Ayurveda and the Seasons


By Durgadas, Veda Kovid, AYT
Ayu. Clin, Ayu. Pharm, AMPKT, AMBT, ALC

(c) Durgadas (Rodney) Lingham / Arogya Ayurvedic Health Ltd.
All Rights reserved.

No part of this article may be copied or reproduced in any manner, except by direct permission from the author.

While I am all for tradition, I also for logical Ayurveda and Vedic sciences as per the original and expanded systems of knowledge – not simply rigidly applying concepts out of context as is commonly done in the western world and of which Ayurveda, like the science of yoga, undergoing numerous evolutionary transformations, constantly allows as with any science, to be adapted by using it’s basic or core principles.

According to the traditional six-season model in India, vata accumulates in the summer-time and aggravates in the early rainy-season; pitta accumulates in the rainy or monsoon season and aggravates in the autumn and kapha accumulates in pre-winter and aggravates in the spring.

Today there are many that claim to use the classical six-season system of the classics of Ayurveda (introducing shishira or late-winter / cold season and varsha or rainy / monsoon season) and apply them to western and other environments. Yet, the reality is that that we cannot use the six-season model of Ayurveda as in India, as we don’t have six seasons! Moreover, the seasons also differ in the Northern and Southern hemisphere! Here in Australasia for example, we celebrate Christmas in the summer-time, not in the cool winter as in the Northern Hemisphere and hence the same regimens and times cannot be superimposed. India is also a tropical nation, whereas others are not and change accordingly. Even in India itself, climates vary considerably; the Ayurveda samhitas were themselves written in Northern India, which is quite different to the humid and tropical south. Charaka and Vagbhata were from western provinces in Gandhara and Sindh respectively – an area that is quite hot and arid in nature and Sushruta was from Varanasi region, which has much the same with a little difference being further east.

Moreover, these differ as per nation as per specific climates and cycles also, especially in relation to the North and South pole, which Ayurveda understands well with desha etc. which all of this also comes into.

The climates across the US alone can change quite dramatically, especially the South closer to the equator and the North which is closer to the North Pole! This reveals that different models are here required as seasons have different properties even on the North American continent, let alone between continents themselves and localised variations of weather patterns. Land-locked regions of the south are also different in the desert to those bordering coastlines etc.

Even ecologists today employ four-seasonal systems in temperate and sub-polar regions, but employ a six-season system for more temperate or tropical regions. Kerala, for example, has to be treated as a kind of “rainy season / monsoon” (varsha season) climate due to having the highest rainfall in India. Hence, such issues need to be addressed relative to these sciences, as such again doesn’t apply to the rest of the world – just as the consumption of turkey, chilies, potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkins, avocados etc. native to the Americas is suitable for those habitually used to other foodstuffs in their diets for thousands of years (as Europeans) – whereas such are anti-doted with spices to aid in their digestions in the Orient where they were introduced through trade in the past 400 years – what is known as satmya or suitability in Ayurveda, as per cultural and social norms in dietary, lifestyle and other habits that are not always the same. Not all nations eat curries or spiced foods as India does for example and thus may not be able to handle the hotter, more pungent spices (such as Indian long pepper, ginger and garlic) traditionally used in South Asia.

Here we must remember that regions nearer the equator will have different kinds of seasonal effects to those nearer the poles, especially relative to summer and winter. India as a more tropical climate has its system centered more upon this system which differs from many other nations here and thus such properties must be assessed in a more unique manner – just as one should differentiate between predominating doshic factors in a patient, as also their vayas (age) in which doshic predominating factors are high, as also relative to their ethnicity also, as such variations exist. Smaller eyes, for example, are not always a sign of a vata person, just as a larger nose is not a sign of a kapha person when it comes to race. India possesses various racial types from Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Australoid and Negrito. We have to allow for differences here, just as we do for seasonal changes and changes in climatic factors and properties relative to them.

Different properties for different seasons as per different areas where the doshas become provoked are:

Autumn: This season can be vata as dry, vata-pitta in nature as somewhat hot and dry or in some areas, more pitta in nature, that is sticky and hot, with some slight dryness and cooling or alternating between these (pitta-vata). Towards the latter part, kapha can sometimes develop in cooler Nordic-like climates as well. Autumn is like old-age where vata accumulates and aggravates, often in the digestive system (colon) becoming dry and causing issues to other bodily tissues (skin depletion, in the bones as arthritis etc.) and eating away at the dhatus (dhatu-kshaya). Here, rejuvenation therapies are useful, such as palliative brimhana – tonification.

Winter:  Winters can also be cold and dry (vata), cold, crisp or dry and also sometimes very wet and sticky (vata-kapha) or very cold and sticky alone which is kapha and provokes such. In many cooler regions, kapha can be quite provoked before entry into winter (late autumn). It is a good time to start having spicy, cooked foods and soups etc. that are easier to digest, rather than heavy foods and meats. 

Spring: Spring can start to warm up in some regions in the later-seasons and produce a more kapha-pitta type with humidity, a little heat and liquefaction of the kapha as well, while others are purely more vata-kapha, being more dry and cold in the early part (as with vata-type winters in some cool, dry snowy mountainous regions) and then more dense and kaphogenic in the latter-part with some dry spells or alternating as well (as some climates alternate between and require dual-dosha shamana). Spring reminds us of the balya or childhood-stage, where kapha aggravates in the body, due to growth, expansion and transformation where water-retention becomes an issue (excess ojas, growth of new teeth, tissues etc.).

Summer: Summer can also depend. Some regions in summer are vata-pitta, being dry and hot with no humidity, while others can be more pitta as hot and a little dense, with some being more pitta-kapha as very hot and humid at the same time, such as in tropical regions. Summer often relates to middle-age, where we have much tejas and aggression, agni etc. manifesting in our lives – which is the time for tapas or sadhana and also to release excess pitta in our systems.

Here, we have to examine our own regions. Even in countries, there can be extremes and differences, even within one state. The examples aren’t always the rules – Sushruta’s system was based on climates in Varanasi and Charaka’s system also northern India and Maharashtra, whom the texts were primarily written for.

Other examples exist in Ayurveda relative to these, such as the different properties, therapeutic uses and effects of the doshas of different types of madhu (honey), lavana (salt) and jala (water) depending on their region of collection and types that have variations in their properties – not all being the same (like seasons relative to geography). A good example is the mineral pitch [asphaltum] or shilajit which has different properties depending on its collection (Charaka Samhita, Chikitsasthana, I, 55-61), while given common properties in most texts and traditions (as per coming from Himalayan rocks). The classics hence infer but do not discuss every continent and their properties, being relative to India, but give various other examples and keys with which to ascertain these locally.

Other examples such as the effects of various winds (while wind itself is said to be mainly vataprakopika or vata-aggravating also alter from the norm and the classics give such finely-tuned examples, such as in my article here, which also notes their varying properties specific to them:


Here, we must also not forget that Ayurveda works on the basis of the system of gunas or attributes and predominant mahabhutas or elements as per the desha or geographical location as also relative to climate, a derivative of the cosmological samkhya system as TCM does Taoism. Here Sushruta (Sutrasthana, VI.26-28) notes of various properties of normal seasons, noting that abnormalities (as in other regions) can arise also – naturally due to ecological factors and also geographic differences across the globe. This is why some herbs described in the texts were native to the northern Himalayan regions which experienced different climatic changes as per the seasons than mainland India and thus some were best collected in these native regions compared to being cultivated locally in non-native habitats.

Charaka himself (Vimanasthana, VIII.13) states relating to desha or geographical location that such relates to both the medicine and also the patient as well, relating to the various habits of such people in that region as also does Sushruta (Sutrasthana, XXXV.42-45). Meats suit some people, while not others and such were specific. My article on meats in Ayurveda and satmya (suitability) for types can be noted for further interest along these lines.

There can be differences. The classics would state that a rakta-keshava or one having red hair would be of a pitta nature. Yet, such is not always true. Many redheads are lacking lustre and even when blushing, do not have a glowing face and can be somewhat depressed and hypersensitive, what we may call a weaker pitta or vata-pitta person (majjaka or nervous pitta type). People more sensitive to pain appear to be redheads [1], relating to the sparsha-tanmatra or increased vayu (wind) in the body as per Ayurveda or what is a more vata symptom of a person having a higher air (vayu mahabhuta) content in their biology or prakriti.

Likewise, just as a person of say a pitta constitution is said to have a tikshagni or sharp-natured digestive fire as also a krodhika or bad-tempered persona, it is not always so. This is why aharashakti or power to assimilate impressions of food and digestion or metabolic strength as well as manasika prakriti or psychological personality as per one’s own in-born nature are discussed as separate examinations in the classics, not to be simply superimposed upon the basic prakriti itself o stereotype the bodily makeup.

There are also similar systems to Ayurveda that have many correlates, but do not use the three-dosha model. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), for example employs five elements: Metal, Wood, Fire, Water and Earth. Metal corresponds to Ether (Akasha) of the Ayurvedic elements and Wood to Air (Vayu) in the Ayurvedic system, just as Vata, Pitta and Kapha connect at a more cosmic level in their forms as Prana (life-force), Tejas (radiance and light) and Ojas (vitality) to the TCM concepts of Qi (Vata / Prana), Yang (Pitta / Tejas)  and Yin (Kapha / Ojas) respectively. Old Greek and Unani medicine add Ayurveda’s fourth dosha of rakta or blood.

A comparison between TCM and Ayurveda can be found in my article here.

While expressing the dual-elemental (dosha) system, Ayurveda agrees that man himself is nothing but the expression of the five elements (Sushruta, Sutrasthana, I.22). Sushruta also further elaborates on other systems of Ayurveda that relate the different Prakriti types as arising from the pancha-mahabhutas – one each from  Pavana (air),
Dahana (fire), Toya (water Prithivi (earth) with a large and stable or strong body and Nabha (ether) of a clean and long-life (Sushruta, Sharirasthana, IV.80), which further shows differences in Ayurvedic schools of opinion, yet still following the same basic tenets.

The classics (Sushruta,Sharirasthana, IV.6 6, 81, 86; Ashtanga Hridaya, Sharirasthana, III. 89, 95, 103) also state that the various animal natures of the prakriti types; here the sarpa or serpent is a characteristic animal of a pitta nature – perhaps relating to its venomous (vishaja) nature which is heating like pitta or bile and is also seen as an angry animal. Yet, in later Ayurveda, the sarpa or serpent comes to represent a more vata-type animal as a nervous and irregular one with irregular movements like a serpent, as is well-known via sarpagati or snake type pulse-rhythm.

It hence cannot be taken in the same linear manner as the texts state, which they give warnings by examination of locations and such, as also hinting relative to climate based on the twenty guna or properties. We also find other differences. Some Ayurveda scholars note that there are two viryas (potencies) such as ushna (hot) and shita (cold). Others state that there are eight potencies, viz. mrdu (mild), tikshna (sharp), guru (heavy), laghu (light),
snigdha (unctuous), uksha (dry), shita (cold), ushna (hot) – Charaka, Sutrasthana, XXVI.64-65.

There are also other differences. The Charaka school lists two types of bastis or enema therapies for panchakarma (kashaya or medicated decoctions and sneha or oil-based) whereas the fifth according to Sushruta is raktamoksha or blood-letting. These here reveal the scope and depth of Ayurveda relative to classification of the various gunas or properties as also mahabhutas or great elements and their predominate factors as also varying systems that existed at the time of the classics and how these were adapted and cannot simply be literally applied in the same manner as today we cannot in all nations use the older six-seasonal system of ancient India, that applies to India alone!

We must use the classics to ascertain the variations in the climates and locations as the texts themselves explain – a point often ignored by many modern Ayurveda “traditionalists” who sometimes forget that tradition is also about using all of the fundamental keys of Ayurveda, such as the gunas and proper examinations of climate, seasons and such relative to Desha or geographical locations, just as we cannot stereotype people based on the prakriti systems when examples are given in the texts – but also keys to assessing the other elements outside the prakriti that are not to be confused with them – being purely for educational or supplementary example usage alone!

We must not loose sight of the fact that Ayurveda (the wisdom of life’s essence) itself is a science, not simply a rigid philosophy, and within any science, logic and reason are employed utilising keys, which makes it an evolving science that is tailored in a non-linear manner (i.e. subject to change and context).

Here we must not forget that many Indian BAMS teachers themselves wish to reinvent themselves as Gurus in the west with an almost Victorian-sense of logic and dogmatism regarding native sciences that go off the deep-end when linearly applied on one end of the spectrum, just as the American New-Age Ayurveda does on the other end of the scale – both often taking the literal side rather than fundamental elements of scientific application too seriously as they did when coming into contact with the Hebrew Bible – creating either a literal-dogmatic or completely out of contextualised New-Age interpretation going back to the Romans – neither of which matched the original and neither employed the traditional logic and fell due to employing Art’s majors’ techniques of literal thought over scientific principles that Ayurveda itself teaches us to apply on a case by case basis, not stereotype or take out of context!


1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1692342/


1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this great article, it is truly an authentic service to traditional Ayurved in modern practice as the “technology of life” applies to all life across the globe and the wonder of its diversity

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