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As we move into autumn,
we need to counteract the
cold, dry, edgy influence of
Vata, says Ayurvedic cook
f you’re tuned into your digestion at
all, you may have noticed it has been
more sensitive than usual over the last
few weeks. This may have presented
itself as a changeable appetite, an increa se in
gas, bloating or pain after eating and maybe
even a little dry constipation. But why? The
change of seasons usually wreaks havoc
with our digestion a nd the transition from
Summer to Autumn is the most aggravating
of all. Bear with me as I attempt to explain
this complex interplay of shifting qualities...
Autumn is a time when the ether
and Air elements in our body naturally
incre a se due to their increa sed quality in
the environment. This is a reflection of the
Ayur vedic teaching of Like Increa se s Like
when we are exposed to certain qualities
in the environment, our food and other
sensory impressions , these same qualities are
incre a sed in our body and mind.
In Ayur veda , it is understood that ether
(or Space) and Air exist as a united force
in the body and are referred to as ‘Vata’.
Vata is one of three ‘doshas’ or functional
intelligenc es in the body; the other two
being ‘Pitta’ (Fire /Water) and ‘K apha’
Vata is respon sible for a ll movement a nd
communication in the body so is de eply
involved in the f unctioning of our ner vous,
endocrine and excretory sy stems. Its principal
qualities are those of Air moving through
Space – cold, dry, rough, light, mobile a nd
irregular. Any change of season aggravates
Vata but as we move from a warmer time of
year to the first hints of cold Winter nights
with windy days and variable temperatures,
Vata esc a late s more than e ver...
But how is this experienced? How does
it feel when Air and Space increase in the
body? Talking about ‘an increase in qualities’
may seem like an abstract concept but it is
actua lly completely literal. If your Vata is
a ggravated, you will literally feel more cold,
dry, rough, light, mobile a nd irregular. Let
me break this down s o it makes more sense....
Increased cold will be felt as a chill down
to your bones, or at least in your hands and
feet a s your circul ation is affected. If you
have any existing pain in your joints or other
parts of your body, it will be exacerbated
by the cold. your skin, hair and nails may
become more dry and rough. your bowels
may become a little drier too, le ading to
c onstipation or they may become more
mobile, le ading to Vata-type loose stool s
(usually brought on by ner vousnes s or
a n xiety). your muscles may become more
mobile le ading to ra ndom twitches and
you may have quite variable energy. your
emotion s may also bec ome more cold, light,
irreg ul ar and mobile – you may feel quite
moody, a little more an xious or stressed or
just be thinking more than usual. This,
in turn, may lead to light headedness,
dizzy spells , light sleeping, insomnia or
night waking (which usually occurs at the
click over into the Vata time of the night,
around 2-3am). These are all symptoms of
a ggravated Vata.
If any of this is going on for you, it
is likely that your digestion will also be
affected. The term used to describe our
digestive fire in Ayurveda is ‘Agni’. A fire
that blows in the winds of Vata is known
as ‘Variable Agni’ – one moment it flares
up and you are starving hungry; the next
moment it is blown out a nd you’re left with
very little appetite at a ll...a nd if you’ve just
e aten, no c apa city to digest your mea l.
Variable Agni is cha racterised by these big
shifts in appetite, but also by increased pain,
bloating and gas. Wind litera lly increases
wind! Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Do any of these symptoms sound
familiar? If yes, there is no need to despair.
In Ayurveda, the medicine is always simple.
Where there are qualities, there are antidotes.
Aggravated Vata needs to be c ared for with
its opposing qualities, the most important
being warmth and reg ularity.
There are many things we can do to
introduce warmth into our lives, but one of the
easiest ways is through our food and drinks.
If our digestion is not quite right, warmth is
the perfect antidote bec ause not only does it
pacify Vata, it also supports Balanced Agni, a
strong, balanc ed digestive fire.
you can introduce warmth by eating
wa rm, c ooked mea ls that have been
prepared with delicious digestive spices such
a s ginger, pepper, turmeric , mustard seeds ,
cumin, coriander, fennel, ajwain, cinnamon,
cloves, paprika and so on (although chilli
is con sidered too heating and stimulating
in Ayur veda so is be st avoided). Mild,
flavoursome soups, casseroles, curries, daals,
stir frys, roast veggies and stewed fruits are
the best medicine for the Autumn se a son
and they are what we tend to crave at this
time of year anyway! And always cook your
meals in a little good quality oil like ghee,
sunflower oil, coconut oil or olive oil to
counteract the dryness of Vata.
Warm, cooked foods are easier for the
body to digest and assimilate. Because
of this, cooked foods not only feel more
nourishing, they are more nourishing (1).
When our tissues and cells are fed with
warmth, it also has an effect on our minds.
We are much less likely to emotionally eat or
binge bec ause we already feel nourished and
comforted. Warm is a quality we all a ssociate
with comfort. Cold c an be uncomfortable.
Hot can be uncomfortable. But warm is just
right... like a great hug.
At the same time as favouring warm, it
is obviously importa nt to avoid rea lly cold
food and drinks – drinks with ice in them,
iceblocks and icecream are not a good choice
when Vata is out of balance. Salads and
juices also aren’t ideal because they are cold
but they are also rough and dry. A little salad
on the side of a meal is fine, but try to avoid
salad as a main meal (isn’t that good news!).
In addition to warmth, the other quality
that is very importa nt for pacifying Vata a nd
balancing Variable Agni is regularity. To
bring this quality into your life, simply try
and eat your meals at about the same time
each day. Getting up and going to bed at
reasonably regular times will also help, not
only with your Vata but also any sleeping
issues. Vata enjoys reg ul arity, predictability
a nd periods of stillness so within your busy
schedule, do your best to care for this vital
but rather s en sitive aspect of your physiology.
And finally, I’d like to mention the
importanc e of approaching the ideas
outlined above with an attitude of wa rmth
and kindness – a genuine desire to care for
ou rselve s, our bodies and our minds. It is
easy to follow new advice, rules or practices
believing you are doing something rea lly
wonderful for yourself. Howe ver, if you
a pproach them with an attitude of harshness
or judgment (hot headed approaches) ,
your re sults and experience s will be far
less profound or healthy. Likewise, if you
a pproach them with perfectionism, sel f
punishment or rigidity (more c old he arted
a pproaches), then you will not benefit so
much either. So whene ver exploring new
ideas, a lways remember the importanc e of
warmth. It facilitates all healing!
(1) Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human by
Professor Richard Wrangham
Nadia Marshall is an Ayurvedic Consultant, Cook
and Health Writer and Managing Director of the
Mudita Institute & Health Clinic in Byron Bay.
Their ‘WARMTH’ cookbook is available as a
free download from their website at:
‘Mild, flavoursome soups,
casseroles, curries, daals, stir
frys, roast veggies and stewed
fruits are the best medicine for
the Autumn season...’
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