The Ayurvedic calendar divides the year into six distinct seasons, each lasting two months. For each season, the Acharyas have provided clear, detailed modifications to diet, lifestyle, and exercise to help us stay healthy, both mentally and physically, throughout the year.
These rules, known as Ritucharya guidelines are to be applied by us along with the general Dinacharya (daily) guidelines, which remain constant throughout the year.
For those new to Ritucharya, naturally certain doubts arise
– Is it very difficult to apply Ritucharya principles ?
– Do these ancient guidelines work for us even today ? In diverse situations ?
To address some of these questions, we interviewed Sukanya Iyer, Ph.D. She discusses how she discovered Ayurvedic wisdom & how her family benefited from Ayurvedic Dinacharya and Ritucharya.
1. First, could you introduce yourself and describe your family’s daily routine?
I am a Molecular biologist and work as a Scientist at a Medical School in the United States. My work centers on developing gene therapies for different classes of muscular dystrophy.
At home, my two children aged 5 and 2 years, respectively keep me on my toes. Like any family with small children, we are usually pressed for time and energy. But we still follow Ayurvedic Dinacharya to conduct our daily routine and I believe it has been vital to improving our general well-being. We try to wake up before or around sunrise, prioritize morning baths as opposed to evening baths (as is the usual practice in the west), do abhyanga at least once a week, and eat freshly cooked foods.
2. What drew you to explore Ayurvedic Ritucharya?
My initial and what I now understand to be largely flawed understanding of Ayurveda was limited to it being a “simple” medical system that provided “home remedies” or as we say in Tamizh “kai vaidyam” for small ailments, aches and pains.
All of that changed when I found my then 6-month-old son battling severe eczema and food allergies. After exhausting all other options, I finally turned to Ayurveda to help him with his skin and digestive issues. The impact of following the pathya (correct) diet, ayurvedic skincare routine, and Ayurvedic medication was so thorough and transformative that I was motivated to follow Ayurvedic Dinacharya recommendations for myself. Exploring Ritucharya was just a natural extension of my journey into Ayurveda and reap its benefits for ensuring health and well-being of my family.
3. Before implementing Hemanta Ritucharya, what kind of issues did you face, and what concerns did you have in winter?
Cold, cough, and fevers have been our constant companions in the cold winters. Kids would have constant runny noses, and all of us would have dry and slightly cracked skin and dry brittle hair. Winters also would mean having difficulty waking up early in the morning, general morning stiffness and a tendency to hibernate through the day
4. How has life changed after implementing Hemanta Ritucharya Guidelines?
Incidents of cold, cough and fevers have significantly come down. A Sniffly nose doesn’t automatically devolve into a full blown cold or flu. Our skins are well moisturized, and typically need to be moisturized just one more, if that, even in this very cold Boston winters. I have been able to wake up early in the morning. I am busy and up on my feet all day and wind down for the evening around 9pm.
But perhaps the biggest change has been in my outlook to the season. Earlier I used to dread the biting cold temperatures and short days that this season brings. While it’s a bit of a stretch to say that this Chennai girl now loves frigid Boston winters but I can safely say that I appreciate the health-giving aspects of this season. Knowing that any health practice incorporated in this season, whether it is exercise and abhyanga, can go a long way in ensuring good health for rest of the year is at least of (some) comfort! An added bonus is the ayurvedic sanction to include some heavy-to-digest treats like carrot halwa, thick set curd (as opposed to churned buttermilk) in my meals, that I mostly avoid rest of the year but now look forward to savoring this season.
5. What do you specifically do in Hemanta, and how is it different from your routine in the earlier season?
A Layers: In past years, we would simply crank up the thermostat temperature to 75 F and wear clothes more appropriate for a vacation in the Bahamas! Now, we keep the thermostat at 66-68 F and wear socks and sweaters even at home. My Vaidya was especially insistent on minimizing the use of heaters during winters.
B.Chyavanprash: I started having Chyawanprash first thing in the morning, followed 30-45 minutes later by boiled raw milk spiced with turmeric. In earlier seasons, I would start my day with just milk or tea and did not eat Chyavanprash.
C.Nuts and dry fruits: We eat more nuts and dry fruits this season, something I keep to a minimum rest of the year. I especially love laddoos made out of dates, figs, raisins mixed with ghee, roasted almonds, and cashews for this season. I find it very nourishing, especially in the evenings.
D.Boiled water for drinking: I keep two insulated flasks filled with well-boiled water and add Hemanta-specific herbs. Some days it is boiled to 75% of its original volume – some days I boil for about 20 minutes or so. I consume warm water almost all year round, but I boil the water a little extra for Hemanta.
E.Abhyanga: they subsided before starting my abhyanga routine. But I briskly massage abhyanga oil prior to my bath. This takes just as long as applying moisturizer after a bath, but the skin feels supple and moisturized without feeling greasy and clean even after a bath. I also add tulsi leaves kashayam (extract) to kids’ bathwater & our baths are followed with a generous application of Rasanadi choornam. In the warmer months, I add neem and Amla to the bathwater mostly, for my son – this really helps soothe his skin.
F.Meal ingredients: I have also started incorporating heavy-to digest beans like kala chana and Rajma occasionally for lunches in the Hemanta season and incorporate root vegetables like Beets .
H.Nasya: While Nasya is recommended throughout the year, I especially find it beneficial at this time of the year and take care to regularly incorporate this in the morning after my bath.
6. For someone new to Ritucharya, what would your tips be? Where should they start?
Ritucharya guidelines are a product of sophisticated medical system that not only prescribes practices that keeps diseases at bay but also can help us strengthen the body in ways that are in sync with characteristics of each season. Regardless of our age, body constitution and health condition, all the members of my household have benefited from following ayurvedic dinacharya and ritucharya practices. Couple of things have helped us in adopting Ritucharya as part of our lifestyle:
A. Small, Gradual but sustained practice -Acharyas suggest gradual transitions into different seasons but consistency of routines once you are in the thick of it. My own journey into adopting ayurvedic Ritucharya mirrors these principles. I started by incorporating small, gradual yet consistent Ritucharya practices that fit within my lifestyle. I started getting in the habit of drinking warm boiled water and including small amounts of melted ghee in my diet. One could adopt the practice of oiling and brisk massage before your bath instead of using a synthetic moisturizer after it. Small steps help with not getting overwhelmed by the Ritucharya guidelines.
B. Routine and system that helps with accommodating Ritucharya practices: Organization and planning are not my forte and it continues to be a work in progress! With the help of my highly organized husband though, I am learning to have a system in place that helps us accommodate ritucharya guidelines. For instance, we invested in small totes that keep all the bath oils and associated choornams and cups in one place. We use a water-based bottle warmer to melt the oils which can be solid even during summer months! I still have lapses and these items still develop feet and walk off to new and interesting places in my house. But having a system it has helped me to follow a routine and therefore been vital to following Ritucharya practices.
Give it a chance! Ultimately though, sticking to and expanding on these practices to reap the full benefits of Ritucharya depends on having shraddha (sincere faith) in the practice and deeper awareness of your body’s response changes in routine. My shraddha in the wisdom and validity of Ayurveda are rooted in my son’s recovery from eczema. For children, especially ones like such as my son with weak digestion and resulting skin issues, the impact of Ayurvedic based lifestyle decisions is dramatic and obvious. The improvement in his skin health and immunity without the aid of topical steroids and antihistamine medication convinced even the most skeptical family members about the benefits of ayurvedic practices like abhyanga and head oiling. But benefits for people such as myself are much more gradual and subtle. For instance, it took me some time to appreciate the feeling of being “sated” after a good season-appropriate meal as opposed to heavy/drowsy. I also understood that frequent colds and fevers are common but not normal. I find that many of these changes take time to manifest in terms of tangible health benefits and require sustained practice. But ever since the adoption of Dinacharya and Ritucharya practices, I have seen a perceptible improvement in physical and mental well-being of all the members of my family. All of this provides positive reinforcement for sticking to these season guidelines and learning more about ancient and yet timeless ayurvedic wisdom.
The krya team is grateful to Sukanya Iyer, Ph.D. for this interview. She has been using krya products for herself and her family for many years now and is also deeply committed to studying and applying Ayurvedic wisdom in her life.