The transition between seasons is when we all run the risk of doshic imbalance and vata-derangement, making us more susceptible to disease. Here, learn how to bolster your immunity with seasonal eating and optimally timed Ayurvedic detox.
The Change of Seasons and Illness
According to Ayurveda, ill health often starts at the junction between seasons. The seven days leading up to a seasonal change and the first seven days of the next season are considered vulnerable periods for health and wellbeing. According to the Caraka Samhita—the main Ayurvedic text—changing your diet and lifestyle with the seasons will give you physical strength (bala) and digestive power (agni), as well as balance your doshas (vata, pitta, kapha).2,3
The study of the seasons, called ritucharya, is a major focus in Ayurveda. The junction between each season is termed ritusandhi, with “ritu” meaning season, and “sandhi” being the connection between the seasons.
Studies have found that during the change of seasons the doshas are more likely to go out of balance, affecting your physical and mental health.2,3 Studies have found that seasonal changes in day length can suppress or enhance immune function that is linked to seasonal cycles of illness and mortality. These daily light-dark circadian cycles have also been linked to rhythms of immune strength.4
Even Hippocrates regarded seasonal living as proper medicine, saying “Whoever wishes to investigate medicine properly should proceed thus in the first place to consider the seasons of the year and what affect each of them produces.”2
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Seasonal Change and Vata Imbalance
While the sun is the primary driver of seasonal change, in Ayurveda it’s excess vata (air) that is responsible for imbalance during seasonal transitions.
There’s a logical explanation for this: During summer months, the sun warms the oceans. Through evaporation, this brings colder water to the surface, creating currents, wind, and resultant precipitation around the globe. While the Earth’s exposure to the sun changes the seasons, the weather created by the Earth’s position relative to the sun is primarily responsible for excess vata that can prompt sleep and mood instability and achiness.1,2 Because it’s so susceptible to seasonal change, vata is the dosha that is often the most out of balance. It’s said that there are twice as many possible imbalances in vata as there are in pitta and four times as many possible imbalances in vata than there are in kapha.
Nature’s Natural Regulation
At the beginning of each season, the qualities of that season begin to accumulate and by the end of that season those qualities can become aggravating.
If vata accumulates and aggravates, worry, sleeplessness, dryness, constipation, stiffness, forgetfulness and restlessness can ensue. For example, at the end of winter the vata qualities of coldness and dryness may start to dry out mucus membranes in the gut and respiratory tract, impacting the body’s immune response. During the winter months, both immunity and digestive strength increase.3,5 Winter immunity is boosted as a result of shorter day and longer nights that increase immune-boosting melatonin. (Sadly, because of excess exposure to screens and lighting at night, less melatonin is secreted, compromising the body’s ability to deliver the robust winter immunity we were designed to enjoy.)5
During spring, the heavy, wet, and congestive qualities of kapha start to accumulate. If kapha accumulates and aggravates, fatigue, melancholy, congestion, slow boggy digestion, weight gain, and brain fog can ensue.
In the same way vata and kapha can accumulate, the hot, fiery, and inflammatory qualities of pitta accumulate in summer, often to the point of being aggravating by the season’s end. If pitta accumulates and aggravates, anger, irritability, indigestion, rashes, inflammation, and an intolerance to heat can ensue.
But nature has a way to handle the potential aggravation of each season’s doshic accumulations.
Nature’s response to winter dryness is two-fold. First, the foods harvested in the fall that traditionally sustained us through winter are denser and higher in protein and fat—think squirrels hording nuts and seeds. A high-fat, oil-rich diet is the perfect antidote for the harsh properties of winter. Secondly, winter is followed by spring, which provides much needed relief from cold and dry weather with wet, moist, and heavy kapha qualities. Spring, or kapha, season has the exact opposite properties of winter, or vata season, helping to remedy any potential excess of vata dosha.
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Kapha season is wet, damp, and moist, providing the perfect environment for germinating seeds. But if there is too much moisture, undesirable microbes can overwhelm the soil (as well as our gut and respiratory tracts, causing congestion and a host of seasonal respiratory symptoms). Nature’s remedy for an accumulation of moisture is a dry, austere, and astringent harvest of spring greens, bitter roots, and tart berries. The impending summer sun also provides protection against any kapha accumulation and aggravation by heating and warming the Earth and our bodies. Just like the summer sun dries out wet hiking trails, it also dries out and brings back into balance the body’s mucus membranes.
In summer, or pitta season, hot and dry qualities can accumulate and create a desertification effect in your garden, as well as your body. Nature’s response is a cool, sweet harvest of fruits and veggies, followed by the cold fall and winter winds to put out the heat of summer.
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During this annual cycle you can see the doshic effect of the seasons build on each other. If year after year the accumulations of seasonal vata, pitta, or kapha are not removed, the body will become imbalanced by the excessive accumulation and aggravation of each dosha. For example, accumulated vata (dryness) at the end of winter encourages a greater secretion of mucus (kapha) in the spring.6 To the extent you dry out in the winter is to the extent you will make mucus in the spring. To the extent you make mucus in the spring is to the extent pitta will increase in the summer to dry out the excess reactive mucus. Following suit, excess dry heat in the summer only exacerbates the drying effect of winter.
The Subtle Shift in Consciousness During Seasonal Transitions
At the junction between seasons, kapha is transitioning into pitta and pitta into vata. From the Vedic perspective, junctions or sandhis, are opportunities to tune our nervous systems to become more conscious. At the subtle level, a seasonal shift is also taking place within our own consciousness. Such opportunities also exist during transitions from adolescence to adulthood, during menstruation and pregnancies, as you transition into your wisdom years, around the age of 60, and at many other times during your life. These transitions are celebrated in Ayurveda because as your consciousness shifts, opportunities to grow, evolve, and become more spiritual surface.
Seasonal junctions take place at the subtle junction point between consciousness and matter. When vata transitions into kapha, the elemental (mahabhuta) components of vata flow through the junction of consciousness and matter and reconstitute the elements of air and ether into earth and water.
During these seasonal transition periods, there is great opportunities for both physical cleansing as well as emotional cleansing and spiritual growth. It’s also an opportunity to reset nature’s circadian rhythms and the body biological clock, which exists in every cell.9,10 This is why the solstices and equinoxes have been celebrated since the beginning of human history.
It’s for this reason that each of LifeSpa’s cleanses is recommended as the seasons shift and offers opportunities to retreat, still your nervous system, reset your circadian clock, and rid yourself of old emotional patterns of behavior. A true Ayurvedic cleanse is never just a physical detox.
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Prepare for Seasonal Change with a Cleanse
In nature, the shift from one season to the next can happen in a day, or even is a few hours. The body, however, adapts much more slowly to seasonal change, taking time to clear seasonal accumulation and potential aggravation.
According to the Caraka Samhita, when your diet and lifestyle are not in accord with the seasons, digestive agni, physical strength, and doshic balance are affected, and the seeds of disease are sown.2,3
You can prevent these imbalances and reduce your risk of illness by eating seasonally and changing your lifestyle to align with seasonal and daily cycles.
Because it’s said in Ayurveda that disease starts during the junction period between seasons, Ayurveda employs more aggressive therapies to more safely transition from one season to the next. The prescribed Ayurvedic therapy for removing the doshic accumulation of vata at the end of winter, pitta at the end of summer, and kapha at the end of spring is an Ayurvedic detox.
Ayurvedic cleanses use ghee to detoxify these accumulations through a well-studied cleanse process call lipophlic mediated detoxification.7 Ingesting ghee at higher dosages while on a restricted diet allows the ghee to penetrate deep tissues and attach to fat-soluble toxic molecules and flush them out of the body, along with excess vata, kapha, and pitta.
Learn more about LifeSpa’s free training on how to detox naturally.
If what you learn in this article and the free training resonate with you, sign up for one of our cleanses: our 14- day Colorado Cleanse, the 4-day Short Home Cleanse (free ebook), or the 5-day Kaya Kalpa Cleanse (free ebook).