Rutucharya (ऋतुचर्या)

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Ayurveda has put forward various guidelines and regimens including diet and lifestyle components to acclimatize to seasonal enforcement easily. This helps individuals to maintain homeostasis of internal environment of body, despite fluctuating external climatic conditions. These guidelines and seasonal regimens are known as ‘Rtucharya’ (Samskrit: ऋतुचर्या). Observance of such behavior, lifestyle and dietary modifications is immensely useful in preventing diseases which might develop due to seasonal variations and individual's poor immunity. Naturally, Rtucharya forms integral part of preventive healthcare described in Ayurveda and is one of the exclusive subjects in this traditional system of medicine. Main theme of this topic is to make people aware concerning the methods to live in accordance with the environment.

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

Rtucharya has been described in almost all the authoritative Ayurveda classics. Ayurveda believes that every change in the external environment and season affects the internal environment of the human body. This leads to imbalance of Doshas (दोषाः) which control entire mechanism of the union of body, mind & life energy known as Ayu (आयुः। life). This imbalance further leads to development of diseases. Therefore, it is important to understand the role of seasonal variations in diseases development as well as the measures to correct this imbalance and achieve right balance of bodily elements. Under the topic of Rtucharya, Ayurveda acharyas have provided such measures in the form of dietary and lifestyle modifications, to maintain the equilibrium of internal environment of body even in the presence of fluctuating external environment and climatic conditions. These measures have been put forward after keen observation of seasonal characteristics and their effect on the state of Doshas and Dhatus (धातवः) in the Purusha (पुरुषः। human being). In the clinical settings, observance of such regime has been found extremely useful especially in the cases where individuals who fall sick frequently because of seasonal variations owing to their poor immunity.

ऋतुसात्म्यस्य उपयोगित्वम् ॥ Practical utility of observing Rtucharya

Acharya Charaka has said that, diet and daily activities of an individual are responsible to maintain or disturb the internal balance of bodily elements. Thus, if one can modify diet and lifestyle or activities according to changes in external environment, one can achieve good health and wellness.

तस्याशिताद्यादाहाराद्बलं वर्णश्च वर्धते| यस्यर्तुसात्म्यं विदितं चेष्टाहारव्यपाश्रयम्|| (Char. Samh. 5.3)[1]

tasyāśitādyādāhārādbalaṁ varṇaśca vardhate| yasyartusātmyaṁ viditaṁ ceṣṭāhāravyapāśrayam|| (Char. Samh. 5.3)

Meaning: A person who knows the ritusatmya (getting accustomed to suitable changes in diet and behavior according to seasons), and practices such habits accordingly, and whose diet consists of various types of food articles (with properties such as ashita, pitta lidha , and khadita), has his strength and luster enhanced, and he leads a healthy, long life.

व्युत्पत्तिः॥ Etymology

The word Rtu (ऋतुः।) means “to go.”[citation needed]

It is the form in which the nature expresses itself in a sequence in particular and specific in present forms in short, the seasons.

Charya (चर्या।) means regimen[citation needed]

Thus, Rtucharya (ऋतुचर्या) means the regimen to be adopted during the changing states of the nature or climate.

ऋतुविभागाः॥ Classification of season

The year according to Ayurveda is divided into two periods Ayana (अयनम्। solstice) depending on the direction of movement of sun. Each is formed of three Rtus (ऋतुः। season). Thus, A year consists of six seasons [2] as listed below,

Classification of Seasons in a year
No. Rutu Corresponding season Ayana
1 Shishira (शिशिरः) Winter Uttarayana (northern solstice)= mid-January to mid-July According to modern science, this can be compared with the gradual movement of earth around the sun to the position, in which the rays of the sun falls perpendicularly at 30 degree meridian of the North Pole on June 21st every year, called as summer solstice. The northward journey of the Sun from Tropic of Capricorn to Tropic of Cancer happens.
2 Vasanta (वसंतः) Spring
3 Grishma (ग्रीष्मः) Summer
4 Varsha (वर्षा) Monsoon Dakshinayana (southern solstice) mid-July to mid-January According to modern science, this can be compared with the gradual movement of the earth around the sun to the position, in which the rays of the sun fall over 30 degree meridian of the South Pole perpendicularly on December 21st every year, is called as winter solstice. The southward movement of the Sun occurs from Tropic of Cancer to Tropic of Capricorn.
5 Sharad (शरदः) Autumn
6 Hemanta (हेमंतः) late autumn

As Ayurveda has its origin in India, the above seasonal changes are observed predominantly in Indian subcontinent.

उत्तरायणस्य दक्षिणायनस्य च परिणामाः ॥ Effect of Uttarayana and Dakshinayana

During Uttarayana (उत्तरायणम्) period, warmness and dryness in weather increases. It has an overall debilitating effect on surrounding environment, of which human being is also a part. As a result, it brings about dryness in the body and reduces the Bala (बलम्। strength) of the individual. [2]

At the time of Dakshinayana (दक्षिणायनम्) period, when cool sets, and due to which anabolic activity dominates over the catabolic activity in the environment, the strength of person enhances.[2]

ऋतुचर्या विधानम्॥ Seasonal Diet and Lifestyle Regimen

After keen observation of external climatic conditions in a particular Rtu (ऋतुः। season) and their reflections in the Purusha (पुरुषः), Ayurveda scholars found a close association between external environments and Body's internal environment. It is believed and experienced that, for every change in external conditions, Doshas (दोषाः) and other body elements like Agni (अग्निः), Dhatus (धातवः) get affected. Change in their normal state creates temporary imbalances which leave body vulnerable for attack by various diseases. Thus, if one wishes to maintain health in spite of any change in external environment, one must consciously understand the changing weather and practice specific diet and lifestyle interventions proposed by Ayurveda in order to nullify the effects reflected in body.

Ayurveda acharyas have proposed following diet and lifestyle guidelines for 6 Rtu (ऋतुः। seasons) to correct the imbalances of Doshas, Agni, strength and internal environment of body created by changes in weather due to seasonal rotations.[3]

Seasonal Diet and Lifestyle Regimen
No. Rutu Corresponding season Diet Lifestyle
Do's Dont's Do's Dont'
1 Shishira Winter Cereals and pulses, wheat/gram flour products, new rice, corn, and others, are advised. Ginger, garlic, Haritaki (fruits of Terminalia chebula), Pippali (fruits of Piper longum), sugarcane products, and milk and milk products are to be included in the diet. Foods that can aggravate Vata dosha should be avoided in order to keep check on naturally aggravating Vata due to increasing cold. Thus, foods that are pungent, astringent and bitter in taste, cooling in nature and light on digestion should be avoided. Various Panchakarma procedures like Abhyanga i.e. Massage with warm oil, scrubbing with herbal powder or pastes are considered to be beneficial if followed on daily basis in this season. Use of warm water for bathing, exposure to natural heat or sunlight, wearing warm clothes is also advisable. Exposure to cold wind of this season, staying awake for late nights may further aggravate Vata dosha in this time. Thus its advisable to avoid these lifestyle factors.
2 Vasanta Spring One should take food made up of barley and wheat One should avoid heavy, sour, unctuous and sweet food items one should regularly resort to physical exercise, dry massage, medicated smoking, gargling, and collyrium. Bathing and cleaning of excretory orifices should be done with lukewarm water. One should not sleep during the daytime.
3 Grishma Summer Foods and drinks having sweet, cold, liquid and unctuous qualities are considered beneficial One should stop taking salty, sour, pungent and hot food Enjoy the coolness of gardens, cold water and flowers whenever possible to negate the fatigue developing from excessively hot and dry climate. Physical exercise and excess sexual intercourse should be avoided.
4 Varsha Monsoon one should predominantly take sour, salty and unctuous food to alleviate vata. Make use of honey in food and drinks. Since the digestive strength is poor and Vata dosha is aggravated, one should avoid food items that are heavy on digestion and lead to flatulence. Practice dry massage, reside at places with low humidity, use fragrances, garlands to keep the surroundings fresh and cheerful. This is also considered the ideal season for taking Basti which is one of the 5 types of Panchakarma treatments. Daytime sleeping, contact with dew, river water, intense physical exercise, exposure to sun rays and excess sexual intercourse should be avoided.
5 Sharad Autumn Foods that are sweet or bitter in taste, cooling in nature and light on digestion should be consumed to remain fit. These foods can then pacify vitiated Pitta. Wheat, green gram, sugar candy, honey, , flesh of animals having habitat in dry land (Jangala Mamsa) can be consumed. In order to keep a check on naturally aggravating Pitta dosha, it is advised to avoid hot and spicy food. Few food stuffs which are to be avoided - fat, oils, meat of aquatic animals, curds, etc. Medical procedures, such as Virechana (purging), Rakta-Mokshana (blood letting) are ideally performed in this season. It is recommended to observe the natural urge for food and eat only after having the natural desire for food. Its best to avoid overeating. It is also recommended to take water purified by the rays of sun in day time and rays of moon at night time for drinking, bathing, etc. Use of fresh, cooling flowers in surrounding, use of cooling fragrances like Sandalwood can be made as scents and also for local application on body. It is said that moon rays in night are conducive for health. On this ground various rituals wherein staying awake late nights is expected are followed like Kojagiri pournima. Exposure to sunlight, heat, Daytime sleep and excessive eating is to be avoided.
6 Hemanta late autumn One can have more of sweet, sour, and salty foods this season. This season also necessitates intake of food that is unctuous in nature. Naturally sweets, desserts and creamy foods can be enjoyed in this eason with little health risk. Cereals and pulses, new rice, flour preparations, green gram, Black gram, etc. should be used. Various meats, fats, milk and milk products, sugarcane products, Shidhu (fermented preparations), Tila (sesame), and so on, are also beneficial at this time. Any type of diets which possess capacity to develop feeling of lightness, cold, and dryness in body should be avoided. Vyayama (Exercise), abhyanga (body and head massage), use of warm water, sunbath, application of fragrant herbs having hot potency can be used, sufficient warm clothing, sexual indulgence with one partner, residing in warm places is recommended Must avoid exposure to strong and cold wind. Better to avoid diwaswapa daytime sleep.

Rtu Haritaki

This is one the specialty topic from Bhavapraksha samhita of Laghutrayee. While describing the properties of Haritaki (Terminalia chebula) Acharya Bhavamishra has thrown light on utility of this single multipurpose herb in all seasons to gain Rasayana effect. This single herb when taken with various adjuvants suggested after considering the seasonal dosha dominance, can show rejuvenating effect. The adjuvant to be taken with Haritaki, as per the Rtu (seasons) is listed below,

Rtu Haritaki
Season Adjuvant for Haritaki
Varsha Saindhava
Sharad Sharkara
Hemant Shunthi
Shishir Pippali
Vasant Madhu
Grishma Guda

The dosage of haritaki, time of consumption and other individual specific administration details should be obtained from a qualified Vaidya after complete evaluation of Prakrti and Roga.

References

  1. Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 5 Sootram 3)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Sushruta Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 6 Sootram 7)
  3. Thakkar J, Chaudhari S, Sarkar PK. Ritucharya: Answer to the lifestyle disorders. Ayu. 2011;32(4):466–471. doi:10.4103/0974-8520.96117