Ayurveda for autumn: 5 practices for balance
These practices from ayurveda will boost your immunity against seasonal colds and help you stay balanced, grounded and strong. By Julia Clarke
As summer’s heat fades to a distant memory, bundling up in cosy scarves and pulling out your favourite boots for coffee walks among crunchy leaves can feel like a welcome change of pace. Less welcome, however, are the seasonal colds that accompany the arrival of autumn.
Autumn brings the greatest surge of colds all year and health experts attribute this to irritation from seasonal allergies combined with falling temperatures leaving your system more susceptible to the cold virus which thrives in cooler conditions. Cooler temperatures also mean we tend to spend more time indoors, leaving us more exposed to other people’s germs. Even if you don’t succumb to a seasonal cold at this time of year, you might find you suffer from dry skin, bloating and trouble sleeping.
According to yoga’s holistic sister science, this is all down to a shift in the five elements. Ayurveda’s five element theory teaches that whichever elements are dominating any particular situation at any given time will determine its qualities. In the summertime, we get the most exposure to the sun and therefore the fire element prevails, meaning everything is hot and intense. In the autumn and early winter, the air element starts to move in, which is cold, dry and moving, like the wind. Meanwhile while the earth, water and fire elements that promote stability, nourishment and energy decrease.
This process allows for nature to begin it’s decay cycle, which is necessary for the renewal of the spring, but it leaves your physiology especially vulnerable, weakening your digestive fire and increasing systemic dryness which can result in irritated airwaves, painful, cracking joints, constipation, chapped lips, restlessness and depletion.
Because of this, ayurveda has long regarded the transition into autumn as an important time to reset and regenerate your body and mind, and advises that you fortify your health with extra rest, regular routine, nourishing behaviours and simple, easy-to-digest foods. This helps to stoke your digestive fire and maintain optimal digestion, metabolism and nutrient absorption.
The following are five simple changes you can make to your daily routine this autumn to help you stay balanced, grounded and strong:
The best foods for autumn and winter are warm, well spiced, nourishing meals like porridge and grounding root vegetable soups and stews with whole grains like rice and quinoa. Avoid ice water, cold, dry and processed foods, and large amounts of raw vegetables. Cook using good quality oils like ghee and olive oil, and hydrate with warm water and herbal teas. Make sure you're eating on a regular schedule and eating enough at this time of year.
Though you should take care to avoid wearing yourself out with too much physical exertion at this time of year, strength training is also considered important to fortify your body against depletion.
Switch out heavy endurance training for weights and sustainable low-impact cardio like hiking and biking. Don’t overdo it!
Your yoga practice can be an ideal companion during times of instability, especially if you slow it down. Go for slow moving Vinyasa Yoga using long holds to build strength, and focus on hip openers and forward bends which feel grounding and stabilising.
Make time for practices like yoga nidra, Yin and Restorative Yoga, which can soothe restlessness and help compensate for sleep loss, and be sure to include calming pranayama practices and meditation to keep your mind focused.
Autumn and winter are the best seasons to make time for regular self-care practices. Set aside a day or even an afternoon each week when you log off and pamper yourself. Schedule regular massages or incorporate a daily self-oil massage with warming sesame oil before a shower to your routine. This will soothe your nervous system and help lubricate your skin against the drying effects of the cold weather.
This is the most important time of year to practice a calming evening routine. Longer nights and shorter days mean your body produces more melatonin, so you should be sleeping more at this time of year.
Unfortunately, our modern lifestyle isn’t often set up to support this, keeping us tied to our devices and working late into the evening, so we can feel extra tired. Aim for a 10:30 p.m. or earlier bedtime and at least one hour beforehand, turn off overhead lights in favour of lamps, switch off all electronic devices and wind down with a book, a warm bath or relaxation practices.
How to do Abhyanga (Ayurvedic self-massage)
Submerge a bottle of sesame massage oil in warm water for 5 minutes. Lay a towel down in the bathroom before you begin.
Start the massage at your abdomen, using brisk circular motions. Work your way out across the chest, shoulders, arms and hands, up to your face and scalp if you like, then down through your hips, legs and feet. Try circular motions on your joints and long strokes on your limbs.
If possible, sit with the oil on your skin for 10 to let it soak in.
Finish with a shower to rinse of excess oil - make sure you wipe the soles of your feet with absorbent tissue before stepping into the shower.