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Seasonal eating and fasting with Ayurveda

Seasonal eating and fasting with Ayurveda photo

With the changing colours, blowing winds and hopefully a bit of Autumnal sunshine, how can we support our health as we transition through the seasons?

The change in atmosphere and temperature moving from the bright summer months into the changeable months of Autumn, does not just affect the climate, it also affects our body and mind too. With the changing colours, blowing winds and hopefully a bit of Autumnal sunshine, how can we support our health as we transition through the seasons?

Summer sees an increase in warmth and sunlight. With more warmth, the qualities of dryness and lightness increase in the environment and hot pitta and dry vata naturally build. In order to keep pitta and vata in check and under control, plenty of cooling and calming measures are required. Here are just a few ideas to help you stay in balance in Summer:

  • Get up early and enjoy the cool dewy mornings to connect with nature and ground yourself
  • Daily 5-10 minute morning calming self-massage with a replenishing oil such as coconut to nourish your skin.
  • Your diet should primarily consist of sweet, bitter and astringent flavours that are cool, refreshing and liquid but that are also light and easy to digest. Here are just a few that suit pitta: Almond milk, rosewater, coconut, rice, quinoa, oats, asparagus, sprouted mung beans, green leafy veg, hemp seed oil and ghee are good. Raw foods such as salads require more energy and heat to digest, so it’s best to avoid these as a main evening meal to prevent your digestive fire becoming active overnight. 

However, Summer doesn’t last forever. Autumn is a beautiful season seeing an extravaganza of golden colour but also a keen increase in cooler winds. The characteristic windy, cold and dry weather in Autumn naturally aggravates the vata dosha, which is unsurprisingly governed by the element air. The qualities of vata are cold, light, rough, mobile, subtle, clear, dry and astringent. After the heat of the summer and with the change of the season these qualities can increase, thereby aggravating vata. Vata regulates the nervous system, moisture in the body, how relaxed we feel and how well we digest food. So, keeping our vata in check during this seasonal change is key to feeling fit and healthy.

Interestingly, vata is responsible for all communication and movement in the body; the flow of breath and blood, elimination of wastes, expression of speech for example. It can be described as a current of electricity responsible for regulation of all electrical impulses in the body and mind. Optimal balance of the vata in all of us is crucial. In fact without vata the other dosha are inert. Especially during those times of the year where it is at risk from becoming out of balance, such as in Autumn. As it is said in the ancient writings Sharangadhara Samhita without vata, pitta is lame, kapha is lame”. So, how can we keep our inner vata in balance? Here are a few top tips:

  • Rise early when the world is still calm.
  • Daily 5-10 minute morning self-massage with a warming and relaxing oil like sesame oil. This offsets seasonal tendencies to dryness, joint cracking, stiff muscle pain and poor circulation.
  • Diet to consist of warm, sweet, mildly spicy, sour and salty foods. Here are just a few that suit vata: Soups, casseroles, warming spices such as ginger, turmeric, fennel, root vegetables, ghee, hemp         seed oil and kicharee.

Autumn is also a common month to perform a seasonal cleanse to prepare for the winter ahead and to clear the excess heat accumulated during the winter months. Kapha types are particularly prone to accumulation, and a seasonal cleanse can be especially beneficial for them. A successful fast leaves you feeling lighter, refreshed and energised.

The first and most important point to consider when undertaking a cleanse is to pick one that suits your personal constitution. There are many types of fasts; water fasts, fruit juice fasts, rice fasts, soup fasts, kicharee fasts. Here are some top tips for each of the three dosha:

  • Kapha types store energy and a tendency to be too static. They can tolerate longer

fasts and benefit the most from them. Their fasts can be more light soup/broth based or just hot water and spicy teas.

  • Pitta types are good at managing energy but accumulate excess heat and inflammation. They benefit from a fast of one to three days and can manage on fruit or vegetable juices as their high levels         of digestive fire at the best at breaking down raw fruit and veg.
  • Vata types have difficulty holding on to energy and have a tendency to be ungrounded. Fasting must be undertaken with caution and should only fast for a short time of between one and three days.           Their fast should always contain some nourishment and could be a mono fast of brown rice, mung soup or kicharee.

Here are some top tips to keep in mind for anyone undertaking a seasonal fast:

  • Drink lots of warm water and replace caffeinated drinks for spicy teas that help to burn toxins
  • You’re not eating your regular diet, so your body will need time to adjust. Rest and take plenty of sleep.
  • There is a saying ‘Any fool can fast but it takes a wise one to break it’. It is very important to break a fast slowly, one day fast requires one day of re-introduction to normal diet.

Incremental diet to nourish your digestive fire

Another very useful way to build the strength of your digestive fire that is in some way a light fast is to follow an incremental diet. Its very useful to help people with IBS, Crohn’s, Ulcerative colitis, acidity, recovery from fever, for removing toxinc ‘ama’. It is based in a traditional Ayurvedic practice known as ‘samsarjana karma’ that gradually cleanses and buolds digestive strength.

Use basmati rice or quinoa and follow each stage for a day or two depending on your digestive strength. Drink lots of ginger tea during this time.

Phase 1: Rice water (manda)

14 parts of water to 1 part of rice simmered for 30-40 minutes: Strain the grains out. Add a pinch of salt and cumin powder to taste.

This is a milky-coloured liquid, and is the easiest of all the foods to digest, usually given just once at the outset of the practice.

Then follow the below having each one for a day or two.

Phase 2: Rice water with rice part 1 (peya)

8 parts of water to 1 part of rice simmered for 30 minutes: Leave the grains of rice in. Add a pinch of salt, cumin and ginger powder to taste.

Phase 3: Rice water with rice part 2 (yavagu)

6 parts of water to 1 part of rice simmered for 30 minutes: Leave the grains of rice in. Add a pinch of salt, cumin and ginger powder to taste.

Phase 4: Rice water with rice part 3 (vilepi)

4 parts of water to 1 part of rice simmered for 30 minutes: Leave the grains of rice in. Add a pinch of salt, cumin, coriander, ginger powder to taste. Also add1/2 tsp ghee.

If your digestion is feeling strong add some steamed vegetables such as carrots or spinach.

Phase 5: Rice water with rice part 4 (odana)

2 parts of water to 1 part of rice simmered for 20 minutes: Add a pinch of salt, cumin, coriander, ginger powder to taste. Also add1/2 tsp ghee.

Eat this with some yellow split mung lentils: Simmer 1 part lentils in 14 parts of water for 40 minutes with some spices and ghee in.

Then start to eat kicharee:

Try eating kicharee regularly: it is easy to digest and very nourishing.

  • 1/3 cup split mung beans, 2/3 basmati rice (or other grain) simmered in 3-4 cups of water (a ratio of 1:3 or 1:4).
  • Add 1/4 tsp each of organic turmeric, ginger, roasted cumin and coriander.
  • Add seasonal vegetables: spinach, peas, or seaweeds, shitake mushrooms for an all round healing, healthy and digestion enkindling meal.
  • The best practice is to cook it on a very low heat in a covered saucepan and it is best not to stir it after all the ingredients are added or it will go mushy.
  • Add a teaspoon of ghee or hemp seed oil at the end with some salt to taste.

 

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