AUTUMN / WINTER TIPS (Inspired by Ayurveda)
Updated: Jan 27, 2020
There’s a chill in the air down here in Victoria. It’s the end of Autumn and nearing the start of Winter. While the days can be mild and sunny, the mornings and evenings are cold and crisp, and many houses have heaters running at least part of the time. As lovely as this is, the extremes can be a little challenging to juggle at times. How strongly these weather conditions affect you will depend upon your individual constitution (called Prakriti in Ayurveda), as well as stage of life. Read on for some tips to help keep your skin nourished and your constitution happy during the Autumn/Winter transition.
Ayurveda, or “the science of life”, originated in India and involves dietary and lifestyle principles that support harmonious living. According to Ayurveda #ayurveda “like increases like”. Therefore, opposite qualities can be used to restore balance. For example, coldness is balanced by warmth; dryness is balanced by oiliness; heaviness is balanced by lightness; roughness is balanced by smoothness; movement is balanced by stability etc.
So thinking about the current (late May) weather conditions here in Victoria; it's the end of Autumn, it's dry and chilly outside, it's artificially heated inside. Over the next months, once Winter sets in it's likely to be cold and damp outside, with months of artificial heating inside. Let's see how this might affect us depending on our Ayurvedic constitution.
Ayurvedic Constitutions (Prakriti)
According to Ayurvedic principles, there are seven different constitutions, made up of different proportions of Vata (mainly ether/space & air), Pitta (mainly fire & water) and Kapha (mainly water & earth). Although we all contain some Vata, some Pitta and some Kapha, we contain these in different quantities, For example, some people are more purely one type eg: Vata, Pitta or Kapha (mono-doshic); while others are more of a combination eg: Vata/ Pitta, or Pitta/Kapha (bi-doshic), or, more rarely, a fairly even balance between Vata/Pitta/Kapha (tri-doshic). The aim is not to try to become a perfect balance of Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Rather, it is to determine what constitution you were born with (eg: 50% Pitta, 40% Vata and 10% Kapha), and maintain that balance as much as possible.
People with Vata constitutions may become aggravated in cold, dry, windy weather because Vata individuals already have a tendency towards coldness, dryness and roughness. And while the warmth from indoor heaters may provide relief, the dryness can be aggravating. When imbalanced, Vata individuals tend towards constipation, insomnia, restlessness, neuralgic type pains such as sciatica, and dryness. Vata predominant people benefit from warming, nourishing, grounding foods, particularly in colder weather. Cold, raw salads and cold smoothies are going to aggravate Vata individuals. Topically, Black sesame oil is a thick/unctuous, warming oil that helps balance cold, dry Vata qualities. The oil can be gently warmed and applied to the skin (and nasal passages if they feel particularly dry). Topical use of black sesame oil can be helpful for Vata individuals, particularly during Autumn and Winter (because they need the warmth and the moisture). Please note that black sesame oil is not toasted sesame oil but is made from black sesame seeds.
People of Pitta constitution naturally tend towards heat, oiliness and smoothness. They will likely enjoy the cool air and feel relieved that summer is over. However, sitting in an overly heated, stuffy room may be aggravating and cause them to sweat or develop rashes (more likely during hot weather). Pitta individuals have a good appetite and strong digestion. They should not skip meals, particularly at lunchtime (or they have been known to turn into angry tigers). Topically, coconut oil is light, cooling and well indicated for Pitta individuals. However, once the weather becomes very cold, and the oil becomes hard at room temperature, it suggests it may be too cold to use alone until things warm up again. Cooling (or warming) herbs are often incorporated into oils in Ayurveda but in the absence of this, it may make sense to combine coconut oil with a small quantity of another oil. This can make sense particularly if you are bi-doshic eg: Vata/Pitta can combine coconut oil with black sesame oil; while Pitta/Kapha can combine coconut oil with mustard oil. The exact proportions will depend on you and the weather.
Individuals of Kapha constitution already tend towards coldness, heaviness, and dampness. Therefore, they tend to become disturbed once Winter kicks in and conditions become even colder and damper. They will put on weight if eating too many cold, sweet, carbohydrate rich foods. Kapha type conditions include weight gain, congestion and excessive mucus (eg: congested sinuses). Topically, mustard oil is light, heating and penetrating, and well indicated for use in Kapha constitutions. I wouldn't put it up the nose or in the eyes (or it might burn), but it can be useful on the skin for Kapha constitutions, particularly during cold, damp weather. If you are bi-doshic, you can combine the oils together to suit (eg: Vata/Kapha can combine black sesame with mustard oils; Pitta/Kapha can combine coconut with mustard oil etc.).
Ayurvedic Recipe Book
A useful Ayurvedic recipe book is "The Ayurvedic Cookbook" by Amadea Morningstar and Urmila Desai. It's been around for years but it explains things well.
I have a Bachelor of Health Science (Western Herbal Medicine). Beginning in 2001, I studied Ayurveda for 2-years at an Ayurvedic college near Byron Bay (Ayurveda House). I also taught Yoga for 18-years, and ran Shakti Spirit Yoga trainings, incorporating Ayurvedic principles along with Yoga. In 2013, I moved back to Australia and spent one-year studying Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) at the University of Technology (UTS) (Sydney). Although I have great respect for TCM, I chose to complete my studies in Western Herbal Medicine instead. So although I am qualified and practice as a Western Herbalist, I have a decent understanding and great respect for both Ayurveda and TCM, and find they inform and enhance my WHM understanding, particularly regarding "energetics".
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