Seasonal Rituals (Ritucharya)


Ritucharya is seasonal conditioning of the body as prevention against diseases and aging. Living in harmony with the rhythm of nature is not a new practice, but it has been forgotten in our fast-paced, urban lives. Ayurvedic concept for the division of year into six seasons namely Shishira, Vasanta, Grishma, Varsha, Sharad and Hemanta is based on movement of sun into the northern and southern solstice positions which is called as Adana kala (Uttarayana) and Visharga kala (Dakshinayana) consisting of six months in each side. The nomenclature coined as Adana meaning taking away and visarga is for giving of strength and vigor in all living creatures. 

Seasonal Rituals
Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

In India, we have well-defined six seasons. However, in many Western countries, they have four visibly distinct seasons – winter, autumn, summer, and spring. An elaborate rainy season(Varsha) or Shishir(late autumn) might be hard to witness.

Ayurveda has depicted various rules and regimens (Charya), regarding diet and behavior to acclimatize seasonal enforcement easily without altering body homeostasis. The prime principle of Ayurvedic system of medicine is preventive aspect, can be achieved by the change in diet and practices in response to change in climatic condition. This is a very important aspect of preventive medicine as mentioned in Ayurvedic texts. 

 

Early winter regimen ( Hemanta) - mid November to mid January

Take a little heavy breakfast, because cold atmosphere increases metabolism in our body to tide over the outside cold weather, this increases the need for food and also accelerates digestion during this period, as the duration of night is long, one feels more hungry in the early morning.

What to eat 

Consuming food articles with sweet, sour and salt is highly recommended during this period. The goal of this season is to keep you warm and nourished.

Food articles specially for winter - Meat soup topped with ghee, meat (eg. chicken, goat ), Milk products which are delicious and nourishing -(eg, Peda, Burfi, kheer etc.), Cooked grains like oatmeal, cornmeal, barley, tapioca, rice, or kitchari make a terrific breakfast, and lunches and dinners of steamed vegetables, whole wheat breads, and mushy soups are ideal.

Recommended Ayurvedic treatments

  • Abhyanga: Abhyanga is essentially a massage with warm herbal oils that are designed to address your skin and body type. This therapy can be done by a practitioner or on your own, and keeps your skin moisturized and protected. 
  • Murdha taila treatment - Oil application on head. Murdha taila is of 4 types
  1. Shiro abhyanga - Head massage with oil
  2. Shiro dhara/seka - Pouring medicated liquid oil on the head 
  3. Shiro pichu - in this procedure sterile cotton pad dipped in herbal oil can be kept over the head (vertex or crown or entire scalp)
  4. Shiro basthi - Holding medicated oil on head.

After abhyanga, doing exercise is recommended.

  • Swedana: Swedana is kind of like using a sauna! Herbal steam helps you sweat out toxins, release tension, and help with your circulation. It’s great for keeping warm, too. After this take a bath. (To know about bath in an ayurvedic way click here)
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Late winter (Sisira ritu) regimen - mid January to March mid

This wet, cold season brings with it an increase in heavy Kapha energies, which means that your agni needs to burn even brighter to keep things balanced.

Same regimen of Hemanta can be followed.

 

Spring regimen (Vasanta) -  mid March to mid May 

During this period, earth and air energies combine to make this time a lively transitional period. Kapha energies start to disperse, which extinguish your agni and can cause a lot of discomforts. 

What to eat

This is one of the more sensitive times for our body, so focus on eating easily-digestible bitter and astringent foods, avoid cold, viscous, heavy, sour, and sweet dishes. Sleep during day time should be avoided. 

The ideal Vasanta ritu diet includes gut-healthy foods like barley and honey, and gently stimulating spices like coriander, cumin, turmeric, and fennel. Water boiled with ginger, or mixed with honey can also be used for drinking.

 

Summer regimen (Greeshma) - mid May to mid July

Sunrays become more powerful during this season, the body feels as if squeezed by the atmospheric temperature, drying things out and increases both the Pitta and Vata energies within the body.

What to eat

This is the time of year for sweet, light, cold, mineral-rich food. Eat lots of herbs and drink lots of fruit juices, avoid sour, pungent, or warm foods. Keep hydrated with lots of water, and seek out antioxidants. The ideal Grishma diet includes lots of fresh fruit, and veggies like asparagus, cucumber, celery, and leafy greens.

Food articles specially for summer - Churned spicy curd, Soft drink prepared with dates, grapes, and sugar and honey.

Ayurvedic secret dessert recipe for summer - “Sasanga kiranan“ (from classic text Ashtanga hrudaya)

Recipe - buffalo milk mixed with sugar and cooled by the moonlight and stars.

Recommended Ayurvedic treatments

  • Abhyanga: This season is drying, so keeping your skin moisturized is a must. 
  • Shirodhara: Shirodhara is a deeply relaxing therapy that involves a steady stream of warm oil that is poured onto the forehead. This blissful treatment is perfect for the chaotic state that fire and air can bring to the mind.

Avoid - exposure to sunlight and alcohol intake.

Do only mild exercise.

 

Rainy season or Varsha ritu charya - Mid July to mid September

This is typically a wet, rainy season, with earth and fire energies rising to the forefront. Your agni is heavily damped during this season, so it’s time to get that fire roaring again. 

What to eat

Salty, sour, and oily foods are the star of this season. Although you want your digestive fire to begin to pick up, avoid heavy foods at first and transition slowly through the season. The ideal Varsha diet is freshly-cooked meals, avoid uncooked foods and favors warm. Help your digestion out with ginger and lemon, and eat a lot of thin soups.

Food articles specially for rainy season - Green gram soup, Old wine, Whey mixed with panchakola powder, boiled rain or well water, 

Recommended Ayurvedic treatments

Panchakarma: Varsha is the perfect time for Panchakarma, a cleanse that takes you through five treatments: basti, nasya, swedana, abhyanga, and snehana.  Reset yourself for the coming year and feel great.

Avoid - sleeping during day time, exertion.

 

Sharath Ritucharya - mid September to mid November

The Autumn season or the Sharath Ritu is a welcome relief after the sweaty and sultry Summer heat and the damp Monsoon. As we get one last surge of warmth and dryness after the rainy season, your agni or digestive fire regains its strength. Water and fire are both prominent energies during this transitional time, which makes it the perfect period to begin to pacify those Pitta energies. According to Ayurveda sharath ritu is the breeding season for many diseases. The dry atmosphere aggravates Pitta Dosha due to the sudden exposure to Sunlight after the rains. This can lead to a Pitta imbalance in the body.

What to eat

The goal of this season is to transition smoothly into winter. In order to cleanse yourself and prep your digestive system for the heavier fare of the colder months, eat bitter, light, cold, astringent, and sweet foods that are easy on your stomach, and avoid foods high in fat and salt. The ideal Sharath diet includes rice, honey, green leafy veggies, tomatoes, root vegetables, pineapples, berries, plums, ghee (clarified butter) and other dairy products.

Food articles specially for autumn season - Sipping on warm tea with ginger and cinnamon is good during daytime. Before sleeping at night, warm milk with ginger, honey, a pinch of cardamom or nutmeg is perfect.

Recommended Ayurvedic treatments

Virechana: Virechana purifies the blood by removing toxins from the body through the gastrointestinal tract. This therapy is essentially an herbal laxative therapy that clears out your digestive system so that you can enter the next season refreshed and ready for heavier fare. 

Day-sleep, excessive eating, excessive exposure to sunlight, etc., are to be avoided. Avoid too much alcohol, caffeine or nicotine during this time.

 

Enjoy all the seasons with these rituals and live healthy


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