The Joints of Life

(Originally published for The Dragontree)

As we approach the change of season, it’s a good time to discuss seasonal junctions. Both Ayurvedic and Chinese systems of medicine see the changes of seasons as times when we are more susceptible to being thrown out of balance as our body is challenged to adapt to the shift. Ayurveda has a saying that “diseases are generated at the junctions of the seasons.” Other junctions are also challenging, with the challenge generally proportional to the magnitude of change. Svoboda writes, “Ovulation and menstruation are the ‘joints’ of the menstrual cycle, dawn and dusk are the joints of day and night, and adolescence and menopause are the junctions of life.” If you have kids, you know that the “joints” of the day are the times you’re likely to have trouble, and if you’re clever, you find ways to make these transitions easy, such as the ever-popular “five more minutes until we’re leaving.”

Depending on where you live and your personal constitution, or prakruti (which I discussed in Before You Name Your Child Dosha), different seasons and junctions will be challenging for different people. For example, because spring tends to be wet, moving into this season means taking on more kapha. This will be most difficult for those who already have a lot of kapha in their constitution. Traditionally, kapha types might be prescribed some therapeutic vomiting to make the transition easier, whereas pitta types should require only moderate cleansing, and vata types would do well with the most gentle and slow cleansing.

I don’t know about you, but some therapeutic vomiting would really hit the spot, right? No, these days in the West, we prefer more pleasant medicine, ideally in gummy form, and we engage in therapeutic vomiting only after an excess of margaritas. Luckily, there are gentler ways to reduce each of the doshas (also explained in Before You…), and when it comes to management of the seasonal junctions, the most natural is to adjust one’s diet and activities from season to season. Kapha is cold and moist, so, during the late winter and spring, we should employ anti-kapha measures. Pitta which is hot, should be controlled in the summer. And vata, which is dry and cold, should be reduced in the fall and early winter. Meanwhile, whichever dosha or doshas are predominant in your constitution require year-round management.

The junction at hand, from summer to fall, typically means an increase in vata, due to the drying out and loss of leaves, the approaching cold, and the reduced moisture-holding of cooler air. But in a place like the Pacific Northwest, this is the beginning of the long rainy season, and thus, an increase also in kapha, so it’s an especially challenging transition. In Portland and Seattle, it’s getting both dryer and moister. How do you manage it? Well, it’s a balance, and it depends partly on which of these factors affects you more.

If you don’t live in a place where it’s about to get very wet, you have only to deal with an increase in vata, which can be balanced with nourishment, stability, consistency, warmth, and moisture. Vata is characterized by extreme changeability, and more change tends to make people in this season (and especially those with vata as a predominant constitutional factor) feel out of whack. So, making your routine as consistent as possible can really help: going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, eating at the same times each day, moving your body about the same amount and exerting roughly the same amount of energy each day, and having other self-care practices that you do each and every day. If you’ve been eating lots of fresh, raw summer produce, you can begin the transition to cooking more of your food. Warm, cooked food should form most of your diet in fall and winter.

Massage is excellent for reducing vata. Ghee and sesame oil are especially good for vata, both eaten and applied to the skin. A wonderful daily practice, especially if you have a vata constitution, have dry skin, or an overactive mind, is self-massage. You can obtain some sesame oil (not the toasted kind) and simply get naked and rub the oil into your skin from head to toe. Then, if you like, jump in the shower and rinse off, but without using soap, so that you finish with skin that’s still moist.

If you live in a place where the rainy season is beginning, it’s a good idea to begin your kapha-reducing routine now. Like vata, kapha benefits from heat, so spending time in a sauna can be good for both doshas (just don’t get dehydrated or sweat profusely, since this can exacerbate vata). Movement is essential to keep damp kapha weather from causing stagnation in the body, but since this is also a vata season, make sure your movement is even, smooth, not excessive, and at roughly the same times each day.

As for food in places with a damp autumn, there are not many things that are good for treating both kapha and vata. Since vata is dry, it benefits from moistening and oily foods – exactly the kinds of things that worsen kapha. Some of the only overlap occurs in the realm of spices, most of which tend to be good for both doshas, including these in particular: garlic, ginger, bay leaf, black pepper, caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, fenugreek, nutmeg, and saffron. Try incorporating them liberally into your fall and winter cuisine.

Wishing you a harmonious junction,

Dr. Peter Borten