Autumn is ruled by the vata dosha (that which blows) and the meridians of lung and large intestine. In brief, the vata dosha provides that wind and momentum from which ideas, creativity, spontaneity come from. Vata ‘rules’ the nervous system (whereas Pitta is digestive fire and Kapha is the physical, solid body). In a vattic time, then, things tend to be unpredictable, dry, ungrounded, very active, and cold. To maintain our internal environment and our emotional, physiological environment, then, we apply opposites: we need to create warmth, stability, routine, and rest.
To see how the lung association might apply, simply realize how your breathing constricts in cold. Shallow breathing contributes to restlessness, anxiety, a sense of business or urgency if not the whole sympathetic nervous system’s fight or flight. Freeze or flee. Breath, lungs, and prana are all intimately related to circulation, which has everything to do with warm and immunity body wide.
The colon or large intestine is implicated, here, like the lungs, as a thing we need to keep in balance, a thing prone to suffer the winds of change and cold. Foods we’ve eaten before (ie raw or fresh vegetables, astringent and cooling foods of summer, let alone highly processed foods) will contribute to dis-ease in our bodies. Instead, focus on slowly cooked, warm foods. Whole grains. Roasted things and mildly spicy things. The ability to digest is literally the ability to digest our life, experiences, ourselves. Ayurveda sees food as medicine and medicine as food.
I’ve tried to gather some recipes, some practices, and some ideas that are known to be balancing to vata dosha. The beauty of such practices are you can take those things that work for you and dismiss what doesn’t. If you watch, you’ll notice change and shifts and you can choose what to add or what to take away. There is no need to empty your refrigerator or start some esoteric practice of yogic cleansing. But there are literally thousands of things you can do to heal, sooth, and ground yourself.
You can ease times of barrenness and transition – whether it be seasonal, or you personally have vata dosha, or you are going through a period of transition and cold in your life. You ease it by establishing ritual and routine to catch and hold you. Slowing and quieting down. Keeping warm and hydrated from skin to bone. Establishing self-care boundaries and a supportive routine.
ASANA – POSTURES – A PHYSICAL PRACTICE
Poses that work on the colon (the bodily seat of vata), intestines, pelvis, lumbar spine, and sacroiliac bring energy back down into the base of the torso and keep us out of our heads, or give our heads some reality.
Spinal twists and inversions of all kinds soothe this dosha. Sitting and standing forward bends are soothing to the sympathetic nervous system, particularly for insomnia; boat, plank, staff, and plow are also powerful vata-reducers as they all engage the yogic core, cull up our strength, and tap us into stability. To support grounding, work with standing poses such as mountain, triangle, warrior, and tree. Do sun salutations S-L-O-W-L-Y, seeking out the strength, foundation, and deep inherent rhythm of the sequencing. Let child’s pose lead you back to your innate innocence and trust, again tapping the parasympathetic nervous system, lowering the head to the earth, and finding connection. End your practice with a long savasana (20–30 minutes); it is really okay to do NOTHING for a while.
Focus on breath that is full. Breath has everything to do with our nervous system and our circulatory system; keep yourself warm, calmed, and grounded with the breath rather than creating over stimulation. Use the breath to come back to being a being who has lungs, a belly, a back, and toes. Focus on being a being who breathes.
IDEAS for transitioning into fall
Keep warm, keep hydrated, eat nourishing foods, find ritual and meaning. There are thousands of personal ways you can do this. Buy yourself the most comfortable and comforting scarf you can find and make of it a symbol (or hat, or socks, or whatever).
Nourish your body with hydration from the skin, in. Go with sesame oil, coconut oil, or shea based lotions over the cooler, biting months. Recognize how ‘products’ can dry you out and go for natural or organic when you can afford it.
Old yogic texts say ritual can be anywhere; so does mystical Christianity, Islam, Judiasm. Rise and go to bed at the same time every day, or practice making your bed on waking as a ritual of order and self care. Meditate, somehow. Use a kitchen timer to watch your breath for five minutes, take a walk and count your steps, or write a gratitude list every night before you sleep. Return to practices that have soothed you in the past; candles or worship services or lunch dates with friends. Return to an old, beloved book.
And spend some time being purposeful. Give meaning to the things you do. Do one thing at a time and know why you do so. Stay connected to the absolute so you don’t get lost in the drivel and spin.
Embrace the rituals that fall can offer – from football to apple picking to Thanksgiving and bounty. Rituals matter and inform us when we feel formless. First the gesture, then the grace.
If there are projects you can close, do so.
And find deep rest. In your asana practice, in your schedule. It is a time of retreat, poignancy, and deep center. Sleep.
ok, I have a juice, a link to smoothies, a chili, and a sweet potato thing but I am very tired and writing the recipe for the sweet potato thing might have to wait. All stick to the concepts: earthy, comforting, patient, non astringent. Think of it like this; in late summer and early fall we ate lots of produce, apples and pears being at their peak. Now, we eat the same foods, but we bake them and drizzle them with cinnamon and nutmeg and molasses. They are astringent and drying, raw. Good to cool you off and energize you – but at this point we are cold and scattered and need to pull in to mellowness and ripeness.
Karin’s Addicted To fall juice:
I am a juicer. Not all people are. You need to have an expensive piece of culinary equipment to pull it off. But it’s an amazing way to get all the nutritional benefit of fruits and vegetables before they are cooked out or lose their alkalinity (ask me what that means, if you want to know), and you can get the punch of many veggies in a single serving.
For weeks, I have been addicted to this: juice of 3-4 small beets, 3-4 small carrots, a nub of ginger (yay, warming), an apple or pear, perhaps an orange, perhaps a sprig of basil or cilantro or parsley. Juicing is impulsive and you use what you have, but this combo has me very energized, very awake, and very clean and grounded feeling all day long.
I’m also a smoothie -er. Check out this summerized list, which I found a few days ago: 10 best Healthy Fall Smoothie Recipes
And finally, a hearty, spicy, sweet CHILI that I kind of made up over the last week.
Butternut Squash Chipotle Chili
- 1 medium red onion, chopped
- 2 red bell peppers, chopped (or equivalent jarred roasted red peppers)
- 1 small butternut squash (less than 1 1/2 pounds), peeled and chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ground sea salt
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2+ tablespoon chopped chipotle in adobo (start with 1/2 tablespoon and add more to taste, I thought mine was just right with 1 tablespoon)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 14-ounces canned diced tomatoes, including the liquid
- 4 cups cooked black beans or 2 cans, rinsed and drained
- 2 cups OR one 14 oz. can vegetable broth
- 2 Avocados, diced
- cilantro (optional, for garnish)
- 3 corn tortillas for crispy tortilla strips if you want to be fancy
- sautée the chopped vegetables (onion, bell pepper, butternut squash, garlic) in olive oil on medium-high heat. You’ll need to stir the ingredients every few minutes so they can cook evenly.
- Once the onions start turning translucent, turn the heat down to medium-low. Add all of the spices and canned ingredients, and stir. Cover for about one hour, stirring occasionally. Taste test for spice level and add more chipotle if desired.
- By the time your chili is done, the butternut squash should be nice and tender and the liquid should have reduced a bit, producing the hearty chili consistency that we all know and love.
- Make the crispy tortilla strips: stack the corn tortillas and slice them into thin little strips, about 2 inches long. Heat a small pan over medium heat, add a drizzle of olive oil and toss in the tortilla slices. Sprinkle with salt and stir. Cook until the strips are crispy and turning golden, stirring occasionally, about 4 to 7 minutes. Remove tortilla strips from skillet and drain on a plate covered with a piece of paper towel.
- Serve the chili in individual bowls, topped with crispy tortilla strips and plenty of diced avocado. I added a little sprinkle of red pepper flakes (optional). You might want to serve this along with some chipotle hot sauce (Tobasco makes one) for the spice addicts like myself.