Ayurvedic Diet & Lifestyle for Fall
Updated: Oct 6, 2022
The Autumnal Equinox welcomes the season of Fall. We reach the moment when day and night are of equal length and it becomes the gateway into the deeper waning of the Sun and the season of the Air element. It is dominant in Vata energy. It is considered a season of great transition where the intense heat of Summer gives way to the cold, barren Winter.
The change in the amount of sunlight, rain, and temperature starts making changes to the land around you. The lack of sunlight and drop in temperatures turn the leaves vibrant colors as less chlorophyll is made and the leaves fall as an example of nature’s natural detox cycle. In Ayurveda, it is said that the accumulation of heat at the end of Summer causes the heat to rise in the trees, hence drying out the leaves. When the weather turns cold, they pull their sap into their core (the roots). As the metabolism of the tree slows down in preparation for the Winter, the leaves wither and fall and the tree naturally sheds, and detoxifies.
Humans experience the same thing - when the outside temperature drops, your body protects itself from heat loss by reducing blood flow to your skin, arms and legs, and pulls heat into the core - your digestive fire. The cool weather causes constriction of your channels, reducing blood flow throughout the body, which in turn dries out your skin, and can leave it dull and lusterless. But less blood in the skin and extremities means better circulation in the core allowing for a stronger, warmer digestion, so Fall is the time when we can start digesting heavier, richer, and more grounding foods. This is just as Nature intended it so that we can start building up our body's insulation to protect us from the coming Winter.
As the Sun sets a little earlier every night, it gives us and the land more opportunity to cool off. One day could still offer quite a lot of heat, then be cool the next day. This significant teetering of temperatures back and forth and the wind captures the epitome of Fall energy - changeable, scattered, and ungrounded.
Just like in nature, the qualities of air ~ dry, light, mobile, changeable, and ungrounded ~ manifest in our body and mind. When energies shift in nature, they also shift in us, because simply, we are nature too.
Some of the ways this could present in the body are dry skin and scalp, cracking joints, stiffness, muscle aches, irregular appetite, bloating, constipation, and an irregular appetite. Psychologically we could feel anxiety, loneliness, insecurity, an inability to focus, and hyperactivity.
Adjusting and attuning our diet and lifestyle to accommodate for the energetic shift in our environment is a practical and powerful way to help support balance in our constitution throughout the season.
The Summer harvest has passed its full peak. Mother Earth now offers us her more hearty bounty filled with grounding roots and vegetables. Fall air can be very dry and it can easily parch our tissues and mucus membranes, which can ultimately lead to constipation. Moist, higher fat, demulcent foods like oils, ghee, and avocado, and those with the addition of good fiber like oatmeal and well-ripened bananas are great allies during the Fall.
Apples, beets, and pomegranates are superfoods at this time as they are great liver and blood cleansers, helping to dissipate excess heat in the tissues that were acquired over Summer. Excess heat in these areas can further dry out the body.
As the Sun’s energy towards us lessens and the body responds by gathering its heat into the core, it increases the strength of our digestive fire. Because of this, we can start to enjoy heartier, higher-fat foods at this time.
Now is the time for the sweeter breads, unctuous stews and Fall's warming, and deeply nourishing comfort foods. These foods help us prepare for the cooler, longer nights of the coming Winter and to counteract the dry, light, and scattered qualities dominant during Fall.
Making sure you prepare these foods to best suit your dosha will ensure digestive ease. For instance, those with dominant Vata naturally have a cooler digestion and therefore they do best with cooked or stewed apples with digestive spices rather than just a raw apple.
In general, everyone will have Vata increase in their constitution during Fall, but to varying degrees, so the following guidelines are meant to be catered to your unique situation.
If your constitution is Vata dominant, Fall is one of the most challenging seasons to stay balanced. Because the qualities of Fall are just like Vata, it can easily exacerbate imbalances typical of Vata constitutions, so now is the time to really be disciplined with your diet and lifestyle habits.
In general, lessen or avoid:
Astringent, bitter, and pungent tastes - they’re all very drying, especially the astringent taste
Dry, rough foods & drinks - alcohol, caffeine, raw foods (salads), crackers, popcorn
Cold, iced, or frozen foods
Skipping meals, eating erratically, excessive snacking
Nervous system stimulants like nicotine and caffeine (coffee, black tea, soft drinks, green tea, chocolate)
Things to FAVOR:
Sweet, sour & salty tastes - whole foods, not packaged baked goods
Well-cooked, warm, oily, moist heavy foods - mushy even
Ojas-building, nourishing foods - root veggies like carrots, beets, pumpkin, winter squashes, ghee & almonds
Warming, stimulating spices like cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, black pepper - add to meals, make a tea
Have a grounding, warm breakfast (grains) - oatmeal, quinoa, cream of rice
Higher protein, higher fat foods/meals compared to Summer - we’re preparing for Winter - adding a little extra coat helps keep us warmer & lubricated
Eat soothing, warming & easily digested meals such as soups & stews
Drink warming herbals teas such as ginger, cinnamon & cardamom
Keeping the nervous system stable throughout the Fall is a significant tool for counteracting Vata imbalance.
The movement of blood from the extremities back to the core increases blood flow to the mind. Wind, sudden temperature shifts, the start of the school season, and the entrance into a busy holiday spell provoke higher stress levels and busy, scattered minds this time of year, so the mind can become easily over-stimulated.
Air is a very sensitive element, it's electrical energy and is easily affected by the surrounding environment. All of these factors make our nervous system the most vulnerable at this time. Having regular practices in place that help quiet the mind and promote stillness so as to calm the nervous system is paramount for Vata balance. If we can properly support our nervous system in the Fall, it significantly helps us to maintain a strong immune system and overall health and well-being.
Things to FAVOR:
Routine meals & bedtimes ~ this is always a great practice for any time of year, but especially during the Vata time of year - this supports the easily frayed nervous system & allows the digestive system to work more efficiently
Go to bed early and get up early ~ Vata dosha needs the most rest and the early morning is the most calm & peaceful time - this greatly benefits your mind and supports balance of your circadian rhythms
Meditate, gentle yoga, slow walks, deep breaths, Nadi Shodhana ~ whatever soothing practice you like to do that calms your mind - make that a priority - the mind is easily disturbed during Vata season
Keep warm and stay out of strong winds ~ a sweater to heat the core does a better job than an extra pair of socks to cure cold feet. Once persistent cold has penetrated our system - the cold that goes through your bones, hot baths/showers may be the only way to restore circulation.
Do daily oil massage, called abhyanga ~ in the morning before a shower is best as it coats the skin, retains heat, grounds & buffers the nervous system, and prevents your tissues from drying out.
Do daily Nasya - oil administration to the nose calms Vata, nourishes the mucus membranes & clears the mind - use sesame oil or an Ayurvedic blend
Start slowing down in Fall ~ relax your nervous system, time to rest more, prepare for a deep hibernation in Winter
Early Fall is a great time to cleanse ~ to remove excess heat from Pitta organs from the Summer so we don’t dry out, helps to calm Vata & reset digestion
Regularly detach from tech devices - tech devices significantly overstimulate the mind & nervous system and distract us from being present with ourselves and others
Putting a practice in place that honors these shifts throughout the season is called Ritucharya. This is an ancient Ayurvedic seasonal regimen where the goal is to remain balanced against the changes in our environment that are triggered by the seasons.
Ayurveda teaches us that by balancing the nature of your local climate with your unique nature in addition to the appropriate diet and lifestyle adaptations, you can offset the potential for seasonally-induced imbalances. By practicing these Ayurvedic guidelines, we can experience good health and well-being through all the changes and weather any storm.