Tending your Fire - Food for the Vata Season

By Valentina Komarova

Ayurvedic health counselor, yoga teacher and Thai bodywork practitioner



Ayurveda suggests that we adjust our daily rituals and foods to the seasons, same as we change our wardrobe with the changing weather. This way we are working with the natural forces around us and within us, not against them, to keep us balanced.
Autumn through mid-winter is considered Vata season in Ayurveda. Vata is comprised of air and space elements, and Vata season is cold, dry, rough and windy. People who naturally have a lot of Vata tend to get out of balance the most, but during Vata season all of us could develop Vata imbalances: ungroundedness, trouble keeping focus, nervousness, anxiety, insomnia, irregular digestion.
To restore balance, Ayurveda recommends to cultivate the opposing qualities. The cold, dry and rough season can be balanced with lifestyle practices (hyperlink) and foods that bring warm, smooth, heavy and oily qualities.
To better understand some of the following recommendations, it’s useful to keep in mind that Ayurveda views our digestive process as fire that burns the food within us. The stronger the fire, the better the food is digested. Weak or irregular fire cannot process food as efficiently and leads to accumulation of unprocessed food and waste - ama or toxins - in our body. 
So the key focus of the autumn practices is to tend our internal fire: to keep the body and spirit warm and healthy.

Here are some steps you can take to support your digestion in the Vata season:

1.    Make a point to eat regularly, don’t skip meals - for even burn, fire needs stable supply of fuel.
2.    Eat with the sun - our digestive fire lives by the sun, and it’s strongest at noon. If you eat your biggest meal of the day at that time, you highly increase the chances that food will be fully digested, working with the natural forces within you, not against them.
3.    Eat warm, cooked foods. That raw green smoothie that was so good in the summer might not sit well with you in the autumn. Generally, soups, stews, hot bowls and curries are your friends in autumn, as one-pot meals are considered in Ayurveda easier to digest. Added bonus: these dishes are usually quick to put together, which frees up time, as our lives become busier in the autumn. And if you are craving greens, try sautéing them (my favorite combination is cooking the greens in coconut oil with cumin and fennel seeds).
4.    Add oils to balance the dryness of the season. Cook with ghee. Dress your salad or bowl with olive or toasted sesame oil, and add seeds and nuts. Avocados are a great source of oil, and make an excellent spread for sandwiches. 
5.    Support your digestion with fermented foods such as sauerkraut or kombucha. Take a little every day with your main meal.
6.    Favor sweet, salty, sour tastes: these are considered building tastes in Ayurveda, they are nourishing and grounding. This does not mean that you should eat dessert with every meal - meat, rice, wheat, oats and beans such as chickpeas, mung beans, red lentils are considered sweet in Ayurveda, as well as dairy products, such as cheese and milk. Have some dried fruits - figs, dates or apricots - for dessert. Lightly salted roasted nuts and seeds will make a good Vata snack.
7.    Eat seasonal root vegetables: beets, sweet potatoes, carrots, corn. And of course pumpkins, acorns and squash!
8.    Use lots of warming spices: garlic, ginger, anise, caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, cumin, fennel, nutmeg. A trick I learned in my Ayurveda training is to get a traditional spice tray - that way your spices are always in front of you when you are cooking, and you will want to use at least several, if not all of them. 
9.    Take herbal teas - chamomile, peppermint, ginger, fennel seeds - to keep you warm and support digestion. Traditional masala chai is also an excellent drink for the Vata season.
10.    Change of seasons is always a good time for a gentle cleanse, but be mindful of raw and juice/smoothies ones, as these might not go so well in the autumn. Light soups or a traditional Ayurvedic cleanse with kitchari will work great. 

Stay warm and grounded!