Each season not only brings changes to our environment but also to the way we feel and how we behave. Diversity makes us stronger and the special characteristics of each season leave us inspired and in awe. Embracing the seasonal changes means we need to adapt to the climate in which we live and our lifestyle choices accordingly. This protects our well-being and helps us avoid any inter-seasonal dis-balances and diseases.
According to Ayurveda, there are six seasons, however, they mainly apply to the environment of India. This article will, therefore, focus on the four main seasons. Please note though that during late winter/early spring (mid-January – mid-March) the guidelines for spring can be applied gradually. Similarly, during late summer/early autumn (mid-July – September) we can start applying the precautions for autumn. Please allow these recommendations to inspire you and allow yourself to become more aware of what changes arise within you as each season passes by and what your true needs are at that time.
Most lifestyle choices come naturally to us but this article provides detailed recommendations for each season as well as the main precautions that each doshic type needs to take. If you are a mixed type, focus on your main dosha first and add the sub-dosha later.
SPRING (March – mid-May)
Spring is a vibrant, colourful, romantic and deeply awakening time, bringing new life when the sun becomes stronger and the force of the wind increases. For people with balanced doshas, and for those who had a good winter's rest, this is a beautiful time, filled with energy, and new, fresh and exciting ideas and projects.
Kapha dosha needs the most attention during spring, as it is when your body will be metabolising winter fats. In other words, fats and toxins that have been accumulating in your tissues during the long winter months are now being pushed out of the tissues into your blood, making it thicker and therefore aggravating the Kapha dosha. The increased temperatures will also diminish the Agni, slowing down your metabolism, resulting in many possible diseases: nausea, colds, coughs, sinus infections, indigestion, as well as a feeling of heaviness.
Some guidelines for a balanced spring-time:
- EAT easy to digest, fibrous foods with bitter, pungent and astringent tastes: yellow split lentils, radishes, spinach, garlic, and honey. You can also make some kitchari and eat it for three consecutive days to ease the seasonal change. For information on recipes please refer to the Ayurvedic Spring Recipes article.
- USE SPICES to promote circulation, fire up your Agni and remove mucus from your body: fresh ginger, black pepper, coriander, turmeric, and fennel.
- HERBAL REMEDIES: aloe vera and turmeric help with detoxification (best taken in the morning). Spicy teas taken throughout the day (lemon-ginger, coriander-cumin-fennel) or after meals (ginger-black pepper-cinnamon) stimulate digestion. Before bed introduce an Ayurvedic blend of Triphala, which tones the bowel walls and helps the colon to function optimally, drawing the toxins out of the body.
- AVOID: Avoid heavy, oily, sour, salty, and sweet foods, as well as dairy products, ghee and seafood, as they increase Kapha and mucus in the body.
- Ever beneficial WATER: Drink warm lemon water first thing in the morning in order to stimulate the smooth elimination of toxins. Make sure you remain well hydrated as this will ease toxin elimination.
- DAILY ROUTINE: Start your day early, if possible before 6am with a light breakfast and allow your lunch to be the strongest meal of the day as your digestive Agni is strongest at midday. Have a light dinner and avoid overeating late in the evening. Avoid taking naps or sleeping during the day as this will slow down your metabolism and further aggravate Kapha. Try to be in bed between 11pm and 12pm and feel free to increase your sexual activity.
- BODY NURTURING: Assist in the elimination of toxins with body scrubs, this will stimulate heat, circulation and sweating. You can also remove toxins from your body by visiting a sauna, steam room, or by purely taking daily hot baths with Epsom salts, ginger powder, and baking soda before going to bed. A daily morning self-massage is also very soothing or even find a massage centre that offers a lymph drainage programme to help cleanse your body and fill you up with the regenerating energy of spring. Use aromatherapy to cleanse, revitalise and induce clarity: rosemary, eucalyptus, basil, orange, and lemongrass.
- ACTIVITIES: Start with an active, vigorous practice, ideally outside as this will stimulate you to become more active, open up and grow a healthy mind. For more information see article: Ayurvedic Seasonal Practice.
- STYLE AND COLOURS: Spice up your daily routine to keep you motivated and inspired by introducing fresh and colourful designs. As the summer moves closer, start moving from a Kapha pacifying to a Pitta pacifying regimen, both with your foods and lifestyle (ie. wear more blues, greens and whites) – See Recommendations for summer below.
SUMMER (June – September)
Summer, like any other month, arrives with its own distinct personality. The rising heat will slow your digestive fire down, making you want to eat lighter foods and wear light clothes. For Kapha and Vata, the warm summer is very appeasing and relaxing: the perfect time to spend with the people you love, just relaxing and taking a break from your everyday obligations.
Fiery Pitta, on the other hand, suffers in summer and becomes aggravated and hot-tempered. Mid may to mid-July is most dangerous for Pittas, so during this time they need to practice patience and observance. It is, therefore, crucial for them to stay cool, grounded, and not expose themselves too much to the heat and sun. It is also recommended for them to engage in activities that nourish their soul rather than promote competition. During summer, inflammations, skin diseases, diarrhoea and outbursts of anger may be more prevalent. The dry heat of summer also aggravates Vata, so it is especially important for them to limit activity and stay hydrated and balanced during this time of year.
In order to bring balance back into your body and mind follow the guidelines below:
- EAT small portions of light, juicy, cooling, semi-liquid, naturally sweet, bitter, as well as astringent foods: apples, pears, melons, plums, prunes, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cucumber, and basmati rice. Moreover, when combining foods, use cooling foods as well as ingredients that stimulate digestion and circulation without awakening too much fire in the body. You can also try a mixture of foods containing 6 tastes: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, astringent and bitter, which will keep you satisfied on all levels during the hot summer. Also staying fully present with what you eat will keep you grounded and help you control your hunger and prevent overeating. For information on recipes check Ayurvedic Summer Recipes article.
- Help your digestion with COOLING AND STIMULATING HERBS that will help you to remain balanced and cool throughout the summer: fennel, coriander, basil, cardamom, mint, lemon balm, lavender, parsley and cilantro. It is okay to use fresh ginger, some cumin and black pepper to boost metabolism, however, do not use them too often as they heat up the body.
- HERBAL REMEDIES: Use neem powder or oil to cool down and keep balanced. Western herbs, such as peppermint, lemon balm, rose and especially lavender, are great.
- AVOID: sour fruits, citrus fruits, beets, carrots, garlic, onion, chilli, tomato, sour cream, salted cheese and only eat light meats once a week (chicken and fish).
- Ever refreshing WATER: Water not only helps you to stay hydrated and cool but it also cools you down mentally, especially when you spend time next to water or natural springs. It is recommended to sip room temperature water throughout the day rather than cold water, as cold water slows down your digestion.
- DAILY ROUTINE: Rise early in the morning, when it is also the best time to engage in intense exercise or choose a late evening when it is cooler. When you go out, wear sunglasses and eat a juicy piece of fruit before you head out. It is okay to take short naps at the hottest time of day. Take time to walk in the moonlight as often as possible as this will appease the heat in your body and cool down your mind. Avoid cool and dry air conditioning areas as this aggravates Vata. Try to minimise sexual activity or do it between 9pm and 10pm, and do not forget to ground yourself before going to bed with a foot massage, applying Brahami oil as well. Try to be asleep by 11pm at the latest in order to avoid over-stimulation of your mind.
- BODY NURTURING: A great way to cool down is to apply a 1cm thick layer of coconut oil over your entire body and lay down in the shade for at least 30 minutes. This will leave your body refreshed and your mind completely still and quiet. Please do keep in mind that coconut oil has a drying effect on skin, so if you suffer from dry skin then you should use sesame oil instead, or use a moisturising oil in the evening to bring your skin back to balance. Mud baths also have a cooling effect as they extract excessive amounts of toxins, this makes them a perfect summer treat for when your entire body functioning is being slowed down by the summer heat. Another great idea is to make time for daily relaxation and use cooling fragrances/aromatherapy: jasmine, sandalwood, and rose.
- ACTIVITIES: it is recommended to engage in gentle yoga and meditation to calm and cool. If you prefer to be more active, choose water sports as they have a cooling effect on the body and mind. For more information see article: Ayurvedic Seasonal practice.
- STYLE AND COLOURS: wear light materials, if possible linen, cotton or silk, and pale colours: white, grey, blue, purple and green.
AUTUMN (September – December)
When the first leaves fall from the trees in the light autumn breeze we start to feel agitated, restless and have a desire to do too many things at once, yet we finish none of them. For those with balanced doshas, this is just another wonderful time of year, when you can embrace the abundance of prana found all around. In autumn it is especially magical to simply surrender to your breath, listen to the silence and slowly turn inwards, whilst enjoying the emptiness of the excess autumn air.
However, September to December time is critical for Vata types, who need to cultivate a daily grounding practice with lots of nurturing, grounding and warm foods. It is also important for them to make sure the oils they use, the clothes they wear, their relationships and their overall lifestyle is warm and grounding. Keeping a stable routine and introducing warm oiling to your body and adding more ghee to your food is important. Nurturing, soothing and joyful activities will fill the emptiness that the abundance of air may have created, allowing you to feel exposed and vulnerable.
For a cosy, warm and harmonious autumn, follow the guidelines below:
- EAT warm, grounding, nourishing and easy to digest foods, high in proteins, fats and with a sweet, sour and salty taste: oatmeal, creamed rice, kitchari, dahl, soft mushy soups, cooked root vegetables, avocado, ghee, milk, and nuts. Due to an increase in a digestive fire as we transition from hot summer days into colder days, feel free to use healthy fats with generosity and ensure there is enough moisture in your food (steamed vegetables, soups and stews) in order to appease dry Vata. This is the best time of the year to enjoy dairy foods, meat and eggs. For information on recipes check Ayurvedic Autumn Recipes article.
- Aid your digestion and heat up your body with WARMING AND STIMULATING SPICES: cumin, coriander, ginger, black pepper, turmeric or saffron. Also, drink lots of cumin-coriander-fennel tea to stimulate digestion or ginger-cinnamon-clove tea to warm up the body.
- HERBAL REMEDIES: Try to connect with the Ayurvedic herb Fenugreek as it calms the nervous system, warms up the pelvic area, works as an antiseptic, stimulates digestion and relieves pain. As in spring, the use of Triphala is recommended, to help with digestion, strengthen your bowel walls, and cleanse any toxins and excess heat from your body.
- AVOID: cold, raw, frozen or dry foods like crackers, leftovers, tinned or processed foods. Coffee and other drinks containing caffeine should be completely banned during autumn as they will stimulate an already restless mind. Also, it is recommended not to consume dried fruits, white potatoes, beans, cauliflower, broccoli or any other foods with cooling and drying characteristics.
- Ever refreshing WATER and GOLDEN MILK: As it gets colder, it is recommended to slowly sip warm water throughout the day. To calm a restless mind, enhance immunity and induce a long winter sleep, there is a delicious Ayurvedic beverage called Golden Milk. It is recommended to drink this every evening before going to bed.
- DAILY ROUTINE: A consistent daily routine is of utmost importance during this time, especially waking up early and enjoying a peaceful morning. Please do not skip meals or neglect breakfast (use cooked grains). Short afternoon naps are allowed only for Vata types, whose energy is depleted during this time of the year. Try to be in bed by 10pm the latest and get into the routine of drinking a glass of warm milk beforehand to pacify the mind. If possible, minimise your exposure to drafts, loud noise, aggressive music, fast driving, and excessive sexual activity.
- BODY NURTURING: The season of Vata provokes dry skin, irregular digestion, stiff muscles and cracking joints. Therefore daily oiling with warm oils is a must as it not only nourishes the body, helps remove toxins from the tissues, calms the nervous system and the mind but also relieves dry skin and stimulates circulation. Use organic mustard seed, sesame seed, castor, or avocado oil and use warming aromatherapy oils (vetiver, geranium, and citrus) to heal the body and mind. This is also the perfect time for a body-mind-living space cleanse. Panchakarma treatments or a mono diet is recommended. However, fasting is not recommended, since it aggravates the element of Vata. An autumn cleanse, carried out between autumn and winter is ideal if you suffer from sinusitis and other Kapha related disorders.
- ACTIVITIES: Engage in grounding, peaceful and soothing activities – gentle yoga, tai-chi, qi-gong or relaxing pranayama. For more information see article: Ayurvedic Seasonal Practice.
- STYLE AND COLOURS: dress wind-proofed, especially on windy days, protect your ears, throat and head at all times, and wear grounding warm colours such as red, yellow, orange or white.
WINTER (Early: November – January, Late: January – March)
As autumn slowly turns into early winter and the days become shorter, there is a sweetness in the air as nature slowly goes into hibernation and its resting period. This is the time when there is less energy around and you naturally want to turn inward to rest, reflect and listen. The first rain and snowfall of winter bring increased moisture, which characterises the element of Kapha, yet during a dry winter, Vata is also present. If your working schedule remains busy during winter, it is best to light a candle when you return home to cultivate a calming energy. This will create a warm and safe space for you to relax, be still, present and simply gaze through your window. It is also to a good idea to go for an evening walk to relax and unwind.
Winter time is characterised by short and cold days and a sense of peace and tranquillity in nature. It is, therefore, Kapha types who will feel stagnant, melancholic and even depressed during this time of year. This means it is especially important for Kaphas to continuously follow their daily routines, stay motivated and active, have a bright outlook, and wear many bright colours. Also, they should have a healthy and well-balanced diet with enough fats and oils to keep them warm and their energy balanced. They must remind themselves to remain active, as they are not a bear who can retreat into a cave and hibernate.
Just as nature starts to awaken during early spring, so do your body tissues, pushing toxins into your circulatory system. However, due to low temperatures, your circulation still remains sluggish at this time. This results in the slow functioning of your liver and not being able to cope with increased amounts of body waste. Consequently, the feeling of dryness, tiredness, colds and allergies arise. These symptoms represent a reason to start your spring cleanse and to slowly introduce the guidelines for spring to renew your energy and get ready for the transition to warmer summer days.
Some guidelines for lifestyle changes during the cold, winter months:
- EAT warm, cooked, nutritious meals, with sweet, sour, salty, pungent, astringent and bitter tastes: cooked radishes, spinach, onions, carrots, cooked grains, oatmeal, cornmeal, hot mushy soups, wholemeal bread, eggs and meat (turkey, chicken). As temperatures fall, your digestive fire grows stronger because your body requires more fuel to cope with the cold temperatures of winter cold. It is therefore important to use ghee and other healthy fats generously. For information on recipes check Ayurvedic Winter Recipes article.
- Help your digestion with HOT SPICES: ginger, garlic, black pepper, cayenne, coriander seeds, cumin, fennel seeds, nutmeg, and turmeric. Remember to also drink lots of dried ginger, cinnamon and clove tea as it increases heat, improves circulation and helps eliminate mucus from the system. However, avoid consuming too many heating spices if you suffer from ulcers or an aggravated Pitta dosha.
- HERBAL REMEDIES: connect with warming and detoxifying herbs such as elderberry, holy basil, and liquorice; while chamomile will calm down your nervous system. Consuming nettle in teas and food will help your body to slowly detox before spring arrives.
- AVOID: chilled drinks, dairy products and damp, sweet, oily or heavy foods.
- Ever refreshing WATER: Drink or sip room temperature water or other warm beverages. Check our recipe for warming punch, which will keep you relaxed and cosy throughout the cold winter days.
- DAILY ROUTINE: Continue the routine you started in autumn, try to stay as relaxed as possible and do not rush. Although it is important to stay consistent with your morning routine as this is when Kapha is the strongest, do not stay in bed longer than 7am. It is also recommended to be spontaneous and to introduce a new challenge or activity every now and then. Turn outward and restrain from spending time alone during winter. Avoid sleeping during the day as this will slow down your metabolism, also make sure you are in bed by 10pm. It is okay to be more sexually active during winter.
- BODY NURTURING: Keep your daily body oiling routine in winter as it warms up the body, calms down the nervous system and keeps your blood circulating. Use warming sesame oil and introduce oiling of your nose with Nasya oils to awaken your mind and cleanse your respiratory passages. It is also recommended to massage your feet and your scalp with warm sesame oil before going to bed in order to facilitate a restful sleep. The best winter aromatherapy scents are: myrrh, juniper, rosemary, and orange, these allow you to connect and awaken on a deeper level.
- ACTIVITIES: Try to be as active as possible, engage in intense sports, work on improving your strength during the day and save the evening time to balance the excess energy with relaxation, allowing you to unwind completely. For more information see article: Ayurvedic Seasonal Practice.
- STYLE AND COLOURS: Bring warmth into your body by wearing warm clothes (especially cover your neck, ears and head) and do not forget to wear a hat whenever you are outdoors so you do not lose heat from your head. Wear bright colours (reds, oranges, yellows), cherish your relationships and make sure you laugh a lot!
- Lad, Vasant (1998). The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies. Three Rivers Press: New York.
- Tiwari, Maya (1995) Ayurveda. A life of Balance. Healing Arts Press: Rochester, Vermont.