The leaves have changed colour in Melbourne and we definitely feel the chill in the air at the moment. The sun is setting at 5:30 these days and I can't remember the last time I wore my sandals. Autumn is definitely here.
In Ayurveda, autumn is the time of Vata. This is when the elements of air and space are the most dominant. Nature has an amazing way of constantly balancing, so the cold and dry air of autumn is clearing out the heat and humidity of summer. Isn't it incredible to realise that nature always finds a way to bring balance? So, isn't it wise to follow nature's cues if we wish to bring balance to ourselves? I think so!
Here are a few things that I am doing to balance the dry and mobile time of autumn to prepare for the cold and wet season of winter:
I am making a new body oil that is more grounding and nurturing for me. I used to use cold-pressed, black sesame oil to oil my body, but it was too heavy for me and it made my towels smell bad, so I eventually stopped doing it. In the last 4 months, I have resumed oiling my body, but this time, with sweet almond oil. It is much lighter than black sesame and I am definitely receiving the benefits again of regular oil massage.
Oil is so nourishing for the body. It creates a protective barrier around the body as well as the energy system of the body. In Ayurveda, oiling the body is called Abhyanga. Here is a quote from one of the ancient texts, The Ashtanga Hridayam about Abhyanga, "Abhyanga should be resorted to daily, it wards off old age, exertion and aggravation of vata; bestows good vision, nourishment to the body, long life, good and strong, healthy skin."
I like to use different plants that I infuse in the oil for 4-6 weeks, after which I strain out the plants and am left with a beautiful oil that is made just for me.
Autumn time is a perfect time to start oiling the body because Vata time is dry and mobile. Oil deeply nourishes vata and the gentle act of touching your body in a rhythmic fashion is very calming for the erratic season that is autumn. Some plants that are wonderful to use in your body oil at this time of year are rosemary, lavender, calendula, mugwort, sage and cinnamon.
To make my autumn blend:
Fill a clean and dry glass jar with your dried plants of choice. I have used a handful of mugwort, a stick of cinnamon, a small handful of rosemary and a few dried sunflower petals from the summer.
Fill the jar with your oil of choice, making sure to cover all the air pockets between the oil. Leave about a centimetre of space at the top of the jar so that you are able to mix the contents.
Cover the jar with a lid and leave in a cool, dark place for 4-6 weeks.
Gently shake the jar once a week so that the oil can infuse and mingle with the plants.
When you are ready to use the oil, strain the oil through a sieve or muslin and put the plants on the earth. Store the oil in a glass container, away from direct sunlight.
Herbs and plants
I am going around my garden and harvesting and drying my herbs. Growing food in our own back yard has so many benefits. I have saved money and experienced the joy of nurturing life and watching it produce things that I can put in my body. Watching this process is addictive and I don't think I will ever grow tired of it. One thing that is fascinating is that food that grows during a particular season has particular microbiomes. The biomes in the soil change seasonally so that they can balance the seasonal effects on our bodies. So, by harvesting the food that is growing in my backyard, I am balancing the effects of the season and bringing more balance into my body. I am harvesting thyme, oregano, marjoram, rosemary and sage. I love that I am able to use these herbs in my cooking, even after the herbs have gone dormant for the winter.
I am also planting seeds and transplanting seedlings into my garden. I have become obsessed with growing my own food and enjoying the very steep learning curve that comes with it. I have always been a perennial gardener, but growing food is a whole new ball game. At the moment I am nurturing cabbage, bok choy, kale, broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts seedlings. And learning all about white cabbage moths and the damage they do! I have planted garlic and peas as well as dill and coriander. I am also experimenting with flower seeds. I feel blessed to live in a climate that allows me to continue to grow food throughout the colder months.
Change of diet
My body is definitely craving different food at the moment. I am still starting my day with my berry smoothie but the rest of my days are all about soups and stews. I am eating more cauliflower, kale, broccoli, avocados, pomegranates, onions, garlic and ginger. And potatoes, I cannot live without my beloved potatoes! Every season I update the spices that I use. I am using lots of rosemary, sage, mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds. I am definitely craving more grains - brown rice and quinoa are what I am enjoying as I find these very grounding.
I love to update my Ayurvedic spice mix every season. I love the ones by Kate O'Donnell. Here is my version of her autumn spice mix:
In a clean jar, combine:
2 Tbs of coriander powder 2 Tbs of cumin powder 4 Tsp of fennel powder 2 Tbs of turmeric powder 1 Tbs of ginger powder 1 Tsp of cinnamon powder
I use the mix in most of my cooking, as the balance of the spices is nourishing and balancing for the particular season they are designed for. I like to sprinkle it on my vegetables before roasting them, or adding it to my onions when preparing them for a stew or curry. I generally use 1 - 2 teaspoons at a time. This mix is very gentle and I look forward to the new flavours I create at the beginning of every season.
Time in nature
As the temperature drops, my first instinct is to hide out indoors. But what I am finding is that being in nature is incredibly grounding and healing at this time. Nature is so beautiful right now. The leaves are turning to new colours every day. I find that I am looking forward to seeing how much the trees have changed every time I go for a walk outside. Connecting to the rhythm of nature is also incredibly soothing to the nervous system. The air is crisp and when the sun shines, my spirit does as well. I have made time to be outside enough to know the benefits, so even when I am feeling cold and wanting to curl up on the couch, I take myself outside.
A brisk walk is also very efficient when it comes to warming up the body. The early sunsets are also reminding me that we should be eating our dinner earlier and since the sun is rising later, I am waking up in the dark. Waking up before sunrise is very beneficial for our health and wellbeing and I am enjoying this sacred quiet time before the world wakes up.
And that is my autumn at the moment - busy and reflective at the same time. I wonder what your autumn is like? I wonder what rituals you have that are unique to this time of year for you? Please share, I would love to know.