by Lauren Gernady
It is with a splash of melancholy that I report autumn has reared its head in Vermont. You know that feeling when you step outside in mid-September and abruptly stop. Overcome with a startling realization (as if fall doesn’t happen every single year) that something has changed while you were sleeping. Like a bandit in the night, the air has shifted. Humidity has dropped. Heck, even the wind smells different. There’s a palpable feeling of transition and the urge to go inward and hibernate.
That shift is the harbinger of vāta season. Love it or hate it, there’s nothing we can do about the changing of the seasons except roll with it. Āyurveda highly recommends adjusting your seasonal routine to balance the new qualities ushered in with each season. In the summer we sought to balance the fiery qualities of pitta (hot, sharp, oily, spreading) with cooling fruits and veg, refreshing lake or ocean swims, perhaps the occasional ice cream cone. Welp, time to archive those salad recipes until the mercury begins to tick back up. Alas, we have a new set of qualities to consider.
Vāta season, or fall, is characterized by the following qualities:
Vāta consists of the elements air and ether, or space. Without the presence of fire, vāta is a cold dosha. It lacks physical heft due to the absence of the dense elements of water and earth. As we find ourselves in the throes of fall, the air goes from saturated with moisture to dry, crisp, and light (goodbye wavy beach locks). This is the time of year when people lug out their humidifiers and lip balm. The skin naturally becomes drier, nails crack and split...even nose bleeds may appear every now and again. The wind whips around increasing the mobile quality in our external and internal environment. This excess mobility creates even more dryness (think wind burn after a day on the slopes). Yeesh, that’s a lot of dryness. Fear not, with a few tweaks to your diet, your skin will be dewy and radiant as on a midsummer day.
But wait, before we get into kitchen hacks, what are some telltale signs that vāta is rising in your body and mind? If any of the aforementioned gunas start to accumulate you may exhibit the following:
Gas & bloating
Dry skin & scalp
Cold hands & feet
My goodness! No one wants to deal with any of those signs and symptoms of excess vāta. To thwart the onslaught of the dry/light/cold/mobile/rough qualities let’s hit the kitchen.
Tips for Eating in the Fall/Winter
Dry/Rough - Warm and Slightly Oily
Balance dryness by favoring moisture rich soups, stews, and porridges during the colder months. Of course, adding some high quality fats to your meals will keep the insides well lubed. This can include ghee (the crowning gem of Āyurveda), sesame, olive, or sunflower oil.
Be mindful of how often you are indulging in crackers, popcorn, pretzels. All those crunchy snacks are so fun, but can create blockages in the GI tract (ahem, constipation). Should you want to enjoy a bowl of popcorn, top it with melted ghee, butter, or olive oil and a dash of digestive spices. Hingvastak is my go to spice blend, but it’s an acquired taste. Perhaps start with some black pepper, cumin, and turmeric. While we’re talking about fun foods, granola (my fav) is quite drying and best reserved for the springtime when the environment is saturated with the qualities of earth and water. In the colder months I swap out granola for oatmeal, or baked oatmeal if I’m feeling extra fancy.
Make a point to stay well hydrated, especially once the central heating kicks on. Sip hot beverages such as herbal tea, or lemon water. I often make a pot of ginger tea first thing in the morning and pour it into an insulated thermos to enjoy throughout the day. To make, fill a medium saucepan with filtered water, add 5-6 slices of fresh ginger (you can leave the peel on). Bring to a boil, and then drop to a simmer for 10 minutes. Option to strain out the ginger or leave it in the pot to nibble on throughout the day. This is a 2 for 1 beverage in that it negates the dryness and the pungent ginger helps increase circulation thereby combating the cold.
Light/Mobile/Subtle - Hearty, Nourishing, and Grounding
Gravitate towards grounding, nourishing vegetables rather than leafy greens and cruciferous veggies. Consider which vegetables are in season during the fall. If you hit the farmers market, you’re most likely to see an abundance of carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, turnips, pumpkins, squash, garlic, onions...you get the picture. Root veggies are steeped in the earth and water elements, say compared to alfalfa sprouts. They are nourishing, filling, and often on the sweeter side, which automatically balances vāta dosha.
While we do not want to overdo it, vāta season is enthusiastically known as the “wheat, meat, and dairy” season. Woah, suddenly the colder months don’t seem quite as bad. The theory is that in the fall/winter the digestive fire kicks up and we are able to process some of these heavier, grosser, denser foods, like wheat, meat, and dairy. This always gave me pause as a student where I would think the digestive fire (agni) was strongest in the summer. After years of percolating on this question, I have observed in my own body that my agni does in fact dial down in the summer. Have you ever experienced a wicked hot day and find that the thought of eating makes you slightly na