Written by John Immel,
Autumn is a Vata season characterized by degeneration, the ending of things. By the end of October, there's no turning back - the late summer heat of September gives way to true cold. The cat who lay stretched out on your hardwood floor all summer sneaks into your bed to snuggle up as close to you as possible. Pumpkin pies and Thanksgiving are just around the corner as the fall harvest winds up. Leaf peepers will be touring the countryside enjoying hot apple cider and strudels.
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Do you live in the Southern Hemisphere? You may need the Ayurvedic Diet for April instead.
Psychology of OctoberA late fall landscape inspires ghost stories. The tree, once lush and heavy with green leaves and bountiful fruit, transforms into a gnarled, bare tree standing alone in the middle of a field. The ether element is more apparent in fall. Without leaves on the trees, suddenly you can see the stars. Cultural celebrations of Halloween and Dia De Los Muertos similarly call attention to end of life cycles and the extroverted joy of summer.
Yet despite the hauntings of Halloween, the coming cold and the warmth of the fireplace bring our attention indoors, cultivating a desire for home. We naturally want to cuddle up and enjoy time with loved ones, like a night at home watching a movie. The autumn season brings families together, ending with Thanksgiving.
Climate of OctoberOctober's climate is unpredictable so be sure to bring along extra layers of warm clothing to prevent catching a "cold" if the temperature suddenly drops. Nights are cool while the days may still hold a hint of warmth amidst the wind. The air is dry, leading to internal dryness. The earth is drying and contracting with cold quality. Leaves crunch and wind howls as life slowly sinks back into its roots. The vibrancy of summer gives way to austerity.
October in Your BodyIn order to preserve heat, your body draws blood from the limbs into your core. This effect makes the skin look pale and gray, as compared to the brightness of summer. Your muscles may feel tired and your extremities cold. Like the animals, the colder weather and shorter days make you feel like hibernating. October is a good time to get extra rest and break out a warm hat and socks. When there is less blood circulating on the skin's surface, there is more blood nourishing your internal organs.
Energy LevelsEach dosha is uniquely affected by the autumn shift in climate. The cooler weather is a relief to Pittas. Their warm, oily nature is balanced by the cool, dry air. The longer nights offer more time under the Pitta pacifying moonlight and a chance to recharge the batteries depleted from summertime fun.
Kapha types feel alive and refreshed by the dryness and lightness of fall, which whisks away excess moisture, heaviness and congestion of the hot humid summer. The dropping temperatures and longer nights will be their biggest challenge to combat in the days ahead. For Vata types, fall has the potential to be very imbalancing as it aggravates their dry, light cold and mobile nature. They will need to take the most care to prevent illness.
AppetiteAs blood returns to the core, the stomach gains access to more blood and clamors for more food. The renewed vigor in your appetite is timely as your body attempts to build a layer of insulating fat in the skin, to help you stay warm over winter. Thickening the skin with a layer of fat is also immunity - without it you may catch a cold, which is common as the temperature plummets in early fall. With the increase of appetite, you'll have more cravings for starchy and heavy foods like potatoes and grains.
Kapha types may struggle more than usual with sweet and comfort food cravings this time of year. The season naturally triggers overeating, so watch out! Pitta individuals may find themselves ravenous this time of year. But they can afford to indulge on the heavier foods to feed their high metabolism after light meals all summer. They should follow their stomach's lead and enjoy the heavier foods to avoid getting "hangry."
Vata types will find their appetite is stronger, but unfortunately their digestion is still weak. They should drink a glass of warm water with a pinch of salt and ginger, and wedge of lime to hydrate their body before meals, which improves digestive function by up to 25%. Vatas should eat easy to digest foods and recipes to compensate for weak digestion.
Skin, Sleep, & OtherYour skin and mucous membranes may begin to dry out as a result of the relentless autumn gusts of wind. This may bring a sense of relief to naturally oily Pitta and Kapha types, however Vata individuals may feel shriveled up and starved for moisture. Everyone is more prone to developing a dry cough, constipation, or an aggravation of skin conditions like eczema. Where dryness prevails, insomnia is common - especially for Vata types. They should be sure to increase the amount of good quality oils in their diet. To counteract dryness and build fall immunity, Vata individuals especially need to oil their skin regularly using the Ayurveda technique of abhyanga. They should stay hydrated by sipping warm water or herbal tea throughout the day and avoid diuretics like caffeine, which will leave you parched and frazzled.
Ayurvedic Routine for OctoberSince the nervous system is so easily scattered in fall, be vigilant about your routine. October is the time to start settling down for the winter. Eat warm, cooked food at regular mealtimes. Plan your meals the night before. Be sure to get to bed by 10:00 pm. Go to bed and get out of bed at the same time each day, even if you're not sleeping. October is a time when Vata individuals are prone to deficiency, so they should choose gentle and nurturing activities only.
October is an ideal time to avoid travel and change, as there is already a lot of change in the climate. Seek quality one on one time and affection with trusted friends. Share a meal, sit by the fire, host a craft night, or curl up with a good book and someone you love. It's best to avoid overstimulation, but too much alone time can invite anxiety and ungroundedness, too.
As mentioned, this is the most important time of year for abhyanga. Do this practice before showering to ensure soft, supple skin and improved immunity. Sesame oil is best for Vata types. Kapha types benefit from olive oil and Pitta types will do well with sunflower or coconut oil.
Keep warm! Dress in warm layers, get a good pair of slippers, chop firewood, dust off your winter boots. Get yourself and your living space ready for winter with whatever you need to stay toasty.
Diet for OctoberAyurveda's dietary guidelines for October are nurturing both physically and emotionally. Warm, oily, heavy comfort foods build immunity (ojas) and prepare the body's reserves for winter while calming anxieties and soothing loneliness. Sweet taste is nourishing, grounding and helps you build strength. The salty taste will keep you moisturized and hydrated.
Add a squeeze of lemon or a splash of vinegar on top of your meals to bring in the juiciness of the sour taste. A dash of sour taste keeps the palate moist and digestion strong.
Eat your food warm - this means trading your salad in for a cozy soup, your apples for warm applesauce. Butternut squash, eggs, ghee, warm dairy, winter squash, root vegetables, nuts, seeds, bone broth and beef provide the nourishment your body needs to build a layer of protective, insulating fat before winter. Add generous amounts of good quality oils like ghee and coconut oil to your dishes. An almond date shake with cinnamon takes the edge off a chilly morning and is a hearty addition to any fall day.
Spicy foods may feel warm as you eat them, but they will dilate blood vessels in the skin, which could leave you vulnerable to catching a cold. Keep your heat in by avoiding especially spicy foods in fall, especially cayenne pepper and chilis. Otherwise, spices are okay as long as they don't make you sweat. Moderate use of spices like salt, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, garlic, onion and thyme are actually helpful to digest the heavier foods of fall, as long as you are wearing warm clothing to protect your skin.
Ayurvedic Herbs for OctoberFall anxieties can leave you feeling frazzled and overwhelmed. In fall, we all tend to "overdo it" more easily than other times of the year. Allow October to invite you inward. The following herbs can help you rest, rejuvenate, and fortify your body for winter's harsh cold. They will sink your roots deep and restore you, ensuring you will bloom in full next spring.
Build Strength & StaminaStrengthen, warm, and nourish your nerves and muscles with dashamoola this October. This Ayurvedic herbal formula translates to "ten roots," as it is a combination of the roots of ten medicinal plants that bring special nourishment and ease to your body in fall. Dashamoola tea is sweet and astringent, and both these tastes draw energy downward, making dashamoola very grounding. A mug of warm dashamoola tea will draw frenetic energy and worries out of your head and down to your feet. It helps you feel connected to the calmness, solidity, and stability of the earth element. This downward action is also a remedy for fall constipation, as it can "get things moving" so to speak. Dashamoola is also supportive for the lungs, and encourages expectoration of unwanted mucus that characterize fall colds and flus, without leaving you feeling too dry. Ashwagandha and licorice root continue to be useful for both their strengthening and moistening properties throughout October.
Warm Your CoreWith the cool winds of autumn, you may find your body feeling cold and congested, longing for warmth and comfort. Battling the cold may seem like a necessary evil as fall deepens into winter. Yet, a simple remedy for cold hands and feet may be as close as your everyday spice rack. Long relied upon for its stimulating effect on the circulation, cinnamon warms your blood and your body into coziness with its sweet taste.
Cinnamon not only helps your hands and feet, it stimulates circulation throughout the body, especially in the lungs and joints. Its pungent spiciness warms up the lungs and liquefies mucus congestion. You may have noticed that when you make tea with cinnamon, a thick, gooey substance settles to the bottom of your cup. This gooey property is called demulcent among herbalists and helps you expectorate any thick, kapha like mucus adhered to the bronchial tubes. Cinnamon's demulcent nature means it also coats the throat, soothing it. For best results, gargle with cinnamon, or squeeze a wedge of lemon into an herbal tea with 1/4 tsp cinnamon.
Black pepper improves circulation via vasodilation. It is a carminative spice (expels gas) and is useful in cases of cold, Vata digestion. It is gently warming and digestive without being overstimulating or overheating like cayenne or chili pepper. You can add it, along with cinnamon, to your morning chai to get your blood flowing, your mind focused and your digestion fired up. Black pepper, turmeric and cinnamon are ideal fall spices because they won't make you sweat. Exercise caution with other spices that push heat to the surface - such as cloves. Their use for digestive effect may be helpful, but in excess causes loss of heat through the skin.
Strengthen Fall DigestionLike most pungent spices, cinnamon rekindles digestion. It is a favorite additive to counteract the damp, heavy qualities of dairy. Cinnamon's antimicrobial qualities also reduce gas and fermentation in the GI. Hingvastak churna is the best way to warm up your digestive fire. It is ideal for cold Vata digestive disorders, while Digestive Comfort & Support Tea is more nourishing for Vatas with dry digestion. Tranquil Tummy Tea is specifically blended to reduce gas and bloating. Other digestives that are good to explore this time of year include ginger, turmeric, and chitrak.
If you are prone to constipation, you may experience it more frequently in October as the dry, rough qualities of Vata season dry up the stools. You may benefit from sipping some Gentle Laxative Tea is a warm and strengthening tea to ensure smooth and regular elimination each day. Haritaki directly softens stools, relieving constipation and as it rejuvenates the colon. It helps remove excess Vata from the digestive tract, reduce gas and bloating and stimulate digestion and absorption. Haritaki also acts as a nervine, calming an aggravated nervous system and soothing the mind.
Calm the NervesOther nervine herbs that are appropriate in October are nutmeg and shankhapushpi. Nutmeg is a time tested remedy for insomnia as its heavy nature grounds the mobile quality of Vata that can lead to restless sleep. A pinch in warm milk at night acts as a nervine tonic, while also supporting Vata digestion this season by enhancing absorption in the small intestine. Shankhapushpi gently soothes and sedates a frayed nervous system and can aid sound sleep, reduce anxiety and benefit a dry digestive tract and nervous stomach. Bhringaraj oil is a famous Ayurvedic sleep aid that calms the nerves and reduces mental agitation and tension. Rub the oil into your scalp and onto feet for a relaxing night's sleep.
RejuvenateNourishing herbs (rasayana) are essential for Vatas in this season of depletion and deficiency. The body can grow dryer, weaker and more frail in fall. Rejuvenative tonics such as Chyavanprash strengthen and nourish all tissues, build immunity and protect the mucus membranes, particularly in the lungs, from the cold, dry air of October. Liver Nourish & Support also helps the body transition through the change in seasons by strengthen and nourishing the liver.
ConclusionOctober is a time to witness a powerful transformation in nature with vibrant colors and new landscapes taking hold. But don't forget, an internal transformation is taking place in your body too, and you must adapt accordingly to stay in good health. The dry, rough, cold and windy qualities of fall can also display in your body as Vata dosha increases. By taking the time to adjust your diet, strengthen digestion and focus on routine, you will be able to transition through this season change with ease. The above tips are essential tools for staying well this fall.
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About the AuthorJohn Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda biocharacteristics. His approach to Ayurveda is clinical, yet exudes an ease which many find enjoyable and insightful. John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda, offering professional clinical training in Ayurveda for over 15 years.
John's interest in Ayurveda and specialization in digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, as well as public service work in South Asia. John's commitment to the detailed study of digestive disorders reflects his zeal to get down to the roots of the problem. His hope and belief in the capacity of each & every client to improve their quality of life is nothing short of a personal passion. John's creativity in the kitchen and delight in cooking for others comes from his family oriented upbringing. In addition to his certification in Ayurveda, John holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University.
John enjoys sharing Ayurveda within the context of his Catholic roots, and finds Ayurveda gives him an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church. Jesus expressed God's love by feeding and healing the sick. That kindness is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well. Outside of work, John enjoys spending time with his wife and 6 kids, and pursuing his love of theology, philosophy, and language.