Biorhythms and Ayurveda: Understanding the Cosmic Dance
Health is a harmonious relationship of mind, body and spirit with our extended body i.e., environment. Health is also a harmony of all the rhythms in our physiology. As the rhythms influence the physiology of the universe, so do they affect the physiology in our body. As is the macrocosm, so is the microcosm. Universe operates in biological rhythms and so does our body. Rhythms of nature, music of nature and dance of nature is all reflected with in our body. When our internal rhythms are in synchrony with those of the environment we experience well being Every cell, organ and system in our body operates according to predictable rhythms, with periods of dynamic activity and times of quietness. These same patterns of rest and activity can be found with in the cycles of nature: the sun rises, shines brightly and sets; the seasons flow one in to another and the tides rise and fall in response to the moon’s influence.
In Part I we discussed the Circadian Biorhythms and their effect on our physical and mental bodies. In Part II we will discuss the other biorhythms namely, Seasonal rhythms, Lunar rhythms and Tidal rhythms.
- Seasonal Rhythms: the 12 month cycle caused by the rotation of the earth around the sun.
- Lunar Rhythms: the monthly cycle of the moon revolving around the earth
- Tidal Rhythms: the gravitational influence of the moon on the waters of the earth
According to Ayurveda, seasonal rhythms have important influences on our biological cycles, and each season expresses characteristics of a specific dosha. Autumn and early winter is Vata time with the cold, dry and windy weather. The hot, moist summer expresses the qualities of Pitta, while the cold and wet weather of late winter and spring are expressions of Kapha in the environment.
The body needs to adjust to the outside environment and food is one way to help the body accommodate the changes in season. Every season brings about nurturing qualities and the body needs to plug into nature for its rejuvenation. In the absence of this, the body tends to compromise its natural defenses that the system needs to build up. The other way to achieve balance is through life style modification and preventative measures. During summer, (June through October) which is a pitta season, individuals are prone to skin ailments like sunburn, acne etc., and so it is recommended that cool, light fruits and salads have to be consumed to calm and correct the imbalances caused by excessive pitta.
Ayurveda teaches that routine detoxification can be invaluable for maintaining good health during seasonal changes. Summer is the season where pitta dosha accumulates in the body. Particularly if an individual’s constitution is pitta predominant, the increase in excess heat can become reactive, settle in the tissues, and manifest as an imbalance if it is not properly eliminated. Ayurveda offers solutions to help the body dispose of toxins as nature intended before they have a chance to take hold and cause disorder. When there is an excess of pitta dosha and a health problem arises, toxins usually accompany it. Common toxins are bacteria, viruses, drugs, heavy metals, pesticides, chemicals, and other environmental pollutants. Toxins are also formed when we eat foods that are difficult to digest or of poor quality. Ayurveda defines this type of toxic material as ama, a heavy, sticky, undigested residue that can weaken digestion and disturb proper tissue formation.
Excess pitta can manifest in the body as:
- Indigestion, constipation or diarrhea
- Skin rashes, sores or ulcers
- Fungi, parasites
- Bad breath and body odor
- Excessive sweating
A person’s complexion may also be an indication of whether or not there is a toxic overload in the body. Excess pitta in the blood can result in breakouts on the skin such as hives, acne, and red rashes. Cleansing the body, particularly the liver and blood, through diet and herbs can result in clear, radiant skin and more balanced pitta dosha. There are many causes that contribute to an excessive amount of pitta in the body including:
- Eating a pitta-provoking diet
- Exposure to chemicals
- Too much sun exposure, sunburn
- Emotional stress
As with any imbalance, Ayurvedic treatment involves first removing the cause and then applying the therapeutic remedies necessary to bring the body back into balance. Ayurveda offers simple and gentle dietary, herbal, and lifestyle guidelines to assist the body in removing excess pitta dosha and cleansing the body of toxins. The therapies to balance pitta are both cooling and reducing.
The stomach and small intestine are two common sites for pitta dosha to accumulate. Ayurveda uses a pitta-soothing diet as the first line of action when addressing excess pitta. When it comes to reducing pitta, choose foods that will be cooling and cleansing to the body.
Simple dietary guidelines to help your body detox:
- Choose sweet, juicy fruits like melons, plums, and peaches.
- Include vegetables that are bitter and astringent such as collards, kale and asparagus.
- Add digestive spices to your food such as cumin, coriander, fennel and turmeric.
- Limit hot, spicy, fermented, salty, oily, fried foods.
- Reduce or eliminate alcohol and caffeine. These substances are both sharp and hot, provoking to pitta dosha.
- Drink plenty of cool, fresh water. Staying well hydrated helps the body to flush away toxins.
- Favor cool, sweet, bitter, astringent, and oily foods; minimize hot, spicy and salty ones.
- Appetite may be reduced; don’t overtax it.
- Reduce exercise and sunbathing.
- Swimming is a good exercise in summer, as is walking in the moonlight, forests, mountains, or gardens.
- Wear a hat and sunglasses outdoors.
During autumn and early winter, (October through February) which is the vata season, people are prone to arthritis, rheumatism etc and so it is recommended that people eat warm, oily and hearty meals like beans, whole grains and meats to lubricate the system against dryness of the Vata season.
When vata dosha predominates, there is an increase in the dry, rough and cool qualities of our external and internal environments. In excess, dryness can begin to disturb various tissues and organs. Most noticeably, dry skin and lips are examples of excess vata. An internal drying can also be occurring particularly in the colon or large intestine, where vata is prone to first accumulate. Though we all notice the seasonal effects of autumn, people whose constitutions are vata-predominant and the elderly, who are in the vata stage of life, are most susceptible to this change.
Symptoms of vata-aggravation are:
- dry skin and lips
- little or low appetite
- scattered mind
Foods that are in season such as root vegetables and winter squash will help nourish and balance the body. Try carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, acorn, butternut, delicata and buttercup squashes. These have the qualities of sweet, heavy, smooth, dense and moist and are most balancing for vata. To help pacify vata dosha, favor the tastes of sweet, sour, salty in your diet, while limiting bitter and astringent tastes. Some sweet grains to include this season are basmati rice, wheat berries, brown rice and sushi rice. Also, whole wheat pasta and or buckwheat udon noodles can be especially grounding for vata. Include ghee and other healthful oils such as almond, sesame or sunflower for internal oleation, kindling agni and increasing absorption. When preparing food, use warming spices such as black pepper, dry ginger, cinnamon and asafoetida to help to stoke the digestive fire. Casseroles, soups and stews are easily digested and can be very nourishing for vata, warming the body from the inside out.
Other important dietary guidelines for balancing the body:
- Eat at routine times each day, having lunch be the largest meal.
- Take time to lovingly prepare and enjoy nutritious meals.
- Avoid ice cold drinks, particularly taken with meals or immediately after.
- Limit raw, cold foods such as salads and raw vegetables.
- Minimize caffeinated beverages and other stimulants. These increase vata, aggravating the nervous system.
- Include warm milk spiced with a pinch of ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg. This is a nutritious way to soothe the nerves and, when taken before bed, will promote sound sleep.
Our daily activities have a profound effect on our health. A routine, practiced daily, is stronger medicine than an occasional remedy. Consistency is of particular importance as we enter into vata season. When the cool, fall weather arrives and the holiday season is upon us, it can sometimes be difficult to maintain a peaceful, grounded state of being. Having a routine to follow restores balance throughout the day, everyday, safeguarding against the anxiety and stress associated with increased vata. According to Ayurveda, abhyanga, or oil massage is an essential component to a daily routine. This practice nourishes and strengthens the body, encourages regular sleep patterns, stimulates internal organs, enhances blood circulation and can significantly reduce vata. During spring, which is the kapha season, people are prone to bronchial ailments and common colds etc. Ayurveda recommends foods like honey, millet and greens to be included in the diet.
Additional lifestyle tips for balancing vata:
- Stay warm and avoid drafts.
- Avoid excessive exercise or physical movement.
- Eliminate sources of emotional stress.
- Get enough restful sleep each night. Most people require 6-8 hours
Autumn (October through February);is predominantly a cool season where Vata predominates. If it’s windy or dry or you live in a high altitude this increases Vata further. The time surrounding seasonal changes is governed by Vata too, as Vata is associated with movement or change in general. So, more Vata. Remember that emotions associated with increased Vata include fear, a scattered feeling, spacey feeling and anxiety.
As we move into winter, ( March through June) a season in which Kapha predominates strongly, all the doshas must work together to preserve health. Kapha is the endurance which enables us to move through this season, but it needs the qualities of light and movement (Vata) and initiative (Pitta) to do so, else we are likely to simply crawl into our dens and sleep away until spring!
When the weather warms in the spring, the pitta ‘liquefies’ the accumulated Kapha, which is then eliminated from the body. As a result, in the spring season patients are more prone to colds, nasal allergies, coughs, sinusitis, and other respiratory congestion syndromes- all signs of Kapha aggravation. For these reasons, routine for spring involves steps to reduce Kapha. A Kapha pacifying diet includes more bitter, spicy and astringent taste groups, all of which reduce the qualities of Kapha. For Kapha Prakriti, it is extremely important to use the pacifying procedures. In addition, one should drink warm fluids only. Warm sunshine and exercise reduce Kapha also.
Among the strongest health measures when spring comes is Panchakarma, Ayurvedic rejuvenation therapy. Ayurveda regards PK as the best method of removing backlogged imbalances and impurities at this time of the year.
- Minimize cold, sweet, sour, salty or oily foods, and avoid cold drinks; favor warm foods and drinks, and favor spicy, astringent and bitter tastes.
- Minimize daytime sleep, which increases Kapha.
- Exercise regularly.
- Undergo Panchakarma.
During the times of change and transition, it is wise to pay special attention to the basics of good health; meditation, regular exercise, sensory nourishment and emotional healing.
The monthly Cycle of the moon revolving around the earth. Full moon signifies Kapha season.
The gravitational influence of the moon on the waters of the earth. When the tide is high, it is Vata time.
Above all, we should never forget that the environment is our extended body and that nature has already provided everything we need in the appropriate place and at the appropriate time in order to sustain us. The more we are in tune with natural internal and external rhythms, the more we can accept and metabolize the nourishment that is so readily available.
Seasons vary according to the geographical Locations.
Spring Time Recipe:
Spinach and Dahl Subji
½ cup split yellow mung dahl
6 cups spinach washed and chopped
2 cups water
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1 teaspoon cumin seed or ½ teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1 pinch of hing (asefoitida)
1 small green chili or ¼ teaspoon cayenne (optional)
1 pinch of salt (rock salt or mineral salt)
Wash and soak the dahl a few hours or overnight. Strain, rinse, and put in a pot with water and bring to a boil, skimming off the foam as it develops. When the foam stops, add the spinach. Cook, uncovered until tender and a creamy mixture, about 30 minutes, stirring often.
In another pan, heat the oil, add the cumin, mustard, hing, chili or cayenne, if using, and cook until the seeds pop. Pour this mixture into the dahl and spinach, add salt to taste, stir in and bring to a boil, then turn off the flame.
*For Vata, serve this with Basmati Rice cooked in ghee with hing, for Pitta omit the hing and add chopped ciltantro, and for Kapha with millet or quinoa cooked with hing and a few cloves.