Balancing Vata this Fall
I can't believe it's already October! We are ramping right up into Vata season in my part of the world, and this can be difficult to manage for many of us. Lots of yogis have some Vata in us, and it's definitely a hectic time with school back in swing and as we get into the holidays.
I have never been a fall person. I don't like pumpkin flavored things, and I always am sad for the end of summer. I've always hated the leaves dying off, the weather getting cold and knowing that so much snow is coming. But I've gained a new appreciation for fall. Recently, I saw a quote that said "Autumn shows us how beautiful it is to let things go" set across some beautiful leaves. Fall is about surrender and letting go, and I can get on board with that. That really clicked for me, and I am now among the many appreciators of autumn!
In most parts of the world, Vata season starts to transition in when those first traces of coolness break into the summer air. In my neck of the woods, Vata season starts usually in late September. If you remember, Vata is the dosha that's made of air and space. The lightest, coldest and dryest of the doshas. Check my Ayurveda 101 blog post for a refresher on the doshas if you'd like! This time of year, the leaves are changing, the wind is picking up, and there is a definite crisp-ness to the air you can feel in your bones. One of my teachers of Ayurveda said that when the trees are turning colors, it's the heat of summer literally moving out of the leaves. Once the heat goes, we're left with dry, rough, crunchy, light leaves falling to the ground. Vata lasts until the heaviness of winter really sets in. Here in the Northeast, that's around January.
If you are a Vata in your own constitution, you might feel the affects of fall more. But many of us, mysself included, will feel the shift and need to balance accordingly.
Symptoms of excess Vata are usually pretty easy to spot. They include:
Dry skin, nasal passages or eyes
Feeling a bit more frazzled, anxious or overthinking more than usual
Restless/interrupted sleep or even insomnia
Difficulty remembering things or feeling spacey
Dry, hard stools, even constipation
Here are some ways you can help those symptoms.
1. Abhyanga - self massage
Oil massage is extremely helpful for dry skin. It is also very nourishing and grounding, which helps all of the mental symptoms of vata as well. Sesame oil works well for Vata and Kapha. Pittas might like to use coconut oil since it's not heating like sesame oil can be.
Before I shower, I dry brush (although in Fall, I may skip the dry brushing). Then I use sesame oil and give myself a 5 minute self-massage. To do abhyanga on yourself, really massage the oil into your muscles and joints. There's a lot more hand work going on than like if you were just putting lotion on. Really work into the muscles, squeezing and rubbing. I start at my feet and work my way up each leg, then I do my arms, and finish on my torso. Then, I sit for a few minutes. I may meditate or (some days, clean my bathroom!) and then shower. If you are extremely Vata, you might like to shower first so the oil sinks into your skin too.
Such a restorative and feel-good practice for the fall!
2. Eat moist, warm and dense foods
I gotta be honest with you - Fall is not the time to eat crunchy salads or fruit smoothies. Think of opposite therapy - we describe Vata as: dry, rough, light, cold, and mobile. So therefore, we want to eat (and incorporate other stuff into our day) that's the opposite. So in the fall, favor foods that are: moist, smooth, dense, warm/cooked, and static.
Salads and fruit smoothies are rough, crunchy and cold - not helpful for Vatas. Bitter and astringent foods also aggravate Vata (i.e. greens). Sweet, sour and salty foods will help Vata to stay balanced. Favor cooked and moist foods! What is really great during Vata season is soups. Eating produce naturally with what's seasonal is always great too. Vatas tolerate meat well and can benefit the most from the density of meat to help them ground. Vata doesn't handle raw veggies well - they're too rough and cold.
If you need a salad, you can add cooked veggies to it and use oil on it. Oily food here is helpful for moisture, even more so than water-based-moisture in food (like juicy veggies, fruits, grains, etc.). Don't be afraid to cook liberally with ghee, butter, olive oil and coconut oils. Oil is way more hydrating than water, so oil is big for Vata types and Vata season!
Avoid drinking cold beverages - even water with ice. Opt for warm or room-temp drinks! Cold drinks will put out your digestive fire pronto.
3. Drink warm lemon water each morning
Vatas can have a hard time keeping enough fire in their digestion to keep things moving. Their digestion is also quick to dry out since Vata has a hard time carrying moisture. In the morning, warm up a glass of water and put in a lemon slice in it. Drink the whole glass first thing in the morning. The sourness of the lemon (which our body interprets as heat) gets the digestion moving first thing in the morning by rekindling the digestive fire. The warm water restores the warmth and the water helps to hydrate.
4. Limit your caffeine
You might be cringing. I get it! But see if you can reduce by even just one cup. Or maybe only on days when you feel the most frazzled or prone to overthinking. When you're feeling like that - so scattered with the mobile mental or physical energy - the good news is that you probably don't need caffeine then anyway. Vata is already so mobile that anything that's going to stimulate that energy further can cause symptoms. I'm not saying give up your coffee, just saying be mindful of whether you're drinking it out of actual need for a pick-me-up, or if it's just out of habit but you're perfectly awake.
5. Exercise lightly to build warmth
You won't want to exercise vigorously - Vata has the least amount of energy reserves, so if you're feeling all that air and space, vigorous exercise will deplete you too quickly. Take the dog for a walk, go for a short hike in nature, or maybe do some vinyasa yoga to build some warmth!
6. Wear a scarf
I love this tip - it's so effective but so easy to do (and fashionable!) Vata needs containment. Your body is a container for the energy inside of you, but sometimes it needs a little more reinforcements. Keeping your neck nice and warm, and with a sense of containment can really help!
This is key for Vata. One gift of having some air and space energy is that you are a bit elevated energetically. Being of air and space takes you a bit closer to your highest self. Use that time to meditate. Meditating is also really helpful for calming the frazzled nervous system and bringing yourself back in. You can have some serious progress when you're in Vata season!
8. Nasya oil
Three of these tips have included oil - so you're sensing by now that oil is a big part of balancing Vata. Both in your food and on your skin. Nasya oil is an oil you can buy from Ayurvedic stores or websites that is usually a sesame oil blend. Sometimes it has essential oils mixed in. Nasya goes in your nostrils. You drop a few drops on the tip of your finger or liberally on a cotton swab, and rub it around the nostrils. Don't sniff it in, but take some deep breaths to get it in. Nasya is the only thing that prevents me from having bloody noses when the air really dries out. It's a god send!
One of the other benefits of Vata energy is that she's very contemplative. Let that extra energy here, along with your practice of letting go like the leaves, to help you find a practice that works for you AND with you.