The seasons, the time of day, and one’s age are also forces affecting the balance of the doshas. From birth to the teen years, the predominant dosha is kapha. It governs growth. The most obvious manifestation of this is the tendency for frequent colds and runny noses we see in young children. From the teens to the sixties, pitta tends to predominate. Later, there is a tendency toward vata disorders such as arthritis, dryness of skin, tremors, emaciation, and memory loss. As we get older, no matter what our constitution, we need to shift our diet and life style to adjust for the increasing power of the vata dosha on the body-mind complex.
In the daily cycle, kapha forces predominate in all of us from sunrise until 10 A.M. Because of this, those with a strong kapha constitution are most easily thrown into imbalance at this time and do well to avoid dairy products in the morning, eating a light breakfast or none at all. From 10 A.M. to 2 P.M., pitta predominates. This is a very good time to eat, especially for kapha people. However, on a hot day those with a pitta derangement or constitution should eat lightly because pitta is aggravated around noon, when the sun is hottest. From 2 P.M. until sunset, vata predominates. Vata imbalances are often experienced as fatigue and bloating in the late afternoon. Kapha again begins to predominate from sunset to 10 P.M. Because of this, it is better for everyone, and particularly kapha people, to eat about one hour before sunset. If we eat too late, the decreased digestive fire associated with kapha may not be enough to digest food sufficiently. The result is an immediate toxic buildup, which may result in disturbed sleep and difficulty arising early in the morning to meditate. Pitta becomes active between 10 P.M. and 2 A.M., and vata predominates from 2 A.M. until sunrise. Vata creates movement and lightness, and helps to wake people up. This is also a good time to meditate.
The cycle of each season has the potential to aggravate a particular dosha. By being conscious of the seasonal shifts of dosha energies, we are able to shift our diets to maintain balanced doshas. This healthy practice of eating with the seasons is not unique to Ayurveda. Elson Haas, M.D., in his book Staying Healthy with the Seasons, has described this approach from a Chinese acupuncture point of view.3 On the equinoxes, September and March 21, and on the solstices, June and December 21, people are vulnerable to health imbalances. During these times, it is harmonious and a good preventive practice to eat lightly and make an extra effort to keep our lifestyles and doshas in balance.
The fall, September through November, is a time of winds. It is a time of decreasing temperature and preparation for winter. During this time vata has a tendency to aggravate. It is important to minimize our exposure to the wind and cold. We can begin to increase intake of foods that have more sweet, sour (acid), and salty tastes, and to increase our intake of rice, wheat, barley, oats, and oily foods.
In the damp cold of winter, kapha is the dosha most likely to aggravate. It is a time when mucus disorders such as colds, congestion, and bronchitis tend to emerge. It is a time to minimize fatty foods, dairy products, and foods with sweet, salty, or sour tastes. The exception to this is a moderate amount of raw honey, which decreases kapha. This is a time to eat more dry, bitter, pungent, hot, and astringent foods, to maintain an exercise program, and not to nap during the day. For example, as a predominant kapha constitution, the author has learned to stay away from cucumbers in the winter, which aggravate kapha, and lean toward vegetables and greens like carrots, dill, radish, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, and spinach, which all decrease kapha.
In the early spring, the Ayurvedic teachings describe kapha as becoming liquefied. This is another peak aggravation time for kapha. As a physician, the author has noted a sudden upsurge in kapha disorders such as colds, flus, and bronchitis during this time. This is an excellent time to fast. Fasting, which balances kapha, allows us to clean out the winter kapha build-up, rather than have it clean us out by a kapha aggravation. It is an important time to eat lightly and begin to shift to more fruits, vegetables, and other live foods. The kapha balancing program is still best to follow during this time.
In late spring and summer, as the sun begins to heat and dry the land and our bodies, is the time of pitta aggravation. We see heat rashes, sunburn, burning feet, rashes, heart palpitations, swollen feet, and mental irritability. Sweet, cool liquids, and foods like watermelon are excellent at this time. Foods with sweet, astringent, and bitter tastes help to balance the doshas. Salty, sour, pungent, and hot foods should be minimized. The highest percentage of the diet should be live food, with a particular emphasis on fruits. Cold baths, minimizing direct sunlight from 10 A.M. to 2 P.M., and avoiding excessive physical exertion help to minimize a pitta aggravation.
No Single Diet for Everyone
The descriptive science of the doshas illustrates an essential point about nutrition: There is no single diet for everyone at any one time, nor a constant diet throughout the year for a single person. Kapha constitution people will be aggravated by a diet high in brown rice and salt. Vata people become grounded with brown rice and salty foods. Some vata people can tolerate a little dairy, while a kapha person may become congested from it. There are a few foods that all would do well to avoid. For example, it is best to avoid concentrated processed sweets like white sugar, which are clearly poisonous to the body and mind. Those with a pitta constitution are aggravated by raw honey. However, those with a kapha constitution are balanced by raw honey. For a long period of time, the author avoided all sweets, including honey. In 1984, in the morning, when kapha has a tendency to aggravate, the author occasionally added a half teaspoon of raw honey as an experiment and felt a subtle positive difference. However, because of his teachings of the Rainbow Green Live-Food Cuisine, he does not recommend the regular use of honey to balance kapha, nor does he use honey anymore.
The art of food selection is to become sensitive to the foods that help maintain a dosha balance between our inner constitutional dosha tendencies and the environmental and cyclic effects of Nature on the doshas. What is presented here are single dosha archetypes. In reality, we are a mixture of all three doshas. Sometimes a single dosha predominates, while at other times two doshas are jointly more active, with one slightly stronger than the other. For example, the author is kapha-pitta. Sometimes all three doshas are of equal strength; this is spoken of as being tridosha. In any case, no matter what the combination, we are all affected by cyclic changes and need to pay intelligent attention.
To achieve an optimum diet for our spiritual life, we must be attuned to our own constitutional, diurnal, seasonal, and practical work needs. It requires creating a harmony between our inner needs and the external play of Nature. It means not giving up our intuition and power to “this is the answer” diet fads, computer diet programs, any diet system that claims to be the only way to health, or even Ayurvedic lists of the right foods for our doshas. No single system, including Ayurveda, is 100% accurate.