Autumn Equinox – Southern Hemisphere – Monday 20 March 2017 at 8.28pm AEDT
The Equinox (or Solstice) is the official point which indicates a new season is in play. And it certainly is showing itself here in Melbourne with cooler mornings and evenings, and some windy, wet and unstable weather thrown in there too – the winds of change! After summer, a time when we experience intense heat, this cooler weather is welcome. It helps to bring the heat and dryness out of the earth and our bodies – in Ayurvedic terms, we say when there is too much Pitta (mostly the fire element).
During the junction of seasons our Vata Dosha (elements of air and ether) can be effected by the irregular changes. Autumn itself is dominated by the air element which is dry, rough, windy, erratic, cool, subtle and clear (or empty). The effects of these changes are drying to the earth and our bodies, bringing too much lightness, and can be also unsettling for our minds.
Autumn is famous for showing off those beautiful hues of orange, yellow and red which eventually turn to brown, falling and dead. Naturally the trees are drying out and undressing at this time, and so too these qualities are also found in our bodies. Our skin dries out and becomes flaky, our digestion is slow and our minds can become scattered, not as sharp as they once were.
Oleation, warmth, routine and grounding is the key during this season.
We can prevent or address any imbalance by doing the following things:
- keep inside when the wind is high and carry extras clothes for sudden cooler changes in the weather
- use more ghee in cooking to help keep moisture in the body
- practice regular Abhyanga (self massage) with warm whole black sesame oil to pacify Vata
- practice daily Nasya – medicated oil in the nostrils to stabilise the mind
- eat heavier warm cooked foods to ground us
- avoid eating salads and cold, dry foods
- favour the sweet, sour and salty tastes which bring more moisture into the body, are grounding and satisfying
The change of seasons is also good for us to cleanse the body of toxins from the previous season. A mono-type diet for a few days is good for Autumn using a dish that is easy to digest, warming and lightly spiced such as Kitcheree. If you choose to do a longer cleanse, this can be done over the course of a week or so. For more information on how to do a longer cleanse, see my blog post Cleansing the Ayurvedic Way.
Autumn is not a good time for fasting as Vata is already effected and requires nourishment which one cannot obtain from abstaining from eating food.
Slow, gentle and strengthening forms of exercise such as walking, hiking, swimming, biking and yoga are good choices for Autumn.
In Yoga, the sister science of Ayurveda, we practice the following:
- asanas (postures) that warm up the body and keep the fluids moving through all the joints, so they don’t dry out and start to crack – Sun Salutations are perfect for this
- balancing postures with longer holds to increase heat, stability and strength in the body – nothing too tricky or jerky!
- gentle inversions and restorative postures are also good for pacifying Vata
- longer relaxation in Savasana (corpse pose) covered by a yoga blanket or shawl at the end of your practice to keep warm when the body is naturally cooling
- Pranayama – Anuloma Viloma (alternate nostril breathing) is very good for balancing at this time of year
The best herbs to support you in Autumn are:
- Chyavanprash which is an Ayurvedic herbal jam and a great rejuvenative giving energy and support to the immune system during this change and as we head towards the Kapha season of Winter
- Ashwagandha is a herb that can be taken in powder, tablet or tincture form and which gives strength and supports the nervous system promoting sound sleep, strong digestion and proper elimination
- Herbal teas such as ginger, liquorice, cumin, coriander and fennel can help with digestion and warmth
- Naturally warming kitchen spices are good to add to your cooking such as cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, clove, garlic, mustard seeds and parsley
- And did I say ghee? Use lots of ghee! Ghee is easy to make at home, otherwise buy an organic ghee from a health food store as opposed to an Indian shop (they are usually not organic, cheaply made and stored/sold in tins).
Ayurveda puts emphasis on our need to be aware of the seasons and our own Vikruti (imbalances). It is important that we build a daily routine that is flexible enough so that when the seasons change we can address what needs balancing for ourselves at that time – this empowers us to become more in charge of our own health.
Some of us naturally adopt different practices at various times of the year without realising it, for example when the weather heats up we tend to eat more cooling foods or when its cold we make more hearty soups and slow cooked stews, and of course we dress differently when the weather changes etc. But by changing certain other diet and lifestyle choices for each season, this will help in keeping our Doshas balanced and our health at optimum levels all year round.
And with the cooler Autumn winds brings with it the hint of Winter not so far away, yes Winter is coming – they say…