Ayurveda’s Fall Guide to Pitta Kapha Health

An Ayurvedic Guide to a Soothing and Stable Vata 398db30b5f3d7790239f545048b027e8Season
Fall is a time of transition. It is evident everywhere around you. Many trees and shrubs are quietly undressing in preparation for the winter. There is a subtle browning of the earth. Temperatures, which, just a few weeks ago were raging with the intense heat of summer, are beginning to hint at the telltale crispness of autumn. And there is the wind: slowly gathering strength, carrying the tides of winter on its breath. The autumn harbors a certain emptiness that can leave us feeling exposed and a little raw, but it is also filled with possibility—a time when we, too, can strip down to a quiet essence of being and savor the simplicity. The fall brings with it a predominance of air element and prana (the vital breath, the subtle essence of life) is abundant in the atmosphere. Autumn is dry, rough, windy, erratic, cool, subtle, and clear. These are all qualities shared by vata dosha, and because like increases like, autumn is considered a vata season. This same principle illustrates why taking a few simple steps to balance vata this fall can be tremendously beneficial.

Why Bother with a Seasonal Routine?
Ayurveda considers a seasonal routine an important cornerstone of health, year around. Balancing the nature of your local climate with lifestyle choices that offset the potential for seasonally-induced imbalances is one of the simplest ways that you can protect your well-being. But keep in mind that the seasons vary widely from one place to another, as do the qualities that they engender. “Vata season” is whatever time of year most embodies the attributes that characterize vata dosha: dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, mobile, and clear (or empty). Autumn is the classic vata season. However, depending on where you live, the dry and expansive qualities of vata may be prevalent components of your environment as early as summer, and the autumn may be followed by a very drying, cold, isolating, and/or windy winter.

Beginning to observe your environment from this qualitative perspective empowers you to respond to both daily and seasonal fluctuations in your local climate. The truth is that many of us adopt seasonally appropriate habits already, without even being conscious of doing so. For instance, summer is a time when we often enjoy salads and watermelon in abundance, both perfect antidotes to the heat and intensity of the summer. Whereas by October and November, we’re often baking delicious pumpkin breads and dining on hearty, grounding soups—foods that naturally subdue the dry, light, and erratic nature of the fall. By making diet and lifestyle choices that counter the effects of each season, you can better maintain your internal sense of equilibrium throughout the year.

Navigating Vata Season Gracefully
If we consider the Ayurvedic principle that opposites balance, vata season (which is cool, light, dry, windy, and unpredictable) will be less aggravating if you fill it with warmth, oiliness, deep nourishment, loving relationships, and a sense of stability, routine, and groundedness. In addition, you may find it helpful to familiarize yourself with signs and symptoms of vata imbalance so that you are better prepared to address those immediately, if they do arise. The following recommendations are appropriate for most people, but if you know your constitution or your current state of balance, you can tailor your seasonal routine appropriately. Below the general recommendations that follow, you will find links to more dosha-specific considerations.

AYURVEDAVata Season Diet
Your diet is a powerful way to soothe vata this fall. Substantive, oily, nourishing foods that are high in protein, high in fat, brought to life with warming, stimulating spices, and served hot, will go a long way toward maintaining your internal reserves of moisture and keeping you grounded through the vata season. You’ll also want to favor the sweet, sour, and salty tastes. In general, eat mushy, soft foods and garnish them generously with ghee or oil. Breakfasts of grains—like oatmeal, tapioca, cream of rice—are perfect at this time of year. Lunches and dinners that include raw or steamed vegetables, soups, and stews are grounding and moisturizing. If you eat meat and eggs, this is one of the best times of year to enjoy them. Dairy products and most nuts and seeds are also beneficial. In general, you’ll want to reduce your consumption of raw vegetables, cold and frozen foods, as well as the bitter, pungent, and astringent tastes. It is best to minimize light, cooling, and drying foods like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, sprouts, leafy greens, white potatoes, beans, corn, crackers, millet, and dried fruit. If you do eat these foods, eat them in moderation and make sure that they are soaked, cooked, or served with ghee.

You may find that, during the course of the fall, you’ll naturally want to increase your intake of food, but be careful to follow the lead of your appetite and digestion. This is also a great time of year to do a monodiet type of cleanse. Vata requires adequate nourishment so it is best to avoid fasting.

The following is a list of ideal vata season foods:

Fruits to Favor

  • Apples (cooked)
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Dates
  • Figs
  • Grapefruit
  • Grapes
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Mangoes
  • Oranges
  • Papayas
  • Prunes (soaked)
  • Raisins (soaked)
  • Tangerines

Vegetables to Favor

  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Chilies
  • Garlic
  • Okra
  • Onions
  • Pumpkins
  • Squash, Winter
  • Sweet Potatoes

Grains to Favor

  • Amaranth
  • Basmati Rice
  • Brown Rice
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Wheat

Legumes to Favor

  • Kidney Beans
  • Miso
  • Mung Beans
  • Tur Dal
  • Urad Dal

Nuts and Seeds to Favor

  • All nuts and seeds are supportive of vata season

Dairy to Favor

  • Butter
  • Buttermilk
  • Cheese
  • Cream
  • Ghee
  • Kefir
  • Milk (not cold)
  • Sour Cream
  • Yogurt

Animal Products to Favor (If You Eat Them)

  • Beef
  • Buffalo
  • Chicken
  • Crab
  • Duck
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Lobster
  • Oysters
  • Shrimp
  • Turkey
  • Venison

Oils to Favor

  • Almond Oil
  • Ghee
  • Olive Oil
  • Peanut Oil
  • Safflower Oil
  • Sesame Oil

Sweeteners

  • Honey
  • Jaggary
  • Maple Syrup
  • Molasses
  • Rice Syrup
  • Sugar (Raw)

Spices to Favor (All Spices Are Good for Vata Season)

  • Allspice
  • Anise
  • Asafoetida (Hing)
  • Basil
  • Bay Leaf
  • Black Pepper
  • Cardamom
  • Cinnamon
  • Clove
  • Cumin
  • Dill
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Mustard Seeds
  • Nutmeg
  • Oregano
  • Paprika
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary
  • Saffron
  • Turmeric

Vata Season Lifestyle Choices
ch1One of the most effective ways to support vata is by establishing a daily routine. Try to do the same things (wake up, exercise, eat meals, go to bed, etc.) at roughly the same times each day. Set the tone for your day by rising early, taking full advantage of the silence, stillness, and peace that are intrinsic to the early morning hours. Then, you can calm your nervous system, awaken your tissues, and ground your energy by massaging your skin with warm, organic Pine Nut or Sesame Oil. Follow this practice with a warm, relaxing shower, leaving a coat of oil on the skin to absorb throughout the day. Steam baths and humidifiers can help to preserve internal moisture as well. Some gentle yoga, and ten to fifteen minutes of meditation will further your sense of stability and wellness. If you enjoy a little fragrance, geranium, and citrus essential oils are very appropriate this time of year. Dress in autumn colors when appropriate—reds, yellows, oranges and whites—and wear enough clothes that you stay warm throughout the day. When you step out into the elements, cover your head and ears to protect them from the biting wind and cold. If possible, minimize your exposure to drafts, loud noise, aggressive music, fast driving, and excessive sexual activity. Try to be in bed by 10 p.m. so that you get plenty of rest before dawn.

Vata Season Exercise
The best times of day to exercise are in the early morning and evening hours (6–10 a.m. and 6–10 p.m.). Vata is very easily aggravated by fast, mobile activities, so consider slow, gentle, strengthening forms of exercise instead. Walking, hiking, swimming, biking, yoga, and tai chi are good choices, provided they are done at an appropriate level of intensity. Ideally, exercise at about fifty to seventy percent of your capacity, breathing through your nose the entire time. And remember to balance your activity with adequate relaxation and sleep so that your tissues can rejuvenate properly.

Vata Season Yoga
Incorporating a sense of warmth, grounding, stability, and focus into your yoga practice has a profoundly calming effect on vata and can work wonders during vata season. Your breath should be deep and fluid. If you practice pranayama (yogic breathing exercises), alternate nostril breathing is very balancing this time of year. In your asana practice, favor vata-pacifying yoga. Warm up slowly and include some joint rotations. Move with intention and fluidity—grounding the hands and the feet on the mat whenever possible—and avoid jumping between postures. Gentle flows like a relaxed sun salutation are perfect for vata. You can also favor standing and balancing poses such as mountain, warrior I, warrior II, and tree pose to increase stability and strength. Connect with the earth beneath you in poses such as thunderbolt, cat-cow, cobra, and child’s pose, and quiet the mind with forward bends such as intense westward stretch. Gentle inversions and restorative poses such as legs up the wall are also very good for vata. Close your practice with a long corpse pose, covering yourself with a blanket so that you don’t get chilled.

Herbal Support for Vata Season
Taking Chyavanprash in the morning can help to reinforce immunity, strength, and energy during the autumn season. Ashwagandha is stabilizing to the mind and nervous system, and can promote sound sleep, strong digestion, proper elimination, and appropriate strength; it is available as a powder, tablet, and liquid extract. Similarly, herbal teas made from ginger, licorice, or a combination of cumin, coriander, and fennel, can help to promote proper digestion and warmth.

Fall for Pitta-Kapha and Kapha-Pitta – Optimize Your Health This Autumn

5gThough vata is not a primary player in your constitution, you can still safeguard your well-being with some vata-pacifying habits. At the same time, you’ll want to give some peripheral attention to clearing excess pitta (left over from the summer) and preventing kapha-aggravation (in preparation for the winter ahead).

Foods to Favor
As you strive to eat seasonally appropriate foods, be mindful of keeping pitta adequately cool (especially in the early fall) and also be careful not to smother kapha with too many heavy, oily foods. Focus on eating autumn foods that are good for both pitta and kapha, like apples, berries, soaked prunes, soaked raisins, asparagus, cilantro, green beans, leeks, okra, cooked onions, rutabagas, amaranth, quinoa, basmati rice, mung beans, cottage cheese, ghee, goat’s milk, and sunflower seeds.

Acceptable Seasonal Indulgences
Pitta and kapha both benefit from the bitter and astringent tastes, so you may be able to enjoy some raw fruits and vegetables, and a wider variety of beans—especially in the early part of the fall. Ground your energy with some light, sweet treats like rice puddings, date shakes, and sun balls, but in small quantities so as not overwhelm your digestion. You could also try a cup of hot, spiced, goat’s milk (with a little nutmeg, cinnamon, ghee, and honey) before bed to promote sound sleep.

Foods to Minimize
While you may not have to be as diligent about avoiding vata-provoking foods as some, it would be best to minimize your exposure to fall foods that aggravate both pitta and kapha—things like green grapes, grapefruits, lemons, molasses, brown rice, urad dal, hard cheeses, sour cream, any yogurt, beef, salmon, and saltwater fish. Be careful, also, not to overdo nuts. Beyond that, keep a watchful eye out for signs of excess pitta (acidity, diarrhea, rash, or sour taste), excess kapha (lethargy, low energy after meals, brain fog), and excess vata (gas, bloating, constipation, dry skin) and adapt your diet to your day-to-day needs.

Lifestyle Adjustments
The elements of autumn that are likely to be most aggravating to you are the cool weather, lightness, and mobility. You can focus on staying comfortably warm, grounding yourself without indulging lethargy, and stabilizing your nervous system with a regular routine. Aim for moderate intensity with exercise but be careful not to overheat. In your yoga practice, you can move at a more moderate pace and push yourself more than some, but don’t develop a habit of straining. Include standing poses, backbends, forward bends, twists, and moderately-paced flows in your asana practice, and be sure to close with some time in corpse pose. In general, try to strike a balance this fall between grounding and stabilizing vata, pacing pitta, and invigorating kapha.

You may also find it helpful to read both the pitta and kapha of this guide for some additional tips on supporting these doshas during the fall.

Fall for Pitta – Optimize Your Health This Autumn

v1eFor pitta-types, fall doorkeeper in a welcome respite from the heat—it is the natural antidote to summer. However, if you don’t take full advantage of vata season to clear out any excess pitta you accumulated during the summer, you may find that you are quite disturbed by autumn’s dry, light, mobile, and subtle qualities. Here are some tips on how to make a smooth and healthy transition from pitta season to vata season.

Foods to Favor
The fall harvest of apples and pears offers the perfect combination of cooling energy, astringent taste, and fiber content to clear out accumulated pitta. Eat these fruits in abundance in the early fall, when they are in season. From there, you’ll want to focus on a diet that will pacify vata without triggering too much of the hot, sharp, oily, or liquid nature of pitta. Foods that will help you strike this balance include avocados, sweet berries, coconut, dates, figs, soaked raisins, asparagus, cilantro, cucumbers, green beans, okra, parsnips, sweet potatoes, rutabagas, summer squash, zucchini, amaranth, oatmeal, quinoa, basmati rice, mung beans, tofu, soft cheeses, ghee, fresh yogurt, buffalo, soaked and peeled almonds, and sunflower seeds. You can also use cooling spices like cumin, coriander, fennel, and garnish your food with cilantro, shredded coconut, and fresh lime juice.

Acceptable Seasonal Indulgences
The sweet taste pacifies both vata and pitta and can be very nourishing and grounding. At this time of year, hearty autumn sweet (use honey instead sugar or dry fruits) breads (pumpkin bread, zucchini bread, etc.) would be a great choice, or you might prefer a yummy dairy-treat like rice khir (pudding), a date shake or spiced-milk (boiled milk with a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg, some honey, and a bit of ghee). In general, you may find that your strong digestive fire allows you to eat more beans and astringent vegetables than some. An accumulation of gas, bloating, or a sense of dryness would be an indication that you may be overdoing these foods.

Foods to Minimize
In general, you’ll want to be mindful not to overdose on heating foods. Even though vata season is cool, your internal heat is naturally quite high. You’ll also want to watch your use of really heating spices (like cayenne and dried ginger) and limit your exposure to foods that are aggravating to both vata and pitta like cranberries, burdock root, corn, eggplant, kohlrabi, raw onions, radishes, turnips, millet, and rye. If your pitta is relatively balanced and you’re eating seasonally appropriate foods, just learn to watch for subtle signs of increased heat and minimize any foods that seem to cause acidity, diarrhea, a rash, or a sour taste in your mouth.

Lifestyle Adjustments
Pitta-types can be aggravated by the light, mobile qualities of autumn so focusing on grounding, routine, and stability can be very helpful. You may also have to modify some of your seasonal practices to ensure that they are not too heating. Regular steam baths, for example, would probably be too much for you. Even sesame oil massage can irritate or dry out pitta-type skin. If you find this to be the case, cut the sesame oil by half with pine nut oil, or switch entirely to pine nut oil. Exercise when it is cool outside and adopt a pitta-pacifying level of intensity (tone down your ambition, and try not to finish your workout flushed and panting). In your yoga practice, don’t allow yourself to get too hot, be careful with inversions, and focus on a grounded, relaxed effort throughout your practice. In general, try to soften pitta’s sharp intensity and focus with grounded relaxation this fall.

Fall for Kapha – Optimize Your Health This Autumn

jKapha’s nature is actually balanced by the dry, light, mobile and subtle qualities of autumn. Your aspiration for vata season will be to embrace these kapha-balancing attributes and to soothe vata without aggravating kapha (by overdoing heavy, oily foods, for example). You’ll also want to stay warm and healthy because a cascade of kapha-related imbalances can ensue if you become cold and run down.

Foods to Favor
Favor foods that are heavy and grounding enough to soothe vata, but not so much so that they weigh you down. Some good examples of foods that do this would be apricots, berries, cherries, peaches, soaked prunes, soaked raisins, asparagus, beets, cooked carrots, chilies, green beans, leeks, mustard greens, okra, steamed onions, rutabagas, honey, amaranth, basmati rice, seitan, miso, tur dal, cottage cheese, goat’s milk, and sunflower seeds. You may also find that you can continue to enjoy lighter, more astringent foods than most during vata season—some salads for lunch, lots of vegetables, and some beans for protein. In any case, you can’t go wrong with well-spiced foods, so get creative with flavoring your meals and experiment with as many warm, stimulating spices as you like.

Acceptable Seasonal Indulgences
This might be the one time of year that you can get away with eating some heavier foods than your body might typically tolerate—fish, more protein, perhaps even an occasional  bread or a few sun balls. Basically, you’re relying on the light, mobile nature of the season to make up for kapha’s heavy, sluggish digestive tendencies. That said, you won’t feel well if vata season becomes an excuse to perpetually smother your digestive fire. Make these treats an occasional indulgence and take small portions to ensure that you can digest them.

Foods to Minimize
Although heavy, oily foods are generally quite appropriate during vata season, you’ll need to be careful not to overdo it; a sense of heaviness, lethargy, sleepiness after meals, and sluggish digestion may indicate that your vata season diet is overtaxing your digestive system. In addition, you’ll want to minimize foods that aggravate both vata and kapha, like watermelon, wheat pasta, soybeans, and ice cream.

Lifestyle Adjustments
7Because kapha tends to be grounded, stable, moist, and slow by nature, you may find that you are not at all disturbed by the light, dry, erratic characteristics of autumn. In fact, if you struggle with an internal sense of inertia, vata season can help to keep you out of an unwanted rut. Resist overly sedentary tendencies (like naps), and lean on the light, mobile nature of the fall to embody optimal health. Start your day early (before 7 a.m.), take some Chyavanprash to boost your immunity, and do something active before 10 a.m., if possible. You can afford a more vigorous exercise program than other types during vata season so go for a jog, a bike ride, or commit to an invigorating yoga practice. However, be careful not to get chilled during or after exercise and take time to ground yourself afterwards. In general, aim to have your routine strike a balance between the active, engaged approach that benefits kapha and the quiet, reflective activities that calm vata—being careful not to overindulge either one.