SEASONAL BEHAVIORAL GUIDELINES
Ayurveda gives much importance to the role of behavior for health and for disease. Generally, it is not enough to do the right things, one has to do them at the proper time. One way this is important is in the daily life. In our article titled “Daily Routine” we discussed the concept of biorhythm. Biorhythm is the term which expresses a theme in Nature—“change occurs in cycles.” These cycles can be viewed as the cyclic ebb and flow of different energy patterns. We call these patterns the governing principles of Nature—vata, pitta, and kapha. Just as we have seen the days represent cyclic change, so too, do the seasons in the course of a year signify a similar pattern of change.
The classical writers were inhabitants of the lands, which today, we call India. Their observations about the patterns of weather in Nature varied according to their probable local geography. One writer suggested that there are six seasons of distinct weather patterns in a year, while another described only 3 seasons. The issue is not how many but what the season’s qualities were. The prevailing qualities of the season yield these same qualities into the physiology of living beings. This result is according to our model of causation--whatever a person experiences will increase in liveliness / expression in one’s physiology. Thus, by this reasoning, weather and climate are important. They are long periods of the same energy operating in the environment affecting life for relatively long periods. In another article—Some Ayurveda Guidelines for the Summer Lifestyle--we have discussed the summer season (griÂma) and implications for diet and lifestyle based upon it’s energetic themes—hot and somewhat moist. At the end of this article we shall explore seasonal variations for the remaining classical seasons in their natural order following summer: rainy (varsha), fall (sharat), winter (hemanta), late winter (shirsha or pravrit), and spring (vasanta). This scheme of seasons may be too complicated for westerners and may be simplified—at the risk of a charge of reductionism. However, for didactic purposes this might produce more clarity about why seasonal change is important and how to maintain balance during it.
If, we imagine that each of the seasons has a period of duration of about 4 months consecutively we might suppose that their period of expression might run:
Vata = fall / winter = September thru December
Kapha = winter / spring = January thru April
Pitta = summer = May thru August
(This is absurd as we know that the latitude of an area has a great influence of the duration of the seasons. Those living in Minnesota say there are only two seasons—winter, and winter coming. In Florida it’s quite warm the year round. Thus this example is for illustrative purposes only.)
Now recall that the qualities of vata, pitta, and kapha are:
Vata = cold dry mobile light rough (FALL) (cold and windy)
Pitta = hot oily mobile light (smooth) (SUMMER) (hot with slight moisture)
Kapha = cold oily static heavy smooth (SPRING) (cold and rainy)
A table has been created to show the respective attributes, styles of functioning if you will, of the supposed three seasons—vata, pitta, kapha. Observe from the bottom of the table (spring or kapha time or kala in Sanskrit) that cold is predominant for this season. Notice that as the summer season (pitta kala) comes around the temperature warms considerably. Note further, that by fall the temperature falls again with vata’s predominance. For each of the attributes note how two attributes have two seasons consecutive expression and then a period of subsidence. This is Nature’s way—no attribute, energy, or style of functioning operates exclusively and continuously. This is Nature’s way of cleaning out the excess accumulated energy during the course of a year—to maintain balance. Remember the law of cause and effect states similars increase their effect when they come together and opposites reduce one another when they come together. From this simplistic view, we could recommend diet in the respective “seasons” (for a balanced person) to follow this pattern of tastes (If one is out of balance this presentation has to be modified to account for the imbalance itself and also for one’s body type--Prakrti):
Vata Kala = sweet, sour, salty
Pitta Kala = sweet, bitter, astringent
Kapha Kala = bitter, astringent, pungent
Behavioral guidelines might look like the following:
Vata Kala = increasing sleep or rest, decreased activity, heavier, warmer clothing
Pitta Kala = decreased activity, some day sleep for non-kapha’s, light and cool clothing
Kapha Kala = increased activity, decreasing sleep, clothing becoming lighter and cooler
There is a final point to be made about Natural Cleansing. Nature does not begin or end a season on a specific date or day. The change comes somewhat gradually. This fact means that at the junction of seasons the seasonal conditions are a mixture of the ending and beginning seasons. This is the best time to make change. This “joint” in the seasonal scheme is a time when nature is least set upon a course of action. It is most amenable to new directions. Ayurveda says that the best time to make any change is in the present moment but the junctions of the seasons are the best time to do seasonal cleansing of the body. This seasonal cleansing is called panchakarma (PK) in Sanskrit—meaning five actions of elimination. So for example, we should do PK for eliminating kapha at the end of spring and for pitta at the end of the summer and for vata at the end of the fall. In another article—Why Do Panchakarma?--We have given details about these techniques. Read the section of the classical scheme below and note that the ancients say to do oil massage and medicated enema, purgation, and vomiting to eliminate and pacify the respective principles—vata, pitta, and kapha. Note also, their comments about foods. The seasonal changes in the tastes and qualities of the foods are intended to facilitate the elimination of excessive amounts of the governing entities—vata, pitta, and kapha—by the principle of opposites produce balance.
The rainy season is characterized by the qualities—wetness, cold, and wind. Please note that different parts of the US have this season occur at another time of year ( not following summer months of June, July, August). For some locales it rains much of the year (Northwest or Florida, for example) Thus it is important to observe the qualities of the season and not necessarily its timing according to this scheme. Sushruta states this time tends to increase vata from its slimy quality, which impairs digestion. Wetness, being an attribute of pitta, tends to increase pitta somewhat too. Here are the guidelines for diet and behavior.
Dietary Guidelines: Foods of pungent and astringent predominance should be favored in the diet according to Sushruta. Interestingly, another writer, Caraka, says that foods of salty, sour, and oily quality should be favored to pacify the increased vata. Sushruta further suggests food eaten should not be liquid if form and be only slightly oily. The food should be appetizing and hot in its energy. Both writers agree that water should be first heated and then be allowed to cool before drinking. During this period honey may be added to the cooled water. Herbal wines may also be taken in moderation during this period to help digestion. Sushruta says that generally, the vegetables maturing during this season are full of moisture and heavy to digest—thus to be avoided. Caraka advises to take old barley, wheat, and rice (they are devoid of much moisture) and wild meats (they are astringent) and eating before complete digestion of previous meal is strictly to be avoided.
Behavioral Guidelines: To be avoided are excessive exercise, water, sex, and the sun’s rays. This prescription for moderate behavior is partly due the prior season’s (summer) depleting effect on physiology. One should sleep in elevated areas to avoid contact with the humid earth. Day-sleep is strictly to be avoided. Clothing should be light and clean.
Here in the West the autumn season is characterized by cooler temperatures, dryness, wind, and roughness. But in certain parts of India the climate is still warm and dry. Again the East-West nomenclature does not perfectly coincide in the underlying attributes or associated meanings; for this reason it is important to consider the qualities predominant at this time—not the name of the season. Classically, this time is hot and only slightly moist. Pitta actually becomes further increased by these qualities.
Dietary Guidelines: Both writers concur that sweet, bitter, and astringent (pitta pacifying) foods should be favored in the diet. Sushruta suggests preparations of milk, sugar cane juice, and honey. Caraka lists a number of meats to be taken (including rabbit, partridge, sheep, antelope, quail) and some grains—rice, wheat, and barley. A formulation of ghee, called bitter (tikta) ghee is to imbibed. Foods of aquatic origin, oily / fatty (including curds), sour, alkaline, and pungent should be avoided.
Behavioral Guidelines: One should resort to bloodletting and purgation for the elimination of accumulated pitta. Excessive exercise, sex, day sleep, and late hours are strictly prohibited. Water should be “cooked” by the suns rays by day and “cooled” by the moons rays by night. This water should be used for drinking and bathing, alike. Clothing should be light, clean and the body sandalwood, camphor, or garland scented.
This season is characterized by cold and dry weather. Sun is weak and atmosphere is airy (breezy). Sushruta advises that vata is aggravated (further increased) in this season owing to these qualities.
Dietary Guidelines: Sushruta suggests food of oily, salty, sour, and bitter tastes. Beverages should be hot and sharp, such as herbal wines, etc. Caraka advises the regular use of new rice, milk products, cane sugar products, hot water, vinegar, honey, and wine (following especially meals of marshy meat and fowl). Thus, the heavy, marshy, sweet and sour foods proscribed during the rainy season may now be enjoyed liberally.
Behavioral Guidelines: Daily oil massage is particularly important. Sleeping quarters should be warm and draft-free and linen should be silken. Exercise during this time may be enjoyed more freely as may sex, specifically.
Both Caraka and Sushruta agree that this season is really only an extension of winter qualities—more roughness, coldness, wind, and rain. Hence, the entire routine for winter (hemanta) applies to this period.
Dietary Guidelines: Foods to be avoided includes those of predominant bitter, astringent, light, and cold qualities.
Behavioral Guidelines: Residence should be more wind-free than for winter.
The spring is characterized by increasing heat from the sun and for this reason the bodily fluids stored during the prior cold and wet seasons now are liquefied and freely roam about the body diminishing digestion and cause many disorders. Thus kapha which increased during the winter season(s) now is aggravated (further increased).
Dietary Guidelines: Foods of sweet, sour, salty, demulcent quality are to be avoided. Foods, such as 60-day rice (shastika), barley, pulses (dals) (dry and light foods with cooling) energy should be taken, says Sushruta. Bitter taste is most important in the diet and juice extracts (called asavas) with honey are especially beneficial during this time. Heavy foods are strictly to be avoided
Behavioral Guidelines: Therapeutic vomiting, errhines (promoting nasal discharge), strong smokes, gargles, and daily hot bath should be implemented to eliminate the excess kapha. Pastes to rub on the skin of sandalwood, barley, and wheat are also to be used. Physical exercise, including sex, may be enjoyed during this period. Day sleep is strictly to be avoided.
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