Ah, beautiful spring: the sun reappears, the temperature rises, the snow melts, and nature blooms from brown to green once again. It’s a profound transition of seasons. And it affects us humans deeply. This is the time of year when allergies and colds run rampant, but with a bit of ayurvedic wisdom we can align our own behaviors with that of nature, bringing more harmony and health to our internal systems.
Foundational principle of Ayurveda
One of the foundational principles of ayurveda is that we are connected to and influenced by nature. Each of us is our own little microcosm mirroring the macrocosm: nature itself. When a shift occurs in the macrocosm, we feel it. The most simple examples are those of night and day. When nature shuts down at night, we feel a certain tiredness and heaviness that motivates us to sleep. When the sun rises, we feel more active and motivated. We mirror the macrocosm.
How seasons affect us & Ritucharya- ayurvedic seasonal regimen
This means that we are very much affected by the seasons, too. In the intense heat of summer, we feel hot! In the intense cold of winter, we feel cold. It’s simple. But we may not be cognizant of the subtle impact that the seasons bring on our bodies. If we carry out the same diet and lifestyle all year round, we’re likely to get sick.
Ayurveda explains that the seasonal changes themselves and ignoring the impact they have on us is one of the causes of disease. We need to take certain actions in order to balance out the effect of nature in each and every season. For this, Ayurveda gives us a seasonal regimen called ritucharya which helps to minimize seasonal imbalances, like spring allergies, asthma and colds.
So, what exactly should we be eating and doing in spring to stay balanced? Let’s back up a little and examine the impact of winter first.
In winter, the earth grows cold and static. Lakes freeze, snow accumulates. During this period of the southern solstice, the strength of the sun and its solar energy decreases. When the solar energy decreases, the lunar energy increases.
While solar energy is heating and drying, lunar energy is more cooling, soothing, and stabilizing.
We actually experience more overall strength under the influence of this lunar energy. This might feel a little counterintuitive to the western mind as our cultural habit is to exercise more in the summer months. But if we really tap into our body feeling at that time, we’ll notice that with the intensity of the summer sun, we have less energy. We may be a little more lazy in winter because of the cold, but that physical strength is there.
However, there’s a big shift in spring. The solar energy increases and the heat of the sun begins to melt the accumulated snow and ice of winter. That cold water liquifies and spreads everywhere. The kapha dosha, which was previously frozen and unbothered, melts and aggravates. We might experience this in our bodies as increased mucus, heaviness, and sluggishness. Plus, with the rising intensity of the sun, our body strength wanes slightly, and our digestive capacity decreases.
As you can imagine, spring is the time to take care of our kapha dosha. Kapha by nature is heavy, cold, soft, unctuous, slow, stable and thick. It’s balanced by anything and everything opposite to it! That means we can counteract the influence of kapha on our bodies in spring by using Ayurveda spring diet and lifestyles which is light, warm, dry, and active.
The Ayurveda spring diet
While winter was an excellent time for more nourishing foods, spring is the season for a drier and lighter diet. The digestive fire has lost some of its strength, meaning it no longer has the ability to well digest all of those hardy meat stews and heavy desserts we enjoyed with ease in winter.
Here are some of the most important factors to keep in mind for a wholesome spring diet:
- Eat warm food. This rule applies year round, but it’s worth stating in every season. Imagine the digestive force as a fire: hot, burning brightly, made to digest and transform. If we feed that fire with cold food and drinks, we’ll douse its flames. If this is a repeated habit, that fire is sure to dwindle. Our food will not be properly transformed or assimilated and will accumulate in our bodies as toxins called aama.
For this reason, ayurveda always emphasizes the importance of kindling the digestive fire with warm food and drinks. In spring especially, when the digestive fire has weakened and the coldness of kapha influences the body, we should avoid eating or drinking anything which is cold.
- Sip on warm water or ginger tea. This will help keep the digestive fire strong.
- Enjoy drier foods. Definitely avoid greasy, deep fried foods, but also minimize the use of oil. Wholesome oil like ghee must remain a part of our diet, but we can enjoy it in smaller quantities. Instead of sauteeing foods, we can steam or bake so that they’re a little lighter and drier. This is also the season to reduce creamy, unctuous foods like cheese, yogurt, and sour cream.
- Emphasize the bitter, pungent, and astringent tastes. A wholesome diet is one which incorporates all six tastes in every meal: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent. That’s not so easy to do, but we should at least eat all six tastes each day. Of these, the bitter, pungent, and astringent tastes balance kapha. The sweet, sour, and salty tastes increase kapha. While we should continue to eat all six tastes in spring, we should reduce sweet, sour, and salty, and give more emphasis to bitter, pungent, and astringent.
Here are some examples for inspiration:
Foods with bitter taste: kale, chard, collards, dandelion, bitter gourd, broccoli rabe, turmeric, fenugreek, curry leaf
Foods with pungent taste: arugula, leek, radish, turnip, scallion, ginger, black pepper, cumin, bay leaf, mustard, hing, rosemary, basil
Foods with astringent taste: beans, lentils, spinach, watercress, parsley, winter squashes, pumpkin, artichoke, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, millet, amaranth, barley, quinoa, buckwheat
Let’s again review the innate qualities of the kapha dosha: it’s heavy, cold, soft, unctuous, slow, stable and thick. Like everything else in nature, it’s balanced by its opposites. And for kapha, one of the most balancing principles is movement.
Sedentary lifestyle increases kapha. A person who sits at a desk all day and never exercises is bound to gain excess weight — a kapha imbalance. But by simply moving the body every day, we can keep kapha more balanced. This rings true not only in spring but in all seasons.
Daily exercise is important for maintaining lightness in the body. It stokes the digestive fire (ever noticed an increased appetite after yoga?) and purifies all of the body channels, preventing or eliminating stagnation and blockages.
So how much is enough?
Ayurveda explains that we should only exercise to 50% of our capacity. That’s right about when we break a sweat and feel the urge to breathe through the mouth. Too far beyond and we deplete the body, as we clearly see in extreme athletes and marathon runners with weakened joints. Too little and we’ll experience accumulation and stagnation.
Spring and winter, though, are the seasons for slightly more vigorous, enlivening exercise — especially if we already have a kapha imbalance, such as carrying excess weight. Our body strength is still relatively strong in spring, and 50% at this time is more than 50% in summer. It’s impossible to put forth a blanket rule for exactly how much exercise will be right for everyone, as it varies based on our body type, age, strength, and present imbalances, but the 50% rule is a good guide.
Yoga poses perfect for Spring
Our beloved yoga is of course wonderful in spring. We can enjoy more warming, fluid types of movements like sun salutations and vinyasa flows. Chest openers like bridge, fish, camel, bow, and wheel are excellent because they target the lungs — one of the seats of kapha, and one of the regions most affected by spring (think spring allergies, wet coughs, and asthma). These poses help to strengthen respiratory function. Poses that target the abdomen are great for spring, too, as they boost digestive capacity. Slightly more active forward bends like standing forward bend, wide legged forward bend, and intense side stretch pose are great choices.
Pranayama is very helpful in spring as it also helps to improve respiratory function. Invigorating pranayama like bhastrika and kapalabhati expel mucus from the sinuses and stoke the digestive fire. They’re slightly warming, and definitely invigorating — ideal for mitigating that cold and slow kapha!
Keeping kapha happy is key to our spring wellbeing. These small, mindful shifts in our diet and lifestyle can make all the difference in how we experience the impact of spring on our bodies and minds.