31 Mar Spring Into Spring!
SPRING IS THE SEASON OF RENEWAL AND GROWTH
Ayurveda is the original fountain of youth, a natural alternative to plastic surgery. Originally consolidated with the teachings of yoga, this sister science was left behind when yoga migrated to the west. Reunited again, yoga and ayurveda are now emerging in the west as a holistic science powerhouse that is affordable, easy and without nasty side-effects. With small changes you can benefit immediately. Over time, the cumulative effects will give you a feeling of serenity and a look of age-defying radiance.
Ayurveda is an ancient system of medicine from India. It is founded on the principle that everyone has a unique energetic constitution or “dosha”. There are three main dosha categories: vata, pitta and kapha. Elements are used as metaphors to describe the qualities of the doshas. In general: vata is associated with the element “air” which has the quality of dry, light, cold and mobile; pitta is mostly associated with the element of fire which has the qualities of hot, sharp, penetrating and spreading; and kapha is associated with the elements water and earth, which have the qualities of being cool, damp, soft, slow and heavy. Everyone is comprised of all the elements and all the doshas, but typically one or two elements and doshas will dominate.
Ayurveda prescribes diet, lifestyle and herbs specific to your dosha and current state of balance (or imbalance). Likewise, ancient yoga instructions (postures, breathing exercises and cleansing techniques) were tailored to an individual based on their ayurveda dosha.
The metaphoric energy that is used to describe our dosha can also be used to describe our environment, our food and our emotions (i.e., chilies, the season of summer and an angry boss are all related to the element of fire and pitta dosha). Ayurveda teaches us to recognize these energies and their influences on us so we can learn to make conscious choices to keep our bodies healthy, our minds calm and our hearts full of love.
How does the ancient science of ayurveda apply to me?
In our fast-paced, 24/7 culture, it is easy to shield ourselves from the natural rhythms of the day, month or year. Electricity, air conditioner, cars, etc. keep us insulated from the external environment and distance us from nature. But the ancients have long understood what modern science is now studying. That our bodies flow in a circadian rhythm, influenced by the sun, moon and seasons. And when we live in sync with these rhythms, we can prevent disease and experience optimal health. Easy!
In addition to disease prevention, ayurveda can help us completely rejuvenate our cells to revitalize our physical body and balance our emotions.
What is the importance of the transitional season of spring?
In nature, spring is a time of renewal and growth. Flowers emerge from the melting snow as the dormant, dark, winter weather is replaced by the cool, damp days of spring. The days become longer and brighter. Snow melts and streams swell with run-off. Our bodies assimilate this excess dampness which can create congestion in the sinuses, lungs and lymph. Spring colds, coughs and allergies are common and may leave us feeling sluggish and foggy. Everyone experiences these seasonal influences to some degree, regardless of their constitution or dosha. Our bodies are working to shake off the lethargy of winter and prepare for renewal.
To assist this process, Ayurveda recommends seasonal cleansing to rid the body of physical and emotional toxins, allowing for growth and renewal of our cells (and thoughts and emotions!). Note that ayurveda seasonal cleansing has nothing to do with mass marketed “juice fasts” or their variations. Rather, an ayurveda cleanse is a comprehensive, custom-designed program that is tailored to the individual’s unique dosha and current state of physical and emotional balance.
The late Kailas, a certified ayurveda therapist offered this beautiful description of ayurveda’s view on cleansing: “Cleansing should be thought of as a ‘full spectrum’ process. There is no point in cleansing one’s organs if one does not cleanse the mind and the heart. The spiritual message of Ayurveda is that the heart is naturally pure and clear, and the mind is naturally free. When we cleanse the organs and the tissues…we should always consider cleansing the mind as well.” When the body, mind and spirit are in harmony, we look and feel younger, more vibrant and happier.
For an authentic seasonal cleanse tailored to your unique needs, consult with a nationally certified ayurveda practitioner. In the meantime, here are some simple diet and lifestyle tips for spring that can be used by everyone, regardless of your dosha.
Foods to eat/minimize for spring
Ayurveda believes that opposite qualities will bring balance, and like qualities will create imbalance. Spring is similar to kapha constitution (i.e., cool, damp, slow and heavy) so eating foods that have the opposite qualities (hot, dry, airy and light) will balance the seasonal influence. So during cool, damp weather when you are feeling congested and sluggish, add some foods to your diet with these qualities:
1. Pungent/spicy (i.e., garlic, green chilies, ginger, radish, watercress, onion, wasabi)
2. Drying (i.e., millet, mushrooms, polenta, barley, white potatoes, winter squash)
3. Light (i.e., sprouts, popcorn, beans, lentils).
Yogi Vivek Kumar Gupta, recommends that we “keep balanced digestion during the spring. Say goodbye to fatty foods and hello to green chilies (not red chillies– say goodbye to red chilies!).” Then he cautions us to let moderation be our guide saying that “too many chilies will eventually increase the fire/pitta”. This may happen because as spring progresses, the days become warmer and you will need to eat cooling foods to balance the heat…but that will be addressed in my next article.
If you like cooking, you can check out these spring recipes here. In general, you want to minimize foods that are cold, heavy and damp (or that cause fluid retention) such as: cheese, yogurt, milk, cream, sour foods (lemons, vinegar), salt, vegemite™, oily fried foods, wheat, sugar and red meat.
Understand that these lists are neither comprehensive nor rigid. Be creative, flexible and compassionate with your implementation of these guidelines. Ayurveda is about finding balance — if you are unhappy, that is not balanced.
Drinks for spring
To help remove toxins accumulated over the winter, you can sip on spring tea for kapha during the day. In the evening, golden milk (organic, raw, boiled cow milk from grass-fed cows with a pinch of turmeric and black pepper) is a classic ayurveda drink for boosting the immune system and helping to ward off seasonal colds and allergies. Note that cold milk is kapha-genic, but when prepared according to this recipe, it is more balanced. Western science has recently “discovered” the benefits of turmeric — in case you needed additional reasons before you try.
In general, ayurveda principles call for avoidance of cold, iced beverages (and sugary sodas and energy drinks).
Physical and mental ‘exercise’ for spring:
As we mentioned, early spring is similar in qualities to kapha dosha (slow, dull, sluggish, cool, damp, etc.). Emotionally, this can make some people feel lethargic, attached, heavy and lacking motivation. The ayurveda solution is to get things moving! Try exercise that will generate heat and allow you to sweat and naturally eliminate excess water and toxins that accumulated during the winter months (i.e., jogging, biking, vinyasa yoga or salsa dancing). If you don’t have time to exercise, try taking the stairs instead of elevators. Or park a little further from your destination and enjoy a vigorous walk. Need inspiration? Enlist a friend to help motivate and stay on course!
Emotionally, we can assist the removal of stagnant thoughts via journaling or pranayama (a yoga breathing practice). Vivek Kumar Gupta says “Kapalabhati pranayama is very beneficial for most individuals during cold, damp spring season to help remove physical and emotional toxins — if done properly.” It’s important to work with an experienced yogi when learning these practices; they will be able to guide you at the proper pace and stop you when the practice is contraindicated.
Remedies for allergies & congestion
With all of nature bursting onto the scene during spring, the air becomes filled with the fragrant smells of blossoming flowers as well as pollen from trees, grass and weeds. These irritants can cause allergies. Allergies, colds and the flu can create post nasal drip (increased thick mucus drainage down your throat and into the lungs) which can cause raw, itchy sore throats and coughs. To keep the sinus and lung passageways clear try these easy home remedies:
1. Eucalyptus steam — Fill a small pot with water and bringing it to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and add a drop or two of Eucalyptus oil. Keeping a safe distance from the steam so as not to scald your face, inhale the vapors through your nose and mouth for a few minutes.
2. Jala Neti Kryia — As explained by Swami Omananda Saraswati, a Jala Neti practitioner, researcher and Integral Yoga therapist, Jala Neti Kryia is an ancient yoga practice that was intended to purify the physical and mental faculties to prepare for mental transcendence. It involves a specific ritual that uses warm saline water to remove mucus in the nasal passageway. Today, many ENT doctors recommend saline rinses to clear mucus; kits can be purchased at local pharmacies and on the internet at well-regarded sites like BanyanBotanicals. Be sure to sanitize your neti pot thoroughly after each use to avoid bacterial growth.
If you think of ayurveda as a way of connecting with the energy of nature, then it becomes an intuitive path to follow. Each day is a new opportunity to hone your awareness of how the external environment is impacting you physically and emotionally. Then you can make conscious choices to shift your actions and thoughts…one day at a time….to effect lasting change and transformation. Check back next month for an article about the connection between summer and pitta and the emotional aspects — passion and anger.
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