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As the dog days of summer wind down and a hint of crisp fall weather cools the night air, you might find yourself suddenly looking forward to going back to school or picking up the pace at work after a lazier summer.
The seasons affect us. A saying in Maharishi Ayurveda, "As is the macrocosm, so is the microcosm," captures an important principle: the outer environment affects our inner state of mind and body. When the weather is hot and humid during Pitta season (July-October), those Pitta qualities of heat build in the body as well. When the air is cool and dry in Vata season (November-February), we experience more of those qualities inside us.
Ritucharya: Staying in Balance as the Seasons Change
When the temperature, humidity, and length of days start changing as a new season begins, we respond to these changes in nature by desiring different foods and daily routine. In the hot months, for instance, most people choose cooler, lighter foods and take it easy more often, even indulging in afternoon naps when they have the chance. As the weather cools in fall, we suddenly start feeling more energetic and desire warming foods and tastes.
According to Vaidya Manohar, an ayurvedic expert, if we are in tune with nature's intelligence, in tune with our own body's needs, then we will naturally crave the foods and daily routine that will keep us in balance when the seasons change.
"This is the state of homeostasis, or balance, in ayurveda," he says. "This is what it means to be established in the Self."
Yet most of us need to consciously take certain precautions at the change of seasons. The seasonal changes affect every individual in a beneficial or harmful way, notes Vaidya Manohar. "By following the principles of ritucharya (seasonal dietary recommendations and routine), everyone can achieve maximum benefits from the good qualities of the season and remove the harmful effects of seasonal change."
When Two Seasons Meet
"The most important principle of seasonal routine is Ritu Sandhi," says Vaidya Manohar.
"Sandhi means "junction," and Ritu means "season," so Ritu Sandhi is the period that joins two seasons."
According to classical ayurvedic texts, Ritu Sandhi takes place during the two-week period when the seasons are in transition, which includes eight days of the season that is ending and eight more days of the season that is beginning.
It's very important to follow a special diet and routine during Ritu Sandhi. Here's why.
"Let's say we are at the junction between summer and fall," says Vaidya Manohar. "Our minds and bodies are accustomed to the weather and foods of summer. If we don't make changes in our diet and lifestyle to adjust to Vata (fall) season when it arrives, this will disturb the balance in the body and result in the accumulation of impurities."
It seems obvious that too much Pitta dosha (heat) may accumulate by the end of Pitta season, causing impurities that could lead to disease in Vata season if they aren't eliminated first. What is surprising is that Vata dosha also gets disturbed by the end of Pitta season.
Sound confusing? Vaidya Manohar explains in more detail: "In the summer heat, the natural tendency is to build Pitta dosha in the body. That is the reason that in summer we naturally prefer a more cooling diet and environment. That helps balance Pitta dosha, but at the same time, because of the intake of cold food, Vata dosha also gets accumulated in the body. Since the following season is Vata season, this sets us up for excess Vata just when we need to decrease it, giving rise to problems like dry skin, constipation, arthritic pain, colds, worried state of mind and inability to focus during Vata season. So at the end of summer, we have accumulated not only Pitta dosha but also Vata dosha."
How do we get rid of the accumulation of Pitta and Vata dosha before Vata season begins? A mild detox, or seasonal cleanse, is recommended during Ritu Sandhi, along with a detoxifying diet.
Schedule a Fall Detox
Although spring is the key time for cleansing, fall is another important time to cleanse. During this two-week cleanse at the junction of Pitta and Vata seasons, care should be taken to balance both Vata and Pitta doshas, because as we have seen, both doshas have accumulated at this point.
"The change of diet and lifestyle from Pitta to Vata season should be followed gradually, in a gentle way that is not drastic," says Vaidya Manohar. "During these two weeks of Ritu Sandhi you can slowly add the Vata-pacifying foods and lifestyle guidelines, so that by the end of the two weeks you are following the classic ayurvedic routine and lifestyle for Vata season.
Maharishi Ayurveda suggests the following recommendations during Ritu Sandhi to balance Vata and Pitta doshas and to provide a gentle detoxification in the fall.
Herbal Formulas for Fall Cleansing
Daily Routine during Fall Cleansing
Diet during Fall Cleansing
The qualities of Vata dosha are cold, dry, rough, mobile, subtle, and light. To balance Vata it's important to expose yourself to influences with opposite qualities—warm, moist, smooth, slow, gross, heavy. Favor more heavy, moist, oily foods in fall. Go for the sweet, sour and salty tastes. Decrease astringent, bitter and pungent tastes.
By following these simple recommendations during the change of season from summer to fall, you'll have the best possible start to the new fall season. By ridding your body of excess Pitta and Vata dosha, you'll be starting the new season with a clean slate. And according to Maharishi Ayurveda, balancing the doshas before each new season begins is the master key to mental, physical and emotional health.