Spring Wisdom for Vibrant Health and Wellness
I’m in Victoria for the weekend to take in some workshops with my teacher Robin Golt, who is visiting from Montreal, and to celebrate my husband’s birthday. Spring comes early to Victoria and so the cherry trees are all in blossom and the streets are full of early morning joggers, the stores are showcasing their spring wares, and people are dressing lighter even though there is still a chill in the air. I myself had to dress in many layers that I would put on, and took off, at various times during the day as I walked through the rain showers, sunshine, and cold winds that are typical of spring in the Pacific Northwest.
According to the science of Ayurveda each season is ruled by two of the five elements of Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space. The spring season is characterized by an excess of Earth and Water (Kapha Dosha) and has the qualities of coldness, heaviness, and dampness. So even though the cherry blossoms are out and the days are longer there is still a winter chill in the air on most days, the spring rains are heavy, and the ground is wet and cold. Because of this common spring health concerns are chest colds and allergies, and there can even be a depression that sets in during the rainy season as we desire lightness but are still feeling bogged down by the heaviness of winter. Understanding which elements, and qualities (gunas), are dominant in this season can give us valuable clues as to how we can adjust our diet and activities so that we can avoid these common health concerns and enjoy vibrant wellness as the wheel of the year waxes towards the fullness of the summer season.
During the long, cold, and drier winter months our diet consisted of heavier, fattier, and oftentimes sweeter foods such as root vegetables, stews, and rich grain dishes. This diet is entirely appropriate for the winter season but if we continue with this diet through the damp spring season we will accumulate excess Kapha Dosha and may find ourselves feeling heavy, and sluggish. We may wake up with a lot of mucus in our sinuses or our chests and feel that it is hard to get going in the morning. The spring diet may still include a large amount of cooked food as the temperatures outside are still cold, but we should begin to highlight flavors that are Bitter, Astringent, and Pungent to combat the heaviness that we built up during winter and that is being aggravated by the spring season.
Ayurveda characterizes all foods and herbs using a system of Six Tastes, which are Sweet, Salty, Sour, Bitter, Astringent, and Pungent. In the spring season we want to bring in to focus the latter three, and though these tastes are not as common in the typical western diet and may seem unfamiliar to you, you can find them in common foods such as the leafy greens of kale, dandelion and endive which are Bitter, beans, artichokes, and asparagus which are Astringent, and ginger, garlic, and onions which are Pungent. Adding herbs and spices to your meals can really help bring in the reducing and purifying qualities of the Bitter, Pungent, and Astringent tastes as well. Turmeric and Fenugreek are wonderful Bitter herbs that can be used in cooking or you could make a bitter spring cleansing tea of Dandelion and Burdock root if you prefer. Along with the common Pungent spices I mentioned earlier you could also add a pinch of cayenne or horseradish to your meals to stimulate digestion and increase heat or enjoy a cup of strong peppermint tea. Celery seed, sage, and are common kitchen herbs that have the Astringent taste or my favorite way to enjoy Astringent taste these days is with a tea of dried hibiscus flowers mixed with green and black teas which helps to reduce fat and water retention.
Because Kapha Dosha has an affinity for the stomach and chest it is important to do activities that will open up the front body and relieve congestion while increasing circulation. You may start running or biking or walking to work in the morning to kick start your metabolism, or simply do more vigorous sun salutations in your morning practice. The ideal yoga practice for the spring season is definitely a little stronger with a focus on backbends, poses that take the arms overhead, deep twists, heating poses such as inversions and arm balances, and pranayama (breathwork) practices such as the Breath of Joy, Kappalabhati (Skull Shining Breath), and Brahmari (Bee’s Breath). Increasing the intensity of our daily yoga practices will bring greater focus and clarity to our minds while firing up our digestive capacity so that we begin to feel lighter and can shed the heaviness of winter.
As well doing a simple spring cleanse can really help you to make the shift from winter to summer with greater ease and is considered an important health promoting practice in Ayurveda. If you are new to cleansing simply focus on eating a whole foods diet emphasizing the tastes and flavors I mentioned above and reducing sweet foods such as refined sugars and starches as well as heavy foods such as dairy and richer meats. Even cutting down on nuts and fats during this season is a good idea and instead get your protein from beans and bitter grains such as quinoa and rye. More experienced cleansers may go on a traditional kitchari (rice and mung bean) cleanse for a week or even a juice fast- though if you are going to do this I recommend doing a guided cleanse with a group that is led by an experienced teacher that can help you troubleshoot and support your process. My teacher Cate Stillman does a 21 day Yogi Detox each spring and fall which I absolutely love and which I will be doing again this April.
The main things to remember are to stay warm and dry, eat lighter, gently increase heat in your diet through spices, bring in the lesser known bitter and astringent tastes, and get your body moving. These simple practices can go a long way. I hope this article provides some inspiration and ideas and if you would like to access more information about spring wisdom according to Ayurveda I recorded a 90-minute workshop last week that is available for download along with fifteen pages of supportive handouts, recipes, and home yoga practices. I personally have found that making the simplest changes to my daily and seasonal routines have provided the most profound results in my own health, and the health of my family, and I love sharing this wisdom with all of you. Please feel free to email me with your questions or feel free to comment below if you want to know more.
May you enjoy the sweetness and beauty of this season in good health.