Nature slips into a different season anywhere from 2 to 6 times a year, depending on where you live. For instance, India, the land of Ayurveda, experiences 6 seasons while much of California with its Mediterranean type climate has just two, a cool damp season and a warm and dry one.
When we talk about rtus, the different seasons that Nature wears like garments to a dance, we must first and foremost remember that there are only two solstices based on the adana and the visarga of the sun. Representing the two energies of Hot and Cold, the sun is either increasing in its power (adana) or decreasing its potentiality (visarga)
In traditional Vedic regimen, the great sage Atreya divided the six seasons accurately into the summer and winter solstices, three in each. From mid-March for two months each is the dewy season followed by spring and then summer. This northern solstice is considered debilitating because the increase of the heating principle results in an increase in the qualities of hot and dry, depleting the dhatus that are the structure of the body. It is true that at this time, our appetites diminish and the likelihood of wasting disease is higher. Because of the nature of the sun’s path, both sun and wind become strong and dry and take away all the cooling qualities of the earth. There is a predominance of the fire element and bitter, astringent and pungent tastes successively represent each two-month parts of this dance. The southern solstice follows with the rainy season, autumn and winter. The texts say that as the sun moves south, it releases its grip on people, surrendering its strength to the moon, thus cooling the earth by allowing clouds, rain and cold wind. Diseases at this time are those of over consumption and excess. The strength of all living beings increases and the immune system is fortified by a rising appetite and a strong digestion. Respectively the unctuous tastes of sour, salty and sweet begin to dominate, adding structure to the dhatus.
In this two-step dance of Nature who takes her cue from the Sun, as the source of all life, is revealed the spanda of our daily existence. Within this simple movement are all the intricacies of a classical Indian dance. Each little movement has resounding effects on the psyche, each little step creates a different physical posture and each season defines itself through the dominance of different emotions.
In Europe and North America, more temperate zones, the seasons resolve themselves into just the four we are familiar with: spring, summer, fall and winter, but the dance remains the same. Nature herself manifests through the mahabhutas or the five great elements of ether, air, fire, water and earth. Each element like a participant in a folk dance swirls around either inside or outside of us. If the earth and cold-water elements are increased around us as in winter, then the fire and air elements burrow deeper within us and a balance is found in the juxtaposition.
Because the five elements combine in twos to create the forces known as doshas, the seasons each require a different dosha to represent them. Like actors in a musical they take their turns on stage. In late autumn and early winter, vata with its cold, dry and declining energy prevails. Summer through early autumn is the time of pitta and heat. Spring, from mid-March through mid-June, is the time of kapha as the water element liquefies and flows out of the grip of winter.
Nature has created the parameters of time, space, cause and effect within which the doshas play. The seasons are the different stage settings for their dance.
In spring kapha takes its cue while pitta waits offstage gathering its forces. As kapha steps on, it imbues the season with its qualities. With the help of the rising sun the water element is liquefied and a time of growth and new potential gives rise to the unfurling of fresh leaves and dormant seeds germinating. Because in winter kapha had accumulated its cold, wet, fluid, heavy and cohesive qualities, it now thaws within us just as it does without. We can be subject to an overflow of our own similar to spring floods from overflowing rivers, thus we become susceptible to colds, allergies and hay fever. Spring therefore represents a time of cleansing and restoring. Ayurveda recommends that we wake up earlier, that we gargle with salt water, do dry lymphatic massages after oiling with sesame oil, take saunas or hot water baths (always cool water on the face), drink tulsi, ginger and lemon teas, practice neti and nasya and perhaps do a jaladhauti (yogic emesis), practice vigorous yoga or other physical exercise and eat lighter foods rich in vegetables. Emphasize the bitter, pungent and astringent flavors found in light grains like rice, quinoa, barley and corn as well as pulses such as lentils, aduki beans and chickpeas. If you eat meat, choose drier fare like turkey, chicken, shrimp and venison. Spring is the time to seek the company of friends and a time in which the eye turns to beauty and feelings of exuberance for the colors that flourish. Adorning yourself in brighter colors and furnishing your home and perhaps adorning yourself with scented flowers will bring joy to the heart and romance to your dance.
Summer is when the sun is at its zenith and the element of fire is increased. The accumulating warmth, dryness and lightness indicate that it is time for pitta to take center stage. Having pacified the aggravated kapha of spring with the above countermeasures, it can now be safely escorted offstage and our new dance with pitta begins. Because of the increase in external environmental heat, our own digestive fire is drawn outwards and our digestion is impaired causing a further lack in appetite and a desire for cooler fare. As the heat moves to the skin we can experience summer rashes, prickly heat and other inflammations, while internally diarrhea and ulcers may manifest. Emotionally anger, irritation and impatience may also increase. Therefore summer is a time of placating pitta. Because of the intensity of pitta it is very important to watch out for judgmental behavior and to focus on viveka and vairagya, the qualities of discernment and detachment. Start the day with splashing cold water on your face to both cool as well as stimulate the positive aspect of pitta’s inherent intelligence. Your massage should be with cooler oils like coconut and sandalwood, followed by a lukewarm bath. Drinking sweetened cool drinks like lemonades and coconut or sugar cane water keeps the system from overheating. Your yoga practice should emphasize twists and supine backbends as well as cooling pranayamas such as shitali or shitakari. Pitta locales such as the liver and small intestine are especially susceptible to inflammation and so foods should be cool, bitter, sweet and astringent. Leafy green vegetables, salads, organic almond milks, sprouted or split mung beans are some good food choices. Homemade ice cream in the midday sun will be welcomed by the system as well as the taste buds! An occasional fruit juice fast and a mild purgation will all help to keep you balanced. It is important to note that while pitta is in its full dramatic expression, vata, the dosha of movement has been eagerly and somewhat nervously been marshalling its forces just behind the curtains and as soon as autumn begins to seep into the air, it is time to escort pitta off and take a deep breath and ground yourself!
Vata is the dosha of autumn and early winter. Lightness and coolness increase while dryness stays around a little longer. The “winds of change” signifying the erratic aspects of vata begin to blow. As vata regulates the nervous system, our digestive ability, moisture levels and stress levels can easily be disturbed. Aches and pains and even arthritis may rear their ugly heads. Nervousness may also impair our ability to form rational thought patterns and cause our imaginations to soar. Controlling vata’s impetuous nature is a dance that has the greatest significance. Not for nothing is vata called the “mischief maker”. Because it is the only dosha that is not lame, it causes the most diseases and misjudgments through its unpredictable mobility. Fortunately the remedies and counter movements of your dance are all very satisfying. This is the time to oil well the whole body, especially the soles of the feet before bed, to give a restful and deep sleep. Since it is natural for vata to wake early, take advantage of this early morning time to get some work done. But first ground yourself by drinking some triphala powder to prevent constipation. Holding warm sesame oil in the mouth for a few minutes will nourish the gums and teeth. Exercise should be more grounding with slower standing yoga sequences, deep forward bends, balance poses, “topsy-turvy” poses, as well as alternate nostril pranayama. Because vata is light, dry, cool and erratic, your diet should emphasize sweet, mildly spicy, sour and salty tastes. This is a time for oats, porridges, kichadis, steamed vegetables and warm herbal teas with either pure cows’ milk, almond or soymilk, all mildly spiced with ginger and cinnamon. Autumn is also a time to create a seasonal cleanse in anticipation of the upcoming winter months when vata and kapha both take center stage.
In winter the stage is shared by both vata and kapha, with vata dominating the early part later followed by kapha. During this time, the Earth’s energy is withdrawn back into herself. This is a time of storing and rest. Squirrels hoard acorns and bears hibernate. A time to be internalized, we can use it well to fortify ourselves because the exterior cold forces our digestive fire to instinctively retreat within. At this time, waking a little later is recommended as is brushing your teeth with some stimulating tooth powder. Massage of warm oils can unfreeze your muscles and a vigorous towel rub after your shower is also enlivening. Drinking warm water decreases kapha accumulation as well as assists the digestive system. Your yoga practice gets stronger and more energetic as vata recedes backstage. Include strong back and forward bends to stimulate the kidneys and lungs. Vigorous sun salutations warm the body and deepen the breath. Follow your practice with some bhastrika or bellows pranayama. Applying nasya oil after practice can help dissolve excess kapha build up in the head. Because the internal agni, digestive fire, is burning strongly within, if we do not feed it well it will consume the tissues of the body. This is indeed the time to build these tissues and thus our strength and immunity; therefore this is the time to indulge healthily in the three fortifying tastes of sweet, salty, sour as well as slightly spicy. Warm foods include porridges of oats, polenta, barley or rice spiced with cinnamon and cloves and sweetened with raw honey. The Ashtanga Hrdayam recommends meat soups, whole pure wheat, black gram pulses and corn. A glass of dry and warming wine may encourage circulation and stimulate digestion. The famous chyavanprash is best used in this season for its rejuvenating powers. Although you may work hard in the day, the evenings should be spent in a relaxed manner and the texts recommend staying indoors at night while winter is one of the best seasons for lovemaking. Ending the day with a glass of hot, spicy organic milk helps promote a sound sleep. As the season draws to a close, we come full cycle back to a time of renewal as the receding cold allows the slumbering earth to stretch open to the rays of the returning sun and the trees blossom with flowers and the land is infused with their heady perfumes.
It is most important to give due respect to this sandhi or “joint” between seasons. The fortnight comprising the end and commencement of seasons is known as rtusandhi and is a crucial time. It is in this sandhi that diseases most often arise. During this period, the regimen of the preceding season should be discontinued gradually over seven days and over the next seven that of the succeeding season should be also gradually adopted. Sudden discontinuation or sudden adoption causes loss of habituation and this makes us susceptible to seasonal or worse diseases. The sandhi is also a favorable time for incorporating the unique healing powers of panchakarma. The crown jewel of Ayurveda, this five pronged cleanse and rejuvenation removes toxins, palliates aggravated doshas, clears the various srotamsi (channels of the body and mind) as well as rebuilds a taxed digestive fire.
In the dance of life, if we make Nature our partner, our internal rhythms can easily follow an eternal rhythm, that of our own Universe. Although Ayurveda recommends creating sustainable habituations through dinacharya (daily routines), we must always mindfully create the flexibility of following the lead of our first partner, Nature Herself, as she changes seasons to reveal the myriad expressions possible in our world. In this play of life, the intimacy of a tango, the instinctive discipline of a waltz, the structure of Bharatnatyam, the classical dance of India, the joy of the samba, all have their time and place. Ayurveda says that when our own nature (prakrti) is in sync with the rhythms of the eternal Prakrti, Nature, as she expresses them through the seasons, we maintain well the life force, health and longevity necessary to accomplish the lofty goals of dharma, artha, kama and moksha: correct living leading to correct wealth and the discipline and ability to enjoy life without attachment so as to seek emancipation as our final goal. Just as in all dances, we must disappear finally as individual beings into one wild dancing dervish disappearing into the spirit of the Divine.
Astanga Hradayam of Vagbhata. Translated by Prof. K. R. Murthy (Chaukambha Krishnadas Academy)
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