Most Americans are accustomed to four distinct seasons—winter, spring, summer, and fall. But in Ayurveda, the year is actually broken down into three seasons, which are represented by the three doshas—Vata, Kapha, and Pitta:
- Vata season starts in fall and ends in early winter when the climate gets cold and dry
- Kapha season spans from late winter to early spring, when the weather is coldest and wettest
- Pitta season comprises the hottest and longest days of the year, from late spring through summer
Understanding the qualities of the three seasons is important to staying balanced during seasonal transitions. Each season ignites the associated dosha’s energy within you, and your system can be thrown out of balance if you don’t adapt to the weather.
In other words, your predominant dosha is heightened during the season it governs ("like increases like"). Unless you take steps to create balance, you may experience unpleasant, even debilitating symptoms.
For example, in fall when the weather turns cooler and drier, people with Vata dosha may notice the external changes in the environment as gas, bloating, insomnia, and anxiety.
In the winter, when the climate is damp and frosty, Kapha-dominant people may experience more sinus congestion/mucous production and a tendency towards constipation and depression.
As summer temperatures begin to rise, people with Pitta may notice an increase in their appetite and body temperature and a tendency towards gastritis and frustration.
How can you prevent these symptoms? By balancing your dosha with specific activities, lifestyle changes and food/diet for the season.
During Vata season, Vata-dominant people tend to become out of balance because they are less tolerant of cold weather and frequently experience cold hands and feet.
Vatas can help balance out negative physical and emotional effects this time of year by:
- Avoiding raw, cold foods. Salads, raw vegetables, and anything dry and crispy should be avoided. Cold drinks can also increase Vata, so they are part of the “don’t” category. Additionally, since Vata is made of the elements of space and air, it’s best to stay away from foods like popcorn and chips that have these qualities. (Since "like increases like,” Vata doesn’t need more of this light, airy energy.)
- Focusing on warm, cooked foods. Soups, stews, hot tea and warming spices like ginger are excellent options this time of year. Heavy, oily foods like ghee, nuts, and avocados are also good choices because they are grounding.
- Choosing exercise that has a balancing effect. Since Vata is naturally fast-moving and all over the place, the more rest you get during Vata season, the better and more grounded you’ll feel all year long. You shouldn't stay sedentary, though; exercise is still important. You can get movement in by trying slower-paced exercises like Pilates, yoga, Tai Chi, stretching, or a walking.
Kapha season starts in the most frigid months of the year and extends to early spring, when the snow melts and nature starts to bloom again. These conditions disturb Kapha-dominant individuals, who tend to be relaxed and mellow.
Kaphas can create a sense of physical and mental balance during these cold, dark months by:
- Avoiding raw foods and cold drinks. Like Vatas, Kaphas don’t tolerate cold foods this time of year. Other foods to avoid are those that are oily (they increase Kapha), as well as dairy, sugar, and meat, as they tend to be difficult to digest.
- Eating a low-calorie, nutrient-rich diet. Turn to foods that are light, pungent, dry, and warming. Kapha-dominant individuals do well with low-fat, vegan foods, with limited fruits and grains. While most sugar is a no-no, honey is one of the few sweet foods that help reduce Kapha. Mixing a teaspoon in warm water with a little lemon first thing in the morning on an empty stomach can be very balancing for this dosha. Good spices include cumin, fenugreek, cloves, cinnamon, pepper, and cooked onion and garlic.
- Getting a good sweat. The Kapha dosha requires the most vigorous exercise of all the doshas. Engage in exercises that make you sweat—this will stimulate your mind and protect against depression, and also help prevent weight gain that is common in Kaphas.
Pitta season is all about heat. Likewise, Pitta-dominant people tend to run hot—both literally and metaphorically! They usually complain about being hot, even when those around them are bundled up.
As you can imagine, steamy weather can aggravate these “Energizer bunnies,” causing anger, impatience, irritability, as well as physical symptoms often related to inflammation, such as rashes, headaches, and gastritis.
Pitta-dominant individuals can restore balance during the hottest months of the year by:
- Avoiding hot, sour, salty, spicy, and acidic foods. Garlic, onion, pepper, chilies, and cinnamon are big no’s for Pittas, as they all have a heating effect. Acidic and fermented foods and beverages (tomatoes, citrus, sauerkraut, coffee, alcohol, kombucha) are also on the list of foods to avoid.
- Eating more cooling foods. Sweet and bitter tastes balance out Pittas. Mid-day salads to accompany lunch with leafy greens (minus spinach, which tends to be heating), most bitter and astringent veggies (like broccoli and asparagus) and sweet, cooling fruits (melons, dates, and pears) are all wonderful food options for Pittas. Good cooling beverages include coconut water and aloe vera juice.
- Getting short bursts of exercise. Pitta dosha benefits from short bursts of fast-moving exercise such as running, hiking, swimming, martial arts, or biking. Outdoor exercise is especially enjoyable and balancing for Pittas. (But be sure to avoid the hottest part of the day between 10:00 am–2:00 pm.) Because of their competitive nature, Pittas can sometimes overexert themselves. So choose fun, non-competitive exercises during Pitta season.
Seeds of Wisdom
Sometimes physical and mental health problems seem to arise out of nowhere. But as you begin to see how your internal environment fluctuates as a result of the external environment, these fluctuations in your health begin to feel predictable, and therefore manageable.
Understanding the relationship between doshas and seasons is one of the greatest pieces of wisdom you can have. It unlocks the mysteries of the human body and mind and gives you mastery over things that otherwise feel out of your control.
We are irreversibly connected to our environment. Individual health is directly impacted by the health of the planet itself. The three doshas that exist within us, also exist in the environment. When we pollute these elements in the environment, our bodies also become similarly polluted, resulting in disease.
Once this understanding is firmly rooted in society, environmental disasters as well as chronic disease will be significantly lessened.