Every Fall, I write about the topic of seasonal changes and the connection to our moods! I’m passionate about this topic because for years I felt something was wrong with me every time summer began to wane.
Modern times have made it much easier for us to detach from the natural world, especially with city living. Yet we are so intricately entwined – every human, every tree, every living element on the planet. Several amazing books and documentaries have come out recently showing this beautiful interdependence. (Check out the book Finding the Mother Tree & the documentary Fabulous Fungi).
Practicing yoga for the past 20 years has made me more acutely aware of how natural cycles like the moon, the seasons, and even different times of day have profound impact on how we feel and what activities are best for balance.
For years I hated the Fall. I always assumed the problem was ME! I wasn’t managing the stress of a new school year well. Or I couldn’t adjust to a new schedule. Or I was having hard time letting go of the freedom of summer.
The point is: I was always in self-blame. I believed there was a problem to fix and it was ME and my lack of ability to have a steadfast and laid back mental state.
I can’t tell you the relief I experienced when I learned there is a specific name and description of my fall angst! Ayurvedic physicians call it “vata derangement”, and the symptoms include:
A need to be in constant motion
The experience of being both tired and also wired
A scattered mind
Anxiety & Existential Fear
Trouble falling and/or staying asleep
Ayurveda is based on the principles of the three doshas (vata, pitta, kapha) that make up every individual as well as nature. It is interesting to learn what your own personal dosha is: take the test here. I’m a pitta vata, and the season of fall corresponds to these same two doshas or mind body principles. Since the season of fall adds the same elements that are already dominant in my body type, excess and imbalance is not uncommon.
Current research also supports something similar. Episodes of anxiety are one and half times more common in Fall than other seasons and three times as common when wind is present. My worst nightmare: a windy Fall day!
All body types are vulnerable to Vata derangement in Autumn, but those who have Vata in the body type need to be extra careful about maintaining balance this time of year.
If you relate to any of this, you are not alone and you don’t have to silently suffer through this seasonal change. Below are my 9 recommendations for overcoming the ungrounded and stress inducing effects of Fall. Also, check out a webinar I did last year around this time if you want even more details.
- Eat warm foods. Avoid dry and uncooked foods like raw veggies, salads, and anything crunchy like chips and crackers. Root vegetables like sweet potatoes, beets, and carrots are especially grounding this time of year, as well as soups and stews. One of my favorite nourishing Fall recipes is this warm Kale Miso Sweet Potato Salad.
- Drink warm liquids. Give up the cold, bubby drinks, especially with meals. Instead of chilled water, try hot water with lemon. I just made my first batch of homemade chai for the season as it warms me from the inside out. Here’s the best recipe I’ve found thanks to Fannie!
- Lessen the caffeine. I love a hot cup of coffee in the morning. But more than one during this time of year and my anxiety and jitters amp up. I can handle more caffeine during other times of the year, but once Fall hits, moderation is key.
- Oil your body. I’m a total convert to the practice of abhyanga or oil massage. It transforms my dry skin, lubricates my joints, calms my nerves, and helps me sleep more deeply. It’s also supposed to be an anti-aging practice. Purchase organic, unrefined sesame oil, or try this vata oil from Banyan Botanicals that has added herbs. I typically oil before a bath or shower. Don’t worry, the oil doesn’t wash off as long as you don’t soap your body, but rather seems to lock in the moisture. My favorite is to oil my body, simmer in hot bath, and then head to bed – this saves me when I’m in an insomnia phase. An ancient text of Ayurveda says “By using oil massage daily, a person is endowed with pleasant touch, trimmed body parts and becomes strong, charming and least affected by old age.” (The Charaka Samhita, Vol 1, V: 88-89).
- Practice pranayama. Those with vata derangement often breathe in a choppy, erratic way, primarily into the upper lungs, and may have difficulty exhaling fully and deeply. Yoga teaches that breathing this way increases agitation. Medically, we know that rapid breathing depletes the body of carbon dioxide, which can increase feelings of anxiety. Try Ujjayi breath which is inherently grounding and calming in a 1:2 ratio by extending your exhale twice as long as the inhale. Nadi shodna is also a balancing and calming breath technique. My fall breath practices looks like this: Bellows breath (which meets the anxiety) for 10-15 repetitions, followed by 10-15 ujjayi 2:1 ratio breaths, followed by 5 rounds of nadi shodna.
- Simplify. Slow down. Surrender. These 3 recommendations for me seem to be one of the hardest tips to actually live. The fall brings added activities for my children, and despite my knowledge of vata derangement, I have a pesky tendency to crave new experiences and stimulation in the Fall, meaning I take on too much and say “yes” too often. This lines up with the Ayurvedic adage that like attracts like. The airy and changing energy of Fall brings out the tendency for change and stimulation in all of us. The best way to balance is to cut back on scheduled commitments (say NO more often), avoid multi-tasking, and less time on the screens. Hunker down at home and give yourself plenty of time to be rather than do.
- Meditate. Meditation is key during all times of year, but seems especially useful to me in the fall. Commitment plus consistency = transformation. Get out of bed, find your meditation seat, and settle in for 10-30 minutes before the day takes off.
- Try Hip openers, forward folds, and poses on the back.
- Get grounded. Seek to be more aware of sensation in your feet or pelvis, the parts of the body that govern our root chakra, the energy center of grounding, safety, and security. When you get into your car, notice sensation in your pelvis. As you walk into work, feel your feet hitting the earth. While doing email or talking on the phone, seek to keep 20% of your awareness in your feet or pelvis. This grounding technique that I call “feet/pelvis” is potentially life changing if you apply it. I taught it to a young lawyer before a job interview. She reported to me that during the interview she kept 20% awareness in her pelvis and noticed how grounded, stable, clear, and concise she was in her answers. She landed the job!
Webinar with Betsy on Autumn Anxiety