Fitness Magazine

Healthy Living for Fall with Ayurveda and Yoga

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Ram

Healthy Living for Fall with Ayurveda and Yoga

Fern Leaves by Melina Meza

As you may have noticed, summer is gradually winding down and making way for autumn to take over. The days become shorter, the rhythm shifts, and the light and heat of summer subside. Both yoga and ayurveda stress the fact that we are in sync with our environment so we need to be mindful of the change in seasons. Thus, as seasons change, our body and mind adapt to these changes. This requires us to be aware of the qualities associated with the seasonal changes.
Fall is marked by the domination of vata dosha (constitution). Vata is made of the ether and air elements. It represents the mobile force of the universe, and in our bodies is responsible for all activities that involve movement. Thus, locomotion, digestion, circulation, respiration, elimination, communication, sensory and motor function, cardiac function and nervous system impulses (among others) are all governed by vata. Vata in the mind is responsible for emotions that include enthusiasm, joy, clarity, creativity, fear, worry and anxiety.
The qualities (gunas in Sanskrit) of ether and air elements in turn constitute the vata qualities, and these include cold, dry, light, rough, subtle, mobile and clear. To understand the vata dosha, it is important to understand whether the above-mentioned qualities are dominating the body and mind at any given moment. When vata dosha is healthy, these qualities are in a balanced state and the individual experiences optimal health, stability, creativity enthusiasm and excitement for life. The movements of the body are graceful, unimpeded, and yet controlled. Individuals who possess a balanced state of vata tend to be imaginative, energetic, fun, light hearted and full of excitement. 
The fall season is characterized by a cold, windy and dry weather. Leaves change color and fall off the trees. During peak autumn, trees are devoid of leaves or flowers and look dry and barren. As our external environment changes, it increases vata in our own internal environment. If we are not aware of these changes, vata goes out of balance and so do the vata qualities and a totally different personality emerges.
In general, to balance vata, we learn to apply its opposite qualities to any given imbalance. Whether the tools used are lifestyle changes, dietary, herbal, colors, aromas, mantras or massage oils, the underlying principles used to return to balance are the same. It is necessary to increase the qualities opposed to the imbalance. Thus, we combat dryness by bringing in moisture. To counter an excess of lightness, we bring in heaviness, and if there is an excess of coldness, we increase heat. When vata dosha goes out of balance, the individual’s movements become erratic, the body becomes lighter and dryer and weight drops. The person may experience feeling of chillness/coldness throughout the day, the voice becomes too quick and out of context, there is an inability of the mind to focus, the eyes and mind may appear vacant and empty and there may be unexplained pain in the body. Irrespective of our doshic constitution, all individuals will experience these fall changes and need to pay attention to them. People of vata constitution being more susceptible to the fall changes should take every precaution to prevent vata from going out of balance. Some of the healthy living practices during the fall season include:

1. Stable Routines:
One of the most important lifestyle tools for maintaining health and for supporting healing during the fall season is adopting stable routines. Stability is greatly improved through all activities performed at the same time every day. The routine should include time for self hygiene, massage, meditation, physical exercise and/or yoga asana practice in addition to other daily activities, including but not limited to eating, sleeping and waking up. Meals should be taken regularly throughout the day and at the same time each day. All activities done at the same time each day helps to counteract the vata qualities. For example, if a vata person is experiencing increased dry quality in their body, we will encourage them to utilize moistening, warming and nourishing foods, remedies and practices.
2. Diet to Counteract the Fall/Vata Season: Cold sandwiches, cold salads, and dry cereals with cold milk should preferably be avoided during this season. Such foods can aggravate vata qualities during fall and create a vata imbalance. The food should be preferably cooked (warm), oily (moist) and moderately spiced (warm). Since vata is cold, dry and rough, warm cooked foods made with a little olive oil or ghee have a wonderful soothing effect that immediately calms down the restless vata. Warm drinks such as hot milk or ginger/cinnamon/basil tea also have an immediate balancing effect. Suggested snacks include vata tea with a wheat bread, dates, fresh fruit, or warm milk. Coffee and other caffeinated drinks can be vata aggravating and should be avoided. Sipping warm water and herbal teas throughout the day enhances warmth and hydration. Dinner could be a warm hearty soup and bread. Before bed a cup of warm milk with a pinch of ginger/cardamom and some sugar or honey is recommended for sound sleep.

3. Massage (Abhyanaga):
Fall brings dryness and lightness not only to plants but also to the body. To prevent excessive dryness it is a good idea to use oil both in food and on the body. Daily oil massage will not only treat dry skin but it will moisten the joints and tissues of the body as well keeping the body lubricated and healthy throughout the fall season. Warm sesame or almond oil with 1-2 drops of rosemary, lavender or jasmine essential oil is used for the body massage. Apply the oil all over and gently massage the body. If possible, keep the oil on the body as long as possible and do not wash it off. If you take a shower afterwards, do not use soap and pat yourself dry. 

4. Yoga Asanas:
The emphasis throughout the fall season is to incorporate an asana practice that softens your lower abdominal cavity, and builds strength and stability in the body and mind. Practice at a slow, smooth and steady pace. Pay attention to detail and use gentle movements. Asanas that aid in pelvic compression and flexion of the hips (iliopsoas, rectus femoris, and adductors) are recommended. Hold each posture for a short amount of time, but do multiple repetitions. Draw into and move from your power center (core). This is the area below the navel and above the pubic bone. Focus on the foundation of the pose to create stability and focus on lengthening your inhalation. Stay connected to the earth. Ground down through your big toes. Engage your entire body by hugging your muscles to the bones. Do not over extend or deplete yourself. Your practice should be strengthening, not draining. If the vata imbalance is severe, a restorative practice is best. Stay warm and conclude your practice with a long relaxation.

5. Pranayama:
In India, pranayama is generally taught in the two seasons of transition, fall and spring. During the fall season, start the day with Nadi Shodana (alternate nostril breathing) to help to purify the bodily channels. A regular practice of pranayama during the fall season helps to tune our breath, body and mind (see Yoga and the Mind-Body Connection). Pranayma practices could include Alternate Nostril breathing, Ujjayi pranayama and Surya Bhedana (Sun-Piercing), which create balance by providing warmth and stability to the body and mind. (Timothy has already introduced us to the concept of Pranayama with his article on Bhramari Pranayama and he will be addressing other Pranayama practices as well.)
6. Meditation: Follow your pranayama practice with several minutes of mindfulness meditation. During the fall season and for the overactive vata mind, meditation is one of the best ways to be grounded and to find calm and stillness.

7. Other Activities:
Always stay warm. Wear clothing made with soft fabrics and earth colors (grounding energy). Get enough sleep. Enjoy regular, relaxing and peaceful walks in nature to calm the mobile body. Other great activities during this season include gardening, culinary activities, and creating art and music. Make sure all activities are followed with a sufficient rest period. Pay attention to the influences that you allow into your life—from the foods you eat to the amount of time you spend in front of a computer, cell phone or TV. As we get ready to welcome fall, let us experience perfect health, bliss and freedom every moment and throughout the season.

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