According to Ayurveda, there are six seasons which are broken up into two groups.
The first group can be seen in the northern solstice:
>>shishir/late winter (Jan 14- March 14)
>>vasant/spring ( March 14- May 14)
>>grishma/summer ( May 14- July 14).
The second group which resides in the southern solstice:
>>varsha/rainy season ( July 14- Sept 14)
>>sharad/autumn ( Sept 14- Nov 14)
>>hemant/early winter ( Nov 14- Jan 14)
Importance is given to this breakdown because in the northern solstice months it is noticed that the sun takes away the strength of the people more and more each day, and in the southern solstice there is the opposite occurring with the sun and moon giving strength and nourishing respectively. This means that by the time hemant/early winter comes around, we are in our strongest period to build health and immunity for the whole year.
Each of the six seasons has a unique natural ebb and flow with respect to the doshas (one of three bodily humors that make up one's constitution according to Ayurveda). There is no such mention in Ayurveda of there being only three seasons known as "vata season", "kapha season" or "pitta season". That is just flat out misinformation most likely stemming from an attempt at simplification for the west.
Throughout the year each dosha will go into an accumulation stage, an excitation stage and a baseline, calmed stage. For example, vata accumulates in early summer, excites in late summer and is brought back to a calmed state in autumn. Pitta dosha accumulates in late summer, excites in autumn and calms down in early winter. Kapha accumulates in late winter, excites in spring and calms down in summer.
If you noticed, I didn't mention that anything accumulates or excites in early winter. This period which is November 14th through January 14th (where we are at right now) is the only one where this occurs all year. Along with the doshas all in a calmed state, a person in good health will experience strong digestive power in this time. This phenomenon is due to the cold air outside blocking the body heat from coming out. Prevented from exiting the body, the heat is then reserved for the digestive fire to become intensely active and strong.
When you don't feed this fire appropriately, the fire starts to consume the bodily tissues and vata can get aggravated. There is no natural accumulation or aggravation of vata during this period though. That only occurs when one doesn't follow what the body needs by doing fasts (raw, juice, not eating all included), cleanses, eating too light foods and spices or too much exposure to the cold.
The food and drink during this time of year should consist of sweet, sour, salty, unctuous qualities. A few examples of this, that are mentioned in the texts, are meat soup mixed with fats, meat of fattened animals, nuts, wheat flour, urad dal/black gram, sugar cane products, milk and milk products such as yogurt or paneer/cottage cheese, new rice and warm water.
Also it is advised to keep warm by wearing proper clothing, by the embrace of another or by sitting near a fire. This would also be the ideal time of year to be in the habit of doing oil massage on the entire body with sesame oil before your bath or shower. You can exercise in accordance with what is healthy such as with no discomfort, no breathing through mouth and not with a full stomach.
I hope this provided a bit of clarity on what exactly is hemant ritu and why it's important to utilize this period where the doshas are calm and the digestive power is strongest to build health for the year. If you are looking for even more clarity and detail on Ritucharya or the basics of Ayurveda, I encourage you to sign up for courses in your area, online, or check out the plethora of books on the matter.
Now go and enjoy a cup of warm, spiced milk with soaked almonds crushed into it. Mmmm..
Shubha, the auspicious one, is a lover of Ayurveda and living in accordance with nature. She lives in Marin county with her husband, two daughters, one dog and four goats. She is a serious student of Ayurveda, Yoga and Vedanta with 3 full years of study at Vedika Gurukula. After the birth of her first child, it became clear to Shubha that the western medical establishment did not think about health the same way she did. She already had a budding interest in yoga (asana), food, herbs, nature and the power these things had over her health. Discovering Ayurveda gave her a construct to understand how these things fit together and a tool set to use them to help her family, friends and now her clients. She has found her niche as a post partum doula and Ayurvedic counselor in hopes to guide people on their path of health and happiness.