Seasons and Ayurveda: Rethinking Assumptions | Everyday Ayurveda

Rethinking the Seasons and Ayurveda

By on November 14, 2016

Reflecting on the seasons and Ayurveda, I observe that the winter rains in my local California community have been sparse, and we are in a drought.

When I was originally learning about the seasons and Ayurveda a large amount of dryness in the atmosphere during winter might have made sense.

Many modern Ayurvedic practitioners call fall and winter “vata time” of which a main manifestation is dryness.

In direct opposition, others claim you need to reduce kapha, since it is a time of heavy moist weather, and both cold and moist are qualities of kapha.

Something is amiss here as these statements, pulled straight from texts of “authorities” on the seasons and Ayurveda in the western world, are in clear opposition.

While there are some half-truths above, it is far from the whole story of the seasons and Ayurveda.

If either vata or kapha was aggravated in the winter, some of this might make sense as a general protocol. But no dosha is aggravated in the winter if we follow the actual advice of the ancient seers.

The classical texts of Ayurveda teach that seasonal adjustments and effects are not necessarily tied to one dosha.

It is a complex affair that involves the environment, our bodies, and our digestive tract which are all doing different things in response to seasonal shifts.

While doshas are associated with certain seasons and Ayurveda, it is the specific gunas (qualities) and shifts that happen in each of these separate domains (environment, digestion, body etc.) that matter more than anything dosha specific.

The Charaka Samhita, Ayurveda’s foundational text, describes how its six-season model (yes, six, not four) is caused by the movement of the Sun. While this is an obvious statement, the results of such a shift seem to have been lost and these patterns aren’t just for India, the seers were far wiser than that.

From roughly mid-January to the summer solstice, the Sun moves to its most northerly point during the summer.

At this time, both the human body and digestive function are at their weakest. This is primarily due to the increased exposure to the Sun creating more work for our bodies in expelling heat and less power for our digestive tract to consume food.

All of the classical texts clearly say vata is aggravated at this time primarily due to this drying and depleting effect of the Sun on our bodies.

The fact that pitta can be provoked during this time is often due to an underlying condition or other lifestyle factors that are not necessarily due to the season. These can be common in our modern day life of overworked, over-exercised, over-caffeinated and overly-salted foods amongst other factors.

Also, pitta-type issues often involve indications of increased digestive secretions (water element), not lessened. Due to this vata aggravation in the summer, it is a time to take it easy, not engage in vigorous asana practice, eat light, sweet foods (not bitter and astringent) and even stay indoors.

These regimes all fit well with the idea of calming vata, though not necessarily pitta on all accounts. Typical summer activities for a lot of people usually include throwing endless barbecues, traveling abroad, or even maintaining a rigorous yoga schedule that is harming their body according to the seasons and Ayurveda.

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The opposite process happens from shortly after the summer solstice to the winter solstice.

The sun moves in a southern direction and its rays are less intense. The days become shorter and the world is dominated by the Moon.

There are deeper significations here too, as in all Vedic knowledge, as the Moon is the nourishing, motherly aspects of creation, and in certain paradigms controls the water element.

The digestion slowly increases during this time until it is at its peak in the dead of winter, when the body is also at its strongest. This is the exact time when we should be engaging in our most vigorous workouts, eating the heaviest diets, and possibly partaking in more sex than usual.

If you know a little Ayurveda, you’ll know that these recommendations could not be grafted onto a single dosha, as people often attempt to do. This makes sense since no specific dosha aggravation is given at this time, as previously mentioned.

The fact that people are drier during this time is not necessarily related to anything involving “vata,” but more with the increased digestive or decreased circulatory functions due to the heat receding into the body and away from the extremities.

It may also have deeper significations as many people are dehydrated, becoming more so at this time due to the need to feed our digestive fire.  If you have not properly balanced vata in the summer, or are drinking green smoothies and doing anti-kapha diets all winter long, the drier and more depleted you’ll become.

These are general patterns that must be adjusted to both individual constitutions and local environments in regards to the actual timing of the season and specific intensity of guna manifestations, which only adds layers of complexity in seeing the actual base patterns at work.

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There are also seasonal irregularities that must be taken into account if they are present, yet are rarely mentioned in these cookbook models of Ayurveda.

The main idea is that a single dosha association has limited utility, or can be harmful, as we must be aware of a variety of factors affecting the qualities around and in us in order to properly implement seasonal adjustments.

Unfortunately, it is much easier to understand and sell products for the “Vata-Pitta-Kapha” logic and associate the dosha with everything under the Sun, than to look at the specific gunas in a variety of different circumstances.

This is one reason this more simplified seasonal model has been used widely, though not exclusively, by practitioners in the west. While we want digestibility in our food, I wouldn’t skimp on the theory.

What seems to be occurring is that practitioners might have moderate success working with a four-season model since there is some basic overlap. For example, spring is a good time to clear kapha and summer is indeed hot, but there is more to the story as I have shown.

We are often so out-of-balance and out-of-touch with our bodies that any little shift in energy causes us to think something is working miracles, when often times the opposite is true. I know I wrecked my body from fasting even though I swore it was healthy, and it felt great for many years without issue.

I see this everywhere nowadays in the blogosphere world, though misapplying Ayurveda can take longer to manifest due to its variable nature.

So as the Sun continues on its northern course, take a step back from some of these ideas you may have been living with and look at the world around you without preconceived notions.

As the Sun climbs higher in the sky what really happens to your appetite, your body, and your mind?

While it may be difficult to see these things apart from what we might have read in some book or blog on Ayurveda, however lauded the author may be, we should never stop asking tough questions.

There is a lot to learn and many variables in the equation. I’m curious to see what you come up with.

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About Frank Vasquez

Frank has been studying various Vedic disciplines for the last fifteen years with teachers both east and west. He is continuously amazed at how little he actually knows about the universe. He is currently curating www.darshanproject.org in order to introduce people to the Vedic sciences and create more discussion around the representation of this knowledge.

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