What your body needs this fall (besides pumpkin spice)

Has autumn weather found you yet?

If Instagram is any indication, the entire Western world is blissfully sipping on spiced apple cider while crunching through the leaves in cozy knitted cardigans and knee-high boots, basking in the still-warm-yet-crisp fall sunlight on their way to the farmer’s market or pumpkin patch or even a college football game.

It’s not just the dewy pictures of Instagram and Pinterest that are making me long for the idyllic traditions of fall. Autumn is a transitional season — a season of change, and not just for the natural world but for humans as well. Instinctively our bodies know this and prompt us to prepare for the coming cold months ahead.

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According to Ayurvedic tradition, fall is a time to change our daily routines and our diets to keep in harmony with the environmental changes all around us. Ayurveda is an ancient science based on elemental principles that pertain to life on earth, according to Balance & Bliss Ayurvedic Center in Tampa, Florida. “As the external environment changes during the vata (or fall) season, your internal environment can experience the same type of changes; dry leaves, dry skin; crackly leaves, crackly joints; shorter days, shorter attention span; colder days, colder extremities, windy days, windy bowels. … By observing the processes of Mother Nature, you can better understand the processes of your body, mind and spirit.”

To keep from being overcome by the negative effects of autumn, it’s important to strive for a sense of balance this time of year. This is done “by emphasizing lifestyle and food choices that are grounding, stabilizing, warming, moisturizing and softening,” according to Balance & Bliss. “You can stay calm and connected in this whirlwind season with a consistent practice that includes nourishing and protective measures.”

In addition, these protective measures can not only keep you calm and happy but healthy as well. “By living in tune with the natural laws of the season,” according to MAPI.com, “we can maintain a sense of balance, and we will be able to build a stronger natural immunity against the bugs that tend to attack during colder weather.”

Turns out there really may be something deeper to this pumpkin spice craze after all.

Whether or not you’re enjoying a nip in the air or still sweating away in the last of the summer sun, here’s what you need to know to prepare your body for the impending autumn and winter months.

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Warm your body from the inside out

When the temperatures start to drop, our bodies take note and begin the work of compensating for the loss. The cold-to-the-bone feeling we get in cooler weather has to do with changes in circulation that happen with the seasons. “When the outside temperature drops, your body protects itself from heat loss by reducing blood flow to your skin, arms and legs,” according to JoyfulBelly.com. The trees follow a similar pattern, pulling their sap to their roots and letting their leaves wither and fall.

So go ahead, bust out those boots and fuzzy socks this season — but don’t neglect your trunk. A warm sweater or vest to heat your core will do more for the whole body than treating trouble spots, like an extra pair of socks to cure cold feet. And it’s better to be preemptive than reactive: “Once pathological cold has penetrated our system, hot baths may be the only way to restore circulation,” says JoyfulBelly.com.

Still, the best way to warm your body isn’t with a chunky sweater, but from warm, nourishing foods. “Nourishing foods, especially soups, seem all the more enticing while offering the added benefits of refortifying deficient tissue and thickening the skin, thus insulating your body from the cold,” according to JoyfulBelly. “Nourishing foods for autumn include root vegetables such as carrots and beets and hard winter squash like pumpkins and butternut squash as well as ghee and almonds.” Speaking of which…

Don’t ignore your cravings

As much of your body’s blood moves from the skin to the core, your stomach gains access to it and, in response, begs to be fed. The result: cravings for filling, starchy foods. While the diet industry has conditioned us to fear or reject our cravings — especially the ones for carbs — it’s always a good idea to listen to your body and fulfill its needs. Ayurveda teachings recommend passing on cold foods like sandwiches, salads, and cry cereals with cold milk and instead choosing the following foods for autumn:

  • Grains like rice and wheat products like pasta, bulgur, and couscous
  • Well-cooked vegetables like beets, carrots, asparagus, sweet potatoes, and squash
  • Nuts and seeds such as cashews, almonds, pistachios, and sesame seeds
  • Sweet juicy fruits like lemons and cooked apples
  • Cooking fats like olive oil and ghee

A good rule of thumb when selecting foods for fall: Go with what’s in season. Mother Nature will never steer you wrong. See the Healthy Little Changes Recipes page for meal ideas this season, like butternut apple soup and slow cooker vegan chili.

Relax and get cozy

You officially have my permission to curl up on the couch and binge-watch your favorite shows. (Not that you need it.) Due to those changes in blood flow, our muscles begin to be fatigued this time of year. Combined with the fewer hours of sunlight, suddenly nothing sounds better than an evening in with your favorite movie and your softest blanket. If this is what your body is telling you, then listen up. “Wearing oneself ragged in October’s social calendar could result in compromised immunity for flu season come November,” according to JoyfulBelly.com. “Alternatively, relaxation and downtime free up energy to help the body prepare for winter.” So don’t feel lazy for, well, being lazy. Consider it an important investment in your health.

Be open to inspiration

Ayurvedic wisdom tells us that autumn is a time for inspiration and new ideas. This is in large part attributed to, again, that change in circulation, as the flow of blood away from the extremities leads it toward the brain. But not all of the ideas that flow are inspiring. In addition, the beginning of the school season and upcoming holidays give us reminders of the past, turning our thoughts inward, and sudden temperature shifts and seasonal winds can provoke higher levels of stress.

Different people are affected by autumn in different ways, according to Balance & Bliss: “Under the influence of vata’s ether and air contributions, you can feel light, carefree, and creative or spacey, scattered, and unstable. The etheric nature of vata creates a sense of space, in which you may feel free or lost. The airy aspect of vata can inspire productivity or promote anxiety.”

To keep from becoming overwhelmed and instead harness the creative aspect of the season, follow these Ayurvedic recommendations from Balance & Bliss:

  • Use warming and grounding herbs and spices like ashwagandha, ginger, cardamom, basil, cinnamon, hing, rosemary, nutmeg, or vanilla.
  • Follow a regular routine including scheduled times for self-care, meals and sleep. Balance activity with plenty of down time.
  • Soak in warm water that is infused with sweet and grounding essential oils like rose, sandalwood, patchouli, vanilla, or jatamamsi.
  • Enjoy physical activity that moves at a slow, smooth and steady pace and spend quiet time in nature walking, gardening, or canoeing. Be sure to dress for the weather.
  •  Allow for deep relaxation and meditation. Practice being mindful, creative visualization, yoga, and conscious breathing.

What’s your favorite way to soak up the season? Tell us in the comments or on Facebook.

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