A cool nip in the air…leaves changing color…Fall approaches! Fall solstice is September 22 and we are in Ritu Sandhi.
In Ayurveda, Ritu-Sandhi (Sanskrit, meaning ‘Season’ – ‘in between’) is the transition period between seasons, usually a week prior to the equinox/solstice and a week after.
“During this period, the regimen of the preceding season should be discontinued gradually and that of the succeeding season should be gradually adopted; sudden discontinuance or sudden adoption gives rise to diseases caused by Asatmya (non-habituation)” – Ashtanga Hridayam.
Ayurveda is the original circadian science. Ayurvedic self-care is centered around honoring one’s place in the universal cycle of life. Our well-being depends on understanding and deeply appreciating our connection to nature and her rhythms.
The sun, or the master battery that charges our whole planet, is intimately involved in our physiology. The sun’s daily migration determines our biology to a large extent. We are creatures bound to this daily clock. Anyone that has ever flown across time zones can attest to the effects of jet lag – or in other words, being out of sync with the sun! Modern day research is confirming that we possess daily rhythms or ‘clocks’ buried deep in our physiology that tick to the sun’s beat – from our brain to individual cellular clocks in our tissues and organs; when these go out of sync, diseases like diabetes and even cancer set in.1
Ayurveda goes even further in its wisdom. In addition to being circadian beings, we have internal tides that rise and fall with seasons. Our metabolism dances to this annual pattern as well. For example, as the number of daylight hours shifts with the season, many internal changes occur in order to adapt to this phenomenon. Our wakefulness and sleep cycles change, so do our appetite, our ability to digest, and even the tastes we crave. Our maladies change as well! So we must shift our diet, lifestyle, and self-care at the start of a season, to allow for optimal adaptation to our environment.
As we get to the end of summer, our bodies tend to carry excess Heat or Pitta, especially if we have lived out of sync with the season. If our diets did not focus primarily on summer’s seasonal produce of cooling fruits and vegetables, or if we had an intense lifestyle of harried schedules, partied a little too much, or got a little too much sun, we will run hot at the end of summer. In addition, the cooling, drying qualities that we naturally tend to ingest in the summer are accumulating as well. As we go into a cool and dry season, it becomes essential to hit the reset button.
In order to stay in balance, one must slowly adapt to the upcoming season. Ayurveda says similar qualities will accent one another and opposing qualities will bring about equilibrium. Simply put, if one tends to run dry and consumes predominantly dry foods (bread, chips, cereals, protein bars etc.) all day, then dryness becomes accentuated within the body and eventually will present as a chronic symptom. Fall and winter are both Vata seasons. The chief Vata qualities are cold, light, dry, and mobile (possessing the characteristics of Air which is the Element that Vata is primarily made of). So Fall’s regimen must move towards the opposing qualities. Hence one must start to reduce cold, light, dry, and mobile qualities and start to include warm, heavy, moist, and stable qualities in one’s food, care, and lifestyle.
For example, from a summer breakfast of seasonal fruit, one would move to stewed fall fruit seasoned with cinnamon and ginger – this could be a warming breakfast on a cooler morning than a bowl of plain fruit. Or lunch, one may eat a small salad with a bowl of warm soup instead of eating an all-raw meal.
With this transition in mind, Ritu Sandhi offers a two-week period to tune into our bodily rhythms and observe their shifts. If we are creatures of habit, used to eating and doing the same things year round, changing bodily cues maybe unsettling at best and even annoying. We may not be fully awake at our usual time or hungry when we normally eat. It is best to skew a little with these changes and have seasonal habits that serve us better than a regimen that is rigid all year round. This makes for a consistent seasonal routine that actually nourishes and restores us as opposed to being at odds with our true nature.
An at-home retreat for a two-week period is a great way to usher in the season. With most of us working from home at this time, in the absence of colleagues and travel, it could be monotonous. This year, more than ever before, it may even be refreshing to pause and notice how nature is subtly yet surely changing around us and we with it. Nothing stays the same!
- Reduce or eliminate caffeine, white sugar, white flour, and alcohol.
- For a warm drink first thing in the morning, especially to stimulate the bowels, switch to a tea like Holy Basil or Tulsi with rose – this is a Pitta reducing tea that will cleanse summer’s heat buildup.
- Have a regular habit of elimination; if you don’t have one, pay attention at this time and start cultivating a morning hygiene routine that includes making time to clear the bowels.
- Restart daily Abhyanga massage before showering – as the weather cools, this ritual protects the skin from the drying effects of the colder temperatures. Suitable oils are coconut or olive for late summer, early fall and sesame for winter.
- Eat a light breakfast of ripe seasonal fruit that is at room temperature. Avoid dry cereals, protein bars and multi-ingredient smoothies.
- Sip warm water throughout the day.
- If weather permits, take advantage of slightly cooler days to soak in some mid-morning sunshine.
- While still enjoying summer’s fresh vegetables and fruits in salads and lighter fare, avoid eating raw food in the evenings. Switch to a small cooked supper instead. Grilled veggies with a light grain like quinoa or Poha (rolled rice) is a great option.
- Start to reduce ice-cold beverages and heavy foods like ice-cream that are an American summer staple. While dairy can be nourishing with its heavy quality, cold dairy can be very aggravating for most people, in a cold season.
- Eat dinner/supper at least a couple of hours before bedtime.
- Adjust bedtimes to reflect the change in sunlight.
- During this transition, listen to the body’s cues – appetites tend to increase as the weather cools; and a desire for cold and light foods naturally decreases. Sleepiness may set in a little earlier and the body may need a few more minutes in the morning to wake up.
As the weather cools and we move fully into the season, move your diet to fall’s bounty – apples, pears, squashes, sweet potatoes and yams, heavier legumes and beans, and whole grains soaked and prepared correctly.
My personal to-do list
- Stock Abhyanga (self-massage) oils: As the weather cools and bodily tissues tend to dry out, the Ayurvedic practice called Abhyanga or self-massage with oil, especially before a shower, keeps the skin nourished and moisturized all season long.
- Clean out spice pantry and restock the warm spices – cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper. Make the warming digestive spice blend that I love to cook with in the fall and winter months.
- Make grass-fed ghee. (During summer months, it is smart to go light on fats and heavy foods, focusing instead on summer’s cooling produce.)
- Stock some favorite fall teas – there are many Ayurvedic teas in the market, formulated for the season. Teas with holy basil or Tulsi, licorice, chamomile, ginger, etc. can support the immune system and help maintain respiratory health.
- Make a Nasya oil – a few drops of sesame oil placed in each nostril protect delicate nasal passages from the drying effects of cooler weather. A facial oil is also wonderful to keep skin moisturized and protected from the cold.
- Stock Ayurvedic herbs – Triphala or Amalaki to keep the colon healthy and bring in bioflavanoids that naturally boost immunity; and Chyavanprash – this multi-herb jam is Ayurveda’s antidote for the travails and bugs of winter; it is rich in anti-oxidants and immune-boosting. It is suitable for all ages, particularly valuable for the wee ones and the seniors in the family.