Shedding Your Winter Coat: Ayurvedic Wisdom for Spring
Spring gets us excited. Tree buds signal renewal as milder weather ushers in new life. A sense of anticipation and possibility lifts our spirits as small green shoots appear. We begin to feel restless, anxious to shrug off heavy winter garb and engage in spring cleaning.
However, as winter snows melt and spring rains arrive, the earth becomes heavy and saturated with moisture. For many, spring also means more congestion, hay fever and allergies. Spring embodies the heaviness of increased moisture, and it tends to feel slower than summer or fall. That’s because, in Ayurveda, spring aligns with the Kapha dosha or “that which flourishes in water.”
In Ayurveda, Kapha endows our bodies with its earthy-watery qualities. It provides lubrication for joints, as well as mucus to protect the sensitive tissues of the sinuses, lungs, and stomach; it also determines the size, strength, and suppleness of your muscles.
When Kapha is in balance, you feel strong, composed, and stable. When it’s out of balance, you might feel sleepy, mentally dull, or depressed. You may also experience excess phlegm in the lungs or sinuses, nausea, unhealthy weight gain, water retention, or heaviness in your limbs.
It’s especially important to balance Kapha in the spring, because Kapha accumulates during winter and can create diseases by the time spring arrives. As the world becomes colder and wetter in winter, your body mirrors these Kapha-like changes. You tend to eat, sleep, and stay inside more during winter, which can result in a “winter coat” of insulation.
In spring, you need to shed this excess Kapha or risk becoming vulnerable to seasonal allergies or head colds. You might also gain or retain weight or succumb to a general lethargy or emotional dullness. Your Ayurvedic prescription for spring is to develop a rhythm and routine that helps you gradually lighten up physically, mentally, and emotionally without disturbing the stable virtues of Kapha.
To help you shed your “winter coat” and feel your best, try making these six (6) changes to your spring wellness routine:
1) Cleanse Your Body
Just as you feel inspired to engage in “spring cleaning,” it’s natural to crave lighter foods and “spring clean” our bodies. In fact, spring is the perfect time for a mild ayurvedic cleanse. A cleanse serves to rid the toxins, or the ama, that have accumulated during the winter.
Start by limiting your consumption of sugar, dairy products, alcohol, caffeine and red meat severely for two weeks to give your body a break.
At the same time, support your body’s natural desire to purify by favoring pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes, like lemon, dark leafy greens, chili, garlic, legumes, radishes, and berries. (You may notice that many of these foods are also beginning to come into season!)
As in other seasons, warm, lightly cooked foods are easier to digest. Be sure to increase your water consumption to help flush out toxins.
2) Stoke Your Digestive Fire
In order to rekindle your spirits after winter, revive your digestive fire, or Agni. Start the day with a glass of warm lemon water. Enjoy ginger tea after every meal and eat fermented foods that boost the intestinal flora. Enhance your meals with the pungent favor spring herbs and spices: onions, scallions, ginger, black pepper, parsley and cilantro.
Best way to eat in spring? Start your day with a light breakfast of fresh fruit or tea. Then focus on lunches and dinners of light, cooked grains, steamed vegetables, and legumes. Consider making kitchari, a warm, soupy dish made with yellow mung beans cooked with rice.
3) Breathe Easy
The stomach, chest, throat, and head are the energetic seat of Kapha, because all of these areas produce and tend to accumulate mucus. Find ten minutes a day and do some breathing exercises or pranayama.
A very simple exercise, for example, is to count up to five when inhaling and exhaling. After each inhalation and exhalation, you take a short break. Over time, you can also increase the intervals (up to five on inhalation, eight on exhalation).
Alternatively, practice deep, rhythmic breathing such as Ujjayi Pranayama (Victorious Breath) or Kapalabhati (Skull Shining Breath). Both are excellent for strengthening your lungs and clearing your head and sense organs.
4) Rise with the Birds
The shift to Daylight Savings Time means the sun rises earlier and so should you. Ideally, wake up by or before 6AM. Stimulate your senses by brushing your teeth, scraping your tongue, and applying a few drops of nasya oil to your nasal passages. Then drink 8-10 oz of warm water to rehydrate and get your digestive system moving. Make time for exercise or yoga and meditation before 10AM. Even 10 minutes of movement will set the tone for your day.
In the evening, take a short walk after dinner to help you digest. Then aim to turn off all electronics (including the TV) by 9PM. Take a few minutes to massage your feet and head with lavender-scented oil before turning out the light between 10 and 11PM.
5) Connect with Nature
Kapha brings out the homebody in us. She would happily lie on the couch eating her favorite chocolate bar and watching Netflix all day. That’s why it’s important to stir things up and start moving more.
The pelvis and legs represent the earthy-watery part of the body and are prone to retaining fat and water. To keep Kapha from stagnating, head outside for active walks at a fast pace or opt to climb stairs instead of taking the elevator. Make time to be outside in the sun, perhaps even spending time planting a spring vegetable garden.
6) Energize Your Yoga Practice
This is also the time to step up your daily yoga practice. Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) is an invigorating sequence of twelve poses that stimulates digestion, circulation and detoxification. Poses such as Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I), Cobra (Bhujangasana) and seated twists circulate Kapha by alternately compressing the abdomen and expanding the chest. Similarly, inverted forward bends such as Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Savasana) and Pyramid Pose (Parsvottanasana) strengthen the diaphragm and encourage excess mucus to be excreted through the mouth and nose.
For videos of three (3) ways to do Sun Salutations using a chair, check out Wisdom Tree’s YouTube Channel here.
To further support spring detoxification, incorporate yoga twists, chest openers and standing poses into your practice. Poses like Chair Pose (Utkatasana), Garland Pose (Malasana), and their lesser-known cousins Lion Pose (Simhasana) and Tail-Wagging Pose (Khahanasana) create heat, improve joint mobility, aid digestion and elimination, and increase circulation. Be mindful in your practice not to over-contract your muscles or compromise your breath by transferring tension into your chest, shoulders, or neck. By doing so, you’ll risk creating even more Kapha, which the body produces as an antidote to excessive muscular and nervous tension.
The transition from winter to spring can be tricky. However, by taking time to align our daily habits and routines using the wisdom of Ayurveda, we can make the most of the glorious season of spring. Be well!
For detoxifying spring yoga practice, look for my next blog, “Revitalizing Spring Yoga Flow: 8 Poses for Balancing Kapha.”