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Transitions and cycles according to Ayurveda

Ever found that you feel much more tired after sleeping in, or you feel restless and unfocussed late afternoon? Perhaps at certain times of your period you feel more alive and compassionate compared to others when everyone feels incredibly irritating? Do you feel more motivated at work and social life during the summer or feel very down in the winter months? Perhaps you suffer from hayfever in the spring or become more anxious in the autumn? Have you recently experienced a shift in your mind or body as you have reached a new age in your life?

Ayurveda is a truly holistic science in the way that it sees everything in cycles and relationships with one another. In this blog piece I wish to explore these cycles and how they can help us relate and connect to the world around us, how they can deepen our intuition and nourish our bodies and minds. We owe our whole existence to these cycles, however because of our 9-5 lifestyles and cultural disconnect with nature, these natural shifts can feel more problematic and unexpected than nourishing, often leading to transitional health issues. If we can find ways to acknowledge and flow with these cycles then our body and mind has an easier time and it may result in a deeper understanding of ourselves and our place in the world.

There are numerous cycles of which we are a part of but I would like to talk about a few that take prime positions on our lives. However it is first important to note that the cycles affect us in different ways dependant on our prakruti (natural birth state) and/or vikruti (the state we are currently in). This is because with changing cycles different elements come in to the environment and our body in greater or lesser proportions therefore affecting the internal mix. If you are not familiar with the three dosha you can find a quick summary of them here. If you are not 100% sure what is going on for you in terms of the doshic system, it may become apparent when we look at these cycles so I encourage you to be aware of anything that you relate to.

The 12hour clock and the dosha:

The doshas and the elements they are made up of exist inside of us and all around us and throughout the day quantities of the elements shift and change. We can see this in their natural form; for example when the sun is at its highest the pitta dosha, predominant in fire, is also at its highest in the environment because the piece of earth we are on is receiving more heat. This will then heat up the body, encouraging the pitta dosha within us to flourish and grow. We can look at the 12 hour clock to understand when different doshas are more predominant in the atmosphere, however do be aware that throughout the year this might change slightly due to the seasonal cycles.

10 - 2 am and pm : Pitta dominant time

As stated above pitta enters the environment while the sun is at its highest. At 10am - 2pm the body can utilise this pitta energy to work and eat, as pitta resides in and governs the function of the logical brain and the digestive fire (agni). Between these times it is best to do the majority of our challenging work and to eat our biggest meal whilst the body is supported by pitta. This may be particularly supportive for kapha individuals who have a naturally low digestive fire and vata individuals who get distracted from this kind of work easily at other times of the day. However if you are naturally predominant in pitta dosha or you’re suffering from a pitta imbalance (inflammation, anger, irritability, impatience, pain, swelling, acid, burning, itchy eyes, IBS, acne) then you might want to stay out of the sunlight during these hours and go for some gentle and cooling activities/foods.

At 10pm - 2am pitta is dominant internally and this is vital in order to help fully digest the day and cleanse the system. However this only happens whilst sleeping; if we are awake during this time we may experience a 'second wind' and find it difficult to shut off, our digestion might also become active and encourage us to eat something. It is therefore best to go to sleep near or before 10pm so we can use this pitta energy to benefit us instead of disrupting our sleep and natural rhythm.

2 - 6 am and pm: Vata dominant time

During the daytime the air and ether elements which make up the vata dosha come in to play at around 2-6pm. Vata governs movement, creativity and communication so we can utilise this time of day to engage with these kinds of activities. The vata in the environment will support us with our creative work and will like us to dance, move and communicate with others. This might be particularly great for kapha dosha who can use this time to find movement motivation and for pitta who could use a nourishing break from their set routines and difficult work.

However, vata dominant or vata imbalance individuals might find this time more challenging and this extra vata may cause anxiety, agitation or uncertainty as the movement in the system becomes to much or too little or dominates a certain area. For these individuals it might be useful to do some calm, grounding and releasing activities such as restorative yoga forms, gentle walks in nature or a practical task with creativity involved such as baking or artwork. Releasing vata via speaking, singing or chanting can also be helpful as a lot of vata can build up in the throat chakra/udana vayu area.

In the nighttime whilst asleep between 2-6am vata helps us process our emotional and creative thoughts and at this time we may have most of our dreams (if you are dominant in vata this can even get too much sometimes!). If we awaken during these hours it may become very challenging to get back to sleep due to this vata energy and if we have a vata imbalance we might suffer from some anxiety/worry during this time. We can support our body by getting to bed during kapha time, which I will describe below, as this will help us sleep through the whole night. If we continue to wake, consider implementing some calming/grounding routines before bed such as a warm milk drink, a bath, switching off all devices and some meditation with deep sounds or chants. If you are still struggling there may be other dietary, herbal and lifestyle changes that could support you with the help of your local Ayurvedic practitioner.

6-10 am and pm: Kapha dominant time

From 6-10 in the morning if you have not yet got out of bed you may start to feel sluggish, unmotivated and more tired. This is particularly the case for those with predominant kapha dosha or imbalance, as this earth and water quality merge together in excess becoming sticky and static. If you feel like this, it might be great for you to get up a little earlier while there is still a some motivational vata energy in the environment, ready to move and start the day. It is also great for kapha individuals to exercise/move during these hours where possible in order to avoid the kapha build up which can cause lethargy and a lack of motivation through the rest of the day. When the kapha quality dominates the atmosphere, the cold and slow nature reduces our digestive capacity so if you have any trouble with slow digestion it might be supportive to wait until the pitta hours to eat.

Vata and pitta doshas can find this kapha time supportive if they utilise these qualities well. For vata and pitta the kapha quality might encourage some much needed rest and calmness and so this could be a good time of day to meditate, journal, take a massage, eat some food in a relaxed state of mind or go on a gentle walk. If we go straight into work during this time we can tire ourselves out easily by the end of the day and feel unstable, stressed and anxious having avoided the benefits of this nourishing quality.

From 6 till 10pm the kapha quality helps prepare the body for sleep and for all or us it is therefore best to wind down and sleep as near to this timeframe as possible in order to feel properly rested and drop off more easily. If we work or do activity late into the evening it is hard for the body to utilise this kapha quality and sleep may become more challenging. It is also best, particularly for kapha and vata dosha, to avoid having a huge meal at this time as the kapha quality is again causing a slow and cold nature, not supportive of the digestive fire. It is also better to eat in the early evening instead of later on when kapha is at its most dominant.

The seasons and the dosha

Along with the times of day it's essential to consider and become in tune with the seasonal variations in order to stay well and best utilise/work with our natural environment.

As we swing through the seasons we tend to stay with the same schedules and routines no matter what the outside world is doing. This can cause imbalance and distress in the mind and body, specially during the seasonal transitions. For example there is little wonder that so many of us experience things like 'seasonal affective disorder' in the winter months when we have little time in our day to get out in the sunlight and still are expected to work long hours into the darkness whilst the natural world is at rest.

Ayurveda can help us navigate and understand these transitions through acknowledgement of the predominant elements at play during each new phase. It can also help us understand our personal doshic relationship with different seasons and how that plays out in our lives. For example, as a predominant vata dosha I feel really connected to the autumn as it shares my doshic quality but it can also cause imbalance for me easily especially in the strong winds. On the other hand I generally feel happy, relaxed and balanced in the summer due to the warm quality, nourishing my naturally cold dosha. I will speak about these doshic connections according to the European seasons but this will of course vary around the world:

Summer: Pitta dominant

During the summer while the sun is at its hottest, pitta (fire and water) is predominant in the atmosphere. During this time of year our bodies are benefiting from a greater quantity of pitta energy which resides in the stomach, the brain, the skin, the eyes, the muscles and the blood. Pitta qualities include, sharp, light, hot, penetrating and oily. If we have a predominant kapha and/or vata dosha, the outside environment will be very supportive for us at this time, since both these dosha are cold in quality so the sunlight and pitta dosha help create balance for us. Getting out and about could provide mental clarity, improve motivation, cure certain ailments, improve mood, improve digestion and encourage and support external experiences such as our social and work lives.

Pitta dosha and those with pitta imbalances might find this time of year more challenging as pitta can build up and become excessive in our bodies. Too much time in the sun could therefore lead to pitta imbalances such as acne, rosacea, bile/sickness, acid reflux, stress, high blood pressure, liver disorders, headaches, UTIs, IBS, fungal infections, irritability, anger and impatience.

If you struggle with this time of year it might be supportive to focus on cooling activities and foods such as swimming, restorative yoga, walking in the evening or early morning, reducing screen use, being around gently, fun and caring friends, reducing competition, reducing consumption of red meat and fish, hard cheeses, tomatoes, chili, fermented foods, oily food, coffee, alcohol and anything with a salty, sour or pungent taste. Having sweet, astringent and bitter foods may be supportive along with a coriander seed infusion in the morning made with coconut water (1tbsp coriander seeds slightly crushed, soaked in coconut water/regular water overnight, strain and drink first thing).

Autumn: Vata dominant

As we move from summer to autumn, the temperature drops and the wind picks up. The vata dosha, made of air and ether gains dominance in the environment. During this time, vata can support us with creativity and adapting to other changes in our life with its light and mobile qualities. Vata is also dry, cold and rough so this can provide some relief for pitta imbalances who have struggled through the summer, and people experiencing this might feel really nourished by a walk in the cold winds. Kapha may be negatively affected by vata's cold quality which it shares with the kapha dosha, however vata’s dryness and mobility can help stop kapha build-ups occurring and keep motivation and energy up.

Vata governs all movement in the body and sits in the bones, colon/hip area, throat and ears. For vata dosha and imbalances this time of year can cause vata to become excess and/or create blockages in the movement channels between the tissues. Excess vata might come and sit in the vata sites and others causing things like wind/gas, dry skin/eczema, constipation, variable digestion, anxiety, overwhelm, coldness and lack of focus. If we continue our hectic schedules which may have been okay through the summer, autumn can feel like an overwhelming time as the vata qualities inhibit our concentration, reduce our stamina for work activities and encourage anxiety, confusion and exhaustion.

During this season, if these things sound familiar it might be supportive to focus on gently warming and grounding activities. If it's possible for us we might want to reduce our work load, taking more time to rest. We might feel supported by grounding yoga practises and walks in nature, wrapped up nice and warm. Drinking only warm drinks and cutting out all raw, cold and dry foods, replacing them with warm, wet soups, stews and curries with gently warming spices and flavours that support vata such as sweet, salty and sour could be beneficial. We might take this time to focus on fun and flexible activities that are creative and communicative, instilling in us a sense of freedom in order to utilise vata, helping us release excess from our system and channel it in a positive way.

Winter: Kapha dominant

Moving from the autumn to the winter we keep the cold quality but dry turns to wet and movement turns to stillness as vata is replaced by kapha in the atmosphere. The attributes of kapha include: soft, static, wet, cold, oily, heavy and unclulous. In our bodies kapha is present in all the fluid, in the plasma, skin, muscle, fat, reproductive tissue, mouth (saliva), nose and chest. It brings us stability (mind and body), nourishment, growth, strength, fertility and lubrication. At this time of year we can utilise these qualities to slow down, rebuild ourselves, eat big nourishing meals, rest, look inward and take time for nourishment, repair and reflection. 9-5 work schedules are likely to inhibit us from finding balance at this time, by suppressing the kapha qualities and ignoring these natural rhythms.

Ideally we all need a shorter work day during the winter, where we are able to go out and experience the morning energy giving sunlight, then turn off our computers by late afternoon as the body softens into the early darkness. Expecting too much of ourselves during this time can encourage self criticism and a low mood.

If you have kapha predominant dosha or a kapha imbalance you may connect with the winter but it can also be a particularly hard time as kapha comes into excess in the body. We can feel extremely tired and lethargic, we might get stuck in unsupportive habits and use foods as an emotional support. We might feel heavy and start accumulating mucus or water in our chest and joints. We might feel very cold, have a slower digestion and our bowels may become irregular. If this is your experience it could be extra supportive to go outside for exercise in the morning; faster paced yoga styles might also be great for warming the body and improving circulation. It may feel good to get up with the first sun avoiding the accumulation of kapha in the later morning. Avoiding too much sweet, salty and sour food, dairy products, heavy carbs, oily foods, bananas and peanuts may also be supportive so as not to encourage kapha via the digestion. Instead try astringent, pungent and bitter flavours, cooked vegetables and pulses, sticking to warm food and drink and having a lighter dinner, perhaps sticking to just two meals a day if this feels right, with some kind of fasting period.

Spring: Kapha/Pitta dominant

Spring is a time for shedding the gentle build up of kapha necessary to sustain us through the colder months. As the atmosphere warms up and sun comes out for longer, pitta starts to move into the atmosphere melting and removing kapha from the body. If we are in balance, this process happens quickly with little discomfort or aggravation. We may gradually gain more energy and motivation and spring can therefore be a wonderful time to make new plans and look at things from a fresh perspective. As nature wakes up around us it might feel right to spend more time outside but to also freshen up our own nests, revitalising the spaces that have kept us warm through the winter by cleaning, rearranging and redesigning.

If you are dominant in kapha or have imbalances in this dosha the new pitta quality might feel aggravating due to the buildup of kapha. If kapha has become excessive over winter the melting and removal of this may be more challenging and result in allergic reactions such as hayfever. When pitta meets kapha ama (undigested kapha substance, that can get stuck in tissues and channels-particularly kapha sites like the chest) the fire element evaporates liquids leaving a thick and sticky phlegm-like substance behind which the body then tries to expel. When we come into contact with pollen there can be an irritation of the mucus membrane and allergic reactions are triggered as our body tries to send this sticky substance out. Just like if we have a cold and then have a hot curry, mucus often melts and comes to the surface giving us a runny nose. However, unlike this scenario all the kapha substance build up over the winter is trying to get out, so this reaction can be ongoing throughout the whole of spring.

This time of year can affect those with pitta dosha too as they are more likely to react to the new pitta qualities in the environment and therefore they can also experience irritation which might show up in pitta dominant sites such as having itchy eyes and skin, headaches, hot flushes, acid reflux or IBS symptoms.

For kapha dosha it is important to keep your kapha pacifying lifestyle described in the winter section during this time in order reduce excess kapha in the body. However for both kapha and pitta it also becomes important to follow the summer guidelines for pitta imbalance to some degree in order to lessen this reaction. Using warming but not heating spices can help quickly remove the kapha without aggravating pitta, such as choosing a mix of ground coriander, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper and fenugreek whilst avoiding too much chilli, paprika or turmeric. Avoiding dairy products is a must during this time if you’re experiencing imbalance, as many of these provoke both pitta and kapha dosha as well as peanuts, cashews, bananas and high pitta substances like coffee, alcohol and tomatoes. Foods that are more supportive during the spring are things like cooked green vegetables, adding cooked garlic to meals and foods with bitter and astringent flavours.

Life cycle:

Through the different stages of our lives different dosha become more dominant in our bodies in order to guide us through and help with important processes.

Childhood: kapha dominant:

During our childhood we need more kapha dosha in order to grow as the kapha dosha makes up the majority of the bodies core building blocks such as skin, muscle and fat tissue. Our body utilises the earth and water element to replicate cells, repair damage and promote bodily and immune resilience. During childhood we might also experience kapha characteristics in other aspects of our nature, we might remember being more relaxed, joyful or calm as a child. We might have felt stronger in our bodies, had more energy and/or had softer skin.

If we have a kapha birth prakruti (state) there is a higher chance we may experience these qualities but we also were more likely to slide in to imbalance during childhood as some extra kapha is present in the system potentially tipping our kapha over the edge. If this was your experience you might have got asthma, colds or general congestion during this time. You may have experienced a slow metabolism, constipation and you may have struggled with tiredness, weight gain and lethargy. If a child is experiencing these things we can gently follow some of the advice for the kapha seasons, however children should not be restricted in the same way, so see them more as guidelines.

Teenager and young adults: pitta dominant

As we grow up and our hormones kick in, we start out the pitta phase of life, the pitta element comes into the body at this time to help us learn, get through challenging situations and to drive us forward to discover the kind of life we want to lead and enable us to engage with survival skills. This is a time to study, start new careers, push ourselves gently in a direction we are excited about and enjoy physical strength and stamina. In our pitta dominant society this excess pitta is reflected in the culture around us and we can find ourselves and others pushing too hard, experiencing burn out and struggling to fit in to the competitive system. For this reason this time in our lives can be particularly challenging and can create a pitta imbalance in many of us. We are more likely to experience pitta dominant health issues such as inflammatory disorders, chronic illness, bacterial infection, acne, rashes, hot sweats, headaches, stress, pain and irritability at this time.

If we are vata dominant the pitta during this time can aggravate vata too, the excess pitta can encourage dryness, tiredness, addiction, lack of regularity in our bodily systems and insecurities. As a kapha dominant dosha this time can feel fraught with judgement, expectation, cruelty and a general suppression and disvalue of kapha attributes such as caregiving, kindness, loyalty and authenticity. Although the strength of kapha, ambition of pitta and creativity of vata could lead to exciting opportunities when pitta characteristics are utilised correctly, it is important to note that this pitta dominant environment can cause imbalance for all of us specially in this pitta life phase.

It can be really supportive at this time to focus more heavily on understanding and connecting to the other cycles in our life that are mentioned above and below. If we keep an appropriate daily routine whenever we can, avoid too many high pitta substances and take lots of notice during the changing of the seasons and stages of our menstrual cycles then pitta can be managed well. By following these cyclical patterns we can break out of the rigid pitta dominant system and connect once more with changing world around us letting it nourish us with the other elements.

Post menopause and old age : vata dominant

During the menopause a lot of the pitta leaves the body and vata starts to gain dominance (this happens a little later for those in male bodies). We might notice that our bodies weaken slightly, we get more aches and pains and our joints may become stiff. Our skin may become a little drier at this time and we may experience some anxiety or forgetfulness. This is a natural process of ageing, as we have already utilised the kapha dosha in growing and repairing and the pitta dosha perhaps making a family, career and/or finding some kind of purpose. This is the time to reflect on the life we've had so far, find new joy in creative pursuits/hobbies and/or spend time with grandchildren/ younger family members, perhaps helping other adults who are still struggling with the stresses of pitta life.

If you are dominant vata dosha this time can be particularly challenging and you may be more likely to suffer with vata dominant degenerative conditions such as arthritis and dementia at an earlier stage. However for most people at this time, it may be supportive to follow some vata balancing routines such as self massage with warm sesame oil every day, warm baths and gentle stretching whilst consuming vata pacifying foods/drinks such as soft carbs, cooked vegetables, naturally sweet, sour and salty food and only warm liquids. If you have another imbalance it also may become more prominent at this time as it has not only had a whole lifetime to build up but when vata is imbalanced, circulation, digestion and movement in the bodily channels becomes compromised, thus leading to accumulation in the tissues. Therefore whatever your other imbalance is it may be helpful to also follow a vata balancing lifestyle.

Lunar cycles:

The cycles of the moon affect us all to some degree, however it’s easiest and perhaps most important to talk about this from the perspective of the menstrual cycle since this is the bodily cycle that is most clearly linked with this external force. The lunar energy connects with the water in our systems and particularly with the reproductive tissues which share the moons cooling and nourishing kapha quality.

According to Ayurveda we are most connected to the lunar cycles and nature when our bleed aligns with the new moon and our ovulation aligns with the full moon. When the moon is full it gives off more lunar energy which is cooling and building, supporting us with the healthy production of the egg. When the moon is at its smallest (during the new moon phase) there is less of this energy and it is therefore a good time to bleed, rest, look inward and cleanse the bodily systems ready for building a new egg the following month.

Although there is limited evidence linking current day women's cycles directly to the moon calendar this could easily be due to our disconnect from nature. As we have discussed above, most aspects of our modern lives disregard the natural cycles around us, it is no real wonder that our bodies struggle to sync up with the moon these days. However the very fact that our menstrual cycles last roughly the same length as the lunar cycles is telling. Perhaps notice if or when your menstrual cycle does align with the moon, is there any difference in how you feel?

I am going to talk through the phases of our menstrual cycles as these will be relevant whatever time of the month they are occurring. However bear in mind that these also describe the phases of the moon where ovulation is full moon and menstruation is new moon so regardless of your cycle you might also have these feelings at this phase of the moon in addition to your cycle.

Vata predominant phase : menstruation

From the start to the end of your bleed apana vayu (downward movement, governed by vata) is active in the body in order to move the thickened layer of blood out of the womb space. As this old blood leaves the body, this might feel like a good time to reflect and look inward.

At this time it may be necessary to slow down a little, reducing heavy vata activities such as any intense cardio and focus on more gentle movement like walking or restorative yoga with supportive props. It might feel good to have baths and take more time to sleep, not engaging in to many activities which require emotional or a lot of mental energy. If we have a vata imbalance we may struggle even more at this time and so should really take time to reflect on what we are going to need before the times comes around, looking after our future self at a time where we feel more capable. Vata related reproductive issues include lack of or irregular periods and polycystic ovary syndrome where the movement/apana vayu is imbalanced and so the eggs are being released before they have properly developed. For this a vata balancing lifestyle can greatly help along with advice and herbal medicine with the support of a practitioner.

Kapha predominant phase: follicular phase and ovulation

The kapha phase starts after menstruation and leads us up to the middle of the cycle where a fully developed egg is released from the ovaries and through the fallopian tube. During this phase our body uses the kapha dosha to grow and produce the egg, as we have more kapha in the body during this time we can experience associated feelings. We may feel more grounded, calm and secure in ourselves, kapha can also help us feel energised, strong and capable. With kaphas stability and vigour this might be a good time of the month to do more challenging tasks, take risks, put yourself out there and engage socially. The changes in our body we might expect at this time are also associated with the kapha dosha. When we have more kapha dosha we can see extra nourishment and growth in the fat tissue and reproductive organs such as the breasts. Kapha also sits in the skin so many of us tend towards softer, stronger and clearer skin during this time.

If you have a kapha imbalance this time might be more challenging for you, you might experience water retention, weight gain and painful swelling of the breasts. For you this time might bring a more lethargic quality and even some swelling in the womb space. Reproductive disorders associated with kapha imbalance are fibroids and cysts or build up in the breast tissue. Along with other kapha aggravating factors these could also be caused by emotional issues around birth, children or pressure to have a family whether it be coming from yourself or from others. Following kapha pacifying rituals described in some of the previous sections could feel supported at this time but addressing the emotional imbalance might take more work. As always if it feels too difficult to manage any of the symptoms alone find your local practitioner to assist you.

Pitta predominant phase: luteal phase:

From the release of the egg into the womb space to the next bleed we experience a rise of pitta in the body as the blood tissue builds up, creating a cushioning layer in the uterus ready for a fertilised egg to stick to, if it doesn't arrive, progesterone drops and the blood starts to release ready for menstruation.

The increased level of pitta and the progesterone hormone in the body might cause some high pitta associated symptoms especially if you have pitta prakriti or a pitta imbalance. These might include headaches, a feeling of hotness, anger, irritability, impatience, overwhelm, burn out/tiredness, pain, inflammation and high digestive fire (agni) causing irritable bowels. If this is you it is extra important at this time to adopt a pitta pacifying lifestyle and diet as mentioned in previous sections. If you are aware when this phase is coming it might be good to plan in more nourishing and relaxed activities without too much pressure or competition. It is also a good time to put supportive factors in place ready for your bleed and emotionally it could be a good time to reassess your needs and how they are being met.

Pitta related reproductive issues include extreme PMS symptoms and endometriosis where the pitta phase of the cycle had gone on too long and blood tissue similar to the lining of the uterus starts to build up in other sites such as the fallopian tube and the ovaries. This can be managed and removed by following a pitta pacifying lifestyle with the support of herbal medicine and an Ayurvedic practitioner.

In summary

Whatever we are going through, aligning ourselves or at least simply being aware of these natural cycles can help us, not only understand what is going on in our mind and body but also to address imbalances and look after our changing needs, putting plans in place to support these through each transition. It is impossible that our current routine and lifestyle will always be supportive and appropriate through the day, the month, the year or the time in our life and if we fail to be aware of and respond to inevitable shifts and changes when they come we can feel disempowered, blaming ourselves for not performing in the way we expect we should. Staying well in body and mind depends on these systems and by embracing them we embrace ourselves. Following these rhythms can be deeply restorative, energising and inspiring. By utilising these factors for our benefit and at the same time celebrating and becoming part of them we can come back home to ourselves, living lives of fulfilment and deep connection. If you need more help or advice regarding any of the above or an imbalance you are currently suffering with please don't hesitate to get in touch.


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