year can warm one up physically and it stokes the digestive fire for the heavier foods of fall. Singing Springs has a tasty chai that is caffeine free so you can sip it in the evening too! It is called ‘Baba Chai’ to honor the babas of India who sometimes live on chai alone.
As for foods, in general, start to favor soups and stews that utilize the veggies and grains that are so abundant at this harvest season. Soups and stews easily incorporate balancing qualities for this season. They are warm, moist, soft (compare to a salad), smooth and unctuous. Add extra ghee or coconut oil to them if experiencing dry skin, or dry mucous membranes (dry sinuses, scratchy throat). This really is a first line of defense against getting sick this fall. Dry mucous membranes are irritated mucous membranes. Irritated membranes are susceptible to infection. Also, observing nature…like the squirrels, we should start increasing our proteins as they build and store the energy we need for the coming winter. Proteins are building and grounding and pacify the light quality that can leave us feeling spacey and ungrounded!
A healthy fall schedule includes planning your day so that you get home relatively early in the afternoon and spend most evenings at home. Vata dosha gets completely aggravated by the “too much of everything is just enough attitude”. This attitude greatly increases vata via the mobile quality. I think of the mobile quality, as any activities that shake us up like a fizzy kombucha drink. There is already a lot of mobile quality (carbonation for the kombucha) or for us our normal hectic lives these days. When we increase that by adding more mobile activity (shaking the bottle) or for us by going out all the time, (it) or we become agitated to the point of exploding. The most balancing practice, that remedies this modern lifestyle, is to create space for a 10 minute evening meditation, ideally sitting in “padmasana” or lotus. This cultivates the qualities of stability, stillness and calm and helps balance excess mobility. Many of you who practice yoga are familiar with the concept referred to as “sthira sukham asanam”. In yoga it is- the posture “asana” should be “sthira” steady, stable and motionless, as well as “sukham” here translated as comfortable. So, if it is comfortable for you, sit cross-legged and still and still your mind. If it is uncomfortable to sit like this, don’t force it, just sit in a chair. The important thing is to spend at least a token amount of time each day cultivating the beautiful and greatly underappreciated qualities of stillness and stability. It is amazing what even a short practice can do to balance out all the zillions of activities you engaged in all day. Can you hear your nervous system saying “ahhh yes”!