What is Ritucharya?
Ever notice how each season influences you to dress, eat, or do different things? In summer, you’re likely to crave juicy fruits and chilled beverages and wear loose, breathable clothing. In winter, you’ll be pulling out warmer clothes and reaching for hot beverages.
‘Ritu’ means ‘season’ and ‘charya’ means ‘regime’. According to Ayurveda, the principles of system of Ritucharya (or Rutucharya) essentially advocate living one’s life according to the flow of the seasons. The energies of nature change according to the seasons, for example, trees flower in spring while they shed leaves in autumn. As human beings are also part of the ecosystem, our bodies are affected by these environmental changes. If we don’t adapt to these specific changes, we will become prone to lifestyle disorders. This is Ayurvedic wisdom which works in favour of preventive medicine as a seasonal system of holistic health.
The Cycle of the Seasons
The year is comprised on six ritus or seasons. Each season lasts for two months, namely, Shishira (winter), Vasanta (spring), Grishma (summer), Varsha (monsoon), Sharata (autumn) and Hemanta (late autumn).
It is important to remember that these are the seasons that are predominant in the Indian subcontinent. These may vary slightly according to your location.
Regimen throughout the Year
General description: Winter lasts from mid-January to mid-March. At this time, it is cold and cold winds blow. The Tikta (bitter) rasa and the Akasha (Ether) mahabhuta are predominant in this season. Strength of the body tends to lessen due to the increase of Kapha dosha. The cold winds make the digestive fire or agni burn brighter. Make sure that this fire gets enough fuel or it will burn up the body, while the cold will cause Vata dosha to increase.
Diet: Sweet, salty and sour are the tastes that are preferred in this season. Cereals, pulses, new rice, corn and milk products are advised. Warming spices like ginger, garlic and long pepper, sugarcane (juice and jaggery), and oily, heavy foods such as animal fats are advised.
Bitter, astringent and pungent are to be avoided during this time of the year. Laghu (light) and Shita (cold) foods can aggravate Vata dosha and are to be prohibited from diet.
Lifestyle: Do abhyanga or self-massage with warming oil/powder/paste, bathe with lukewarm water, exposure to Sun and wear warm clothes. Avoid Vata-aggravating habits such as exposure to cold winds, drinking cooling drinks, sleeping late at night and walking outdoors.
General description: This season lasts from mid-March to mid-May (approximately). This is the time when Nature renews Herself – new leaves and fresh flowers. The Kashaya (astringent) rasa, Prithvi (Earth) and Vayu (Air) mahabhutas are predominant at this time of the year. The strength of the body is medium, and the Kapha dosha accumulated in the body due to starts to melt. The vitiation of Kapha dampens the digestive agni and causes many diseases.
Diet: One should eat light foods that are easy to digest. Among cereals, old barley, wheat, rice, etc. are preferable. Among pulses, lentil, Mugda, etc. are ideal. Bitter, pungent and astringent tastes should be consumed now. Honey should be added to the diet. Dry meats such as those of Shahsa (rabbit) are easily digestible and can be taken now.
Hard to digest foods along with those which are Sheeta (cold), Snigdha (viscous), Guru (heavy), Amla (sour), Madhura (sweet) are best avoided. Ghee, curd, cold drinks and new grains are in the prohibited list for this season.
Lifestyle: One should bathe with warm water, exercise, massage with cooling herbs such as sandalwood powder, agaru powder, etc. and perform detox measures such as Vamana and Nasya. Sleeping during the day is strictly prohibited at this time of the year.
General description: Grishma (summer) season lasts from mid-May to mid-July. This a time of intense heat and hot winds that are very unhealthy. Rivers dry up and vegetation becomes lifeless. The Katu (pungent) rasa and Agni (Fire) and Vayu (Air) mahabhutas are predominant in this season. Strength of the body decreases, Pitta and Vata doshas increase in the body while Kapha dosha is pacified. Digestive power continues to remain in mild state.
Diet: Foods that are easy to digest and light are best at this time. Madhura (sweet), Snigdha (unctuous) and Sheeta (cold) foods are to be consumed now. One should drink plenty of Drava (liquid) in the form of fruit juices, soups, broths, coconut water, cold water, buttermilk, churned curd with pepper. At bedtime, drink a cup of milk with sugar candy.
Foods with pungent, sour and salty tastes should be avoided. One should also keep away from warm foods.
Lifestyle: One should stay in cool places and apply sandalwood and cooling pastes to the body. Adorn the body with flowers, wear light dresses made of cotton. Sleeping during the day and avoiding rigorous work/exercise can be help restore health. During the night, one can benefit from the soothing moonrays with gentle breeze. Indulging in too much sex and alcohol can be harmful to health.
General description: Varsha Ritu lasts from mid-July to mid-September. During this season, the sky is cloudy and it rains. All the water bodies are overflowing and the Amla (sour) rasa, and Prithvi (Earth) and Agni (Fire) mahabhutas are predominant. The strength of the body decreases, Vata dosha starts to become prominent as Pitta dosha is slowly accumulated. The digestive agni is also dampened by the waters.
Diet: Sour, salty and oily (unctuous) foods are best for this time. Among cereals, one should consume old barley, rice, wheat, etc. Meat soup, Yusha (soup), etc. are ideal to provide warmth to the body. As waterborne diseases are prevalent now, it is advised to take medicated or boiled water.
One must consume churned preparations that are high in water content. Vata-oriented foods are drying and best for this season. At this time, one must not consume foods that are heavy and hard to digest, like meat, etc.
Lifestyle: Only use boiled water for bath to avid skin infections. Massage the body with warm oil after bath. Evacuative measures such as medicated basti (enema) is prescribed.
Actions to avoid are getting wet in the rain, sexual indulgence, heavy exercise and sleeping during the day.
General description: Mid-September to mid-November is considered as Sharat Ritu (autumn). At this time, the earth (mud) is moist and the Sun shines brightly in a clear sky which may sometimes have white clouds. The Lavana (salty) rasa, and Apa (Water) and Agni (Fire) mahabhutas are predominant during this time. Strength returns to medium, while the Pitta dosha accumulated in the rains starts to melt in the Sun. Digestive agni starts to get rekindled.
Diet: Sweet, bitter and astringent are the tastes to favour during this season. Foods that are cold and light to digest are best during this part of the year. Pitta-pacifying foods should be consumed now. Wheat, green gram, sugar candy, honey, Patola (Trichosanthes diocia), flesh of animals of dry land (Jangala Mamsa) are great dietary choices for this season.
Avoid hot, salty and sour foods as well as foods that are oily and heavy. One should avoid overeating, eating fish and sleeping during the day during this period.
Lifestyle: Only eat when you feel hungry. Purify the water you drink by placing in the Sun and the water used for bathing should be placed under moonlight. Wear flowers and apply cooling pastes such as sandalwood to the body. Balance your doshas by soaking in the moonlight during the first 3 hours of the night. Detoxing procedures such as Virechana (purging), Rakta-Mokshana (bloodletting), etc. are ideal now.
Sleeping during the day, overexposure to sunlight are best avoided.
Hemanta (Late Autumn)
General description: The Hemanta (late autumn) Ritu lasts from mid-November to mid-January. Cold winds start to blow and one can feel a chill in the air. The Madhura (sweet) rasa, and Prithvi (Earth) and Apa (Water) mahabhutas are predominant at this time of the year. A person is at their peak strength at this time and Pitta dosha starts to get pacified. Agni is increased now.
Diet: Consume unctuous, sweet, sour and salty foods. Among cereals and pulses, new rice, flour preparations, green gram, Masha, etc., are ideal. Warming foods such as various meats, fats, milk and milk products, sugarcane products, Shidhu (fermented preparations), Tila (sesame) are to be included in this seasonal diet for complete wellness.
Vata-aggravating foods such as those with light, cold and dry properties should be avoided. Cold drinks should not be consumed in this season.
Lifestyle: Exercise, massage, use of warm water, sunbathing, application of Agaru on body, heavy clothing, sexual indulgence and residing in warm places is recommended.
Exposure to strong and cold wind and sleeping during the day are to be avoided.