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To live in sync with the seasons, try Ayurveda, a holistic action plan for prioritising our health during the hunker-down months.
Though scholars find it difficult to pinpoint an exact era of emergence for Ayurveda (as with yoga, its principles were traditionally passed from mentor to student verbally), the best estimates place it at around 5,000 years old. This holistic healthcare system has been a cornerstone of medical prevention and treatment in India for centuries, and the West is finally warming up to its key tenet: that the microcosm of nature within us is directly affected by the macrocosm of nature surrounding us.
Ayurvedic principles hold that everything in the universe, from our bodies to the seasons, has its own unique constitution – a blend of three energies or qualities known as doshas. Vata, the dosha associated with movement and creativity, is influenced by the elements of air and space; pitta, the dosha of heat and digestion, is shaped by water and fire; and kapha, the dosha of stability and moisture, is governed by the water and earth elements.
To maintain our internal homeostasis, we should be constantly adjusting the balance of these doshas in our lives. The food we eat, the exercise we do, our morning and evening routines – all these lifestyle choices will either add to our equilibrium or subtract from it.
Autumn, with its cool, crisp, breezy qualities, is known as vata season in Ayurveda. It’s a time when we may feel more restless emotionally, and drier and more brittle physically. Insomnia, constipation, arthritis, parched skin and anxiety – these are typical vata ailments, and they often spike during the autumn months.
If all you want to do this season is hibernate at home and consume lots of soup, you might be adopting Ayurvedic principles without even realising it. The Ayurvedic approach to combatting vata season is to increase the amount of pitta and kapha in our systems using a combination of diet, herbal supplementation and daily routines.
Salads are a no-no during vata season. Instead, focus on home-cooked, healthy comfort foods that provide lots of heat and moisture: steaming bowls of root-vegetable stew or mounds of brown rice swimming in yellow dal. Sprinkle your morning porridge with ashwagandha – a plant known to lower cortisol – and use ghee (clarified butter loaded with fat-soluble vitamins and healthy fatty acids) liberally in your cooking.
As the days grow shorter and darker, establishing your own dinacharya (daily routine) feels grounding and comforting. Try to sleep and wake at the same times every day. Start your mornings with a spicy turmeric-ginger latte and meditation, and wind down in the evening with a self-care ritual like dry brushing. Sweep a soft-bristle body brush up your limbs in long strokes, moving from the extremities toward the heart to aid the lymphatic system and improve blood circulation, while also exfoliating the skin. Then, after bathing, perform some self- massage using sesame oil (thought to have warming properties that combat autumnal chill), starting at the neck and working down to the soles of the feet. Leave the oil to be absorbed for five to 10 minutes before showering off the residue to reveal softer, more supple skin.
Essentially, thriving during vata season is about introducing more downtime into your days. By embracing that autumnal inclination to nest and rest, we enter the last quarter of the year feeling calm, focussed and ready to handle the holiday season.
Get a four-handed massage at Surya Spa in Los Angeles
The Ayurvedic Bliss package from Surya Spa includes an abhyanga massage, in which two therapists work in sync to create a deeply relaxing four-handed massage.
Enjoy a nourishing shirodhara at the Four Seasons Spa in Hong Kong
In this ancient treatment, herbal oils are streamed onto the forehead to reduce stress and soothe the nervous system.
Experience an uzhichil massage at Triyoga in London
This traditional form of Ayurvedic healing combines deep-tissue bodywork with marma point (tissue juncture) acupressure. Besides releasing knotted muscles, it’s also said to aid blood circulation and lymphatic drainage.
Try an Ayurvedic facial at Pratima Spa in New York
At Pratima’s SoHo spa location, Ayurvedic skincare specialists use herbal products with warming or cooling properties to address the doshic qualities present in your complexion.
Opt for an udvartana dry massage at Heart of Ayurveda in Paris
The udvartana massage uses a herbal powder blended with oil. The resulting paste is said to help detoxify the body and exfoliate the skin.
This story appears in Issue 4 of Culture Trip magazine: Art in the City.