Ritucharya Principles: The Science of Eating as Per Seasons

What is Ritucharya in Ayurveda and why is it important in the present era?

Simply put, ritucharya is the science of eating or rather adopting a lifestyle in accordance with the seasons. This Ayurvedic practice is based on the fact that our bodily systems function differently in different seasons, or that our digestive system can process certain types of foods in a certain season, and the same foods may be hard to digest in a different season.

If we observe closely, we can easily notice that our functioning, our food preferences and our lifestyle change with the changing seasons. The weather conditions have a direct impact on our mind and body, and changing our lifestyle as per the changing seasons is precisely what Ritucharya means. Here is a deeper insight into this concept and its significance.

Ritucharya – Concept and its Significance

Ritu means season and charya means regimen. Ritucharya is an ancient Ayurvedic practice that comprises changing your diet and daily routine to adapt to the effects of changing seasons on your health. It is necessary to build your physical strength and mental capacity to cope with illnesses that may arise in different seasons. Similarly, we must be equipped to balance the doshas in our body (vata, pitta, kapha) in every season, to stay healthy across the year. Adopting a regimen that suits the ongoing season and changing our routine to match the next season, is referred to as ritucharya.

As per Ayurveda, there are six seasons in a year, namely Shishir, Vasant, Grishma, Varsha, Sharad and Hemant. The ritus Shishir, Vasant, Grishma come during the Uttarayana together spanning the first six months of the calendar year, mid-January to mid-July. The ritus Varsha, Sharad and Hemant come during the Dakshinayan together spanning the next six months of the year, mid-July to mid-January. During the Uttarayana, the sun and wind are more powerful, and our strength is said to reduce during this span of the year. Here is information on the diet regime and lifestyle to be adopted during different ritus (or seasons).

Ritucharya: Seasonal Diet and Lifestyle Practices

Shishir: During this season, kapha dosha increases, the catabolism is higher, and our strength remains less. The appetite increases and since the night duration is longer, we tend to be hungry in the early morning hours. The diet during this season should consist of ginger, garlic, sugarcane, jaggery, milk, and foods with a tarty flavor. Rice, cereals and pulses, corn and wheat and gram flour foods are good for consumption during the shishir ritu. Foods with a bitter, astringent and pungent taste, and cool and light foods should be avoided.

An oil massage, bathing with lukewarm water, and exposure to sunlight should be included in the lifestyle for this season. Things that aggravate vata dosha, like exposure to cold wind and sleeping late at night should be avoided.

Vasant: The strength is less and digestion stays slow because the digestive fire reduces. So, it is advisable to eat easy-to-digest foods. Wheat, rice and old barley, pulses and lentils are good for consumption. Foods with a bitter, pungent or astringent taste should be included in the diet for this season. It is good to consume honey. Heavy and cold foods should be avoided. During this ritu, we are more susceptible to ailments, so a panchakarma treatment can help to prevent disease during this season.

Massage with a powder of chandana is advisable during this ritu and measures like vamana and nasya can be undertaken during this time of the year.

Grishma: The strength is less and vata dosha is on the rise in this season. Cool and sweet foods are good for consumption. Fluid intake, especially the consumption of water should be increased during this ritu. Pungent, sour and warm (ushna) foods should be avoided in this season. Buttery, spicy, salty and strong-smelling foods should also be avoided.

The application of sandalwood or other aromatic pastes is advisable during this ritu. Alcohol intake should be avoided. It is good to get more sleep and avoid excessive exercise during this time of the year.

Varsha: The strength is less and vata and pitta doshas are on the rise. The digestive fire is reduced. All three doshas may rise during this season, which is why foods that soothe doshas and those that improve digestion should be consumed during this ritu. Tarty and salty foods are good for consumption during this season. Old barley, rice and wheat should be included in the diet for this season. It is advisable to drink boiled water and veggie soups and herbal teas can be included in the diet. Foods that are difficult to digest, should be avoided during the varsha ritu.

An oil massage after bath is advisable during this season. It is advisable to undertake basti as a measure for evacuation, during this ritu.

Sharad: During this time of the year, vata dosha may reduce but pitta dosha increases and the movement of agni increases. Foods with sweet and sharp tastes are good for consumption. Wheat and green gram should be incorporated into the diet. Bitter, sweet, astringent and hot foods should be avoided. High fat foods, oils and fish should also be avoided.

It is said that during this season, one should eat only when hungry. Water used for drinking and bathing should be purified with sunrays during the day and with moon rays during the night. Exposure to moonlight in the first 3 hours of the night during this ritu, is believed to be good for health. Procedures like virechana and rakta mokshana are recommended during this season.

Hemant: The movement of agni increases and the strength and energy levels are high during this season. Sweet, salty and tarty foods are good for consumption during this ritu. It is advisable to include new rice and green gram, fats, milk, meats, sugarcane and sesame in the diet. Foods that increase the vata dosha should be avoided. Consuming cold drinks is not advisable in this ritu. Nutrient-rich foods are advisable for consumption. Fasting should be avoided during this season.

As a part of the lifestyle ideal for this season, use of warm water, daily exercise and body and head massage are recommended. The application of Agaru on the body and sunbathing is considered to be good if taken up in this ritu.

A basic principle of eating as per seasons is to consume what grows during that time of the year. The other rule is to follow a diet that restores the imbalance of doshas that may be created during each season based on the weather then. Accordingly, foods of certain tastes are recommended for certain seasons. The other golden rule for ritucharya or eating as per seasons is to know how our digestive capacity increases or decreases during each ritu and alter our diet accordingly. Along with a diet that suits each season, a lifestyle that’s most conducive to the weather should also be adopted. Ritucharya is a great example of how Ayurveda experts of the olden times designed a diet and lifestyle regimen that changes based on the seasons, with the purpose of preventing disease and the attaining overall well-being.

With changing times, people stopped following a disciplined diet regime. Under the pretext of living a busy life, people started consuming ‘instant’, processed and fast foods almost daily, and due to modern agricultural practices, all vegetables and fruits started being cultivated in all seasons. This brought about a deterioration in the nutritional quality of food and thereby the health of the population declined. So, it’s high time we go back to our age-old Ayurvedic practices like Ritucharya, so as to imbibe discipline within us and achieve holistic health.

Note: The procedures prescribed for each ritu should be undertaken only after consulting an expert in the field. If you have any underlying health condition, it is necessary to talk to your doctor before changing your diet.

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