Ayurveda & the Seasons: Spring
Here in northern California, spring is in the air and in just a few days, we will be celebrating the Spring Equinox. In Ayurveda, spring is considered kapha season. You might be asking yourself, what do kapha dosha and the springtime have in common? What makes them related? To begin to answer these questions, let us first delve into the 5 elements…
Understanding the 5 Elements
Ayurveda works with the 5 elements: ether, air, fire, water and earth. Each of these elements have qualities that define them and there are pairs of elements that become predominant within each passing season. For example, in the fall and winter months, ether and air are predominant. Ether and air create dryness and coldness in the environment and many times, this is reflected in our personal experiences. We start to feel colder in the fall and maybe we feel downright frozen during the dead of winter. Dryness can set into the skin, tight joints and limbs can manifest, while an emptiness or depression can crawl into the mind. Then just as we feel like we cannot handle any more qualities of ether and air, the season begins to soften, snow begins to melt, the earth begins to blossom with the promise of spring. With spring, water & earth come into the forefront, while the ether and air elements take a welcomed backseat. The flow of water and the steadiness of earth create a foundation for new life to begin. As humans, we literally and figuratively head outside and sow the seeds that we will grow & foster throughout the summer months.
There is something so sweet and gentle about the springtime. Things seem to move slowly and there is a softness in the air. The softness is an attribute of the water element whereas the slowness is an attribute of the earth element. Both earth and water encourage us to slow down in a healthy way; yet, these elements can also cause us to become imbalanced in kapha dosha. When water and earth combine, they encourage living matter to grow and new life is born; however, if there is too much water and earth, one can literally and figuratively get stuck in the mud. Kapha dosha is aggravated by qualities that are heavy, moist and cold; therefore, an important factor in not aggravating kapha dosha in the spring is to invite in light, warm, dry qualities through food, activities and self-care rituals.
Common Kapha Imbalances
Here are some common signs of kapha imbalance in the physical, mental & emotional body:
- Dullness & lethargy in the mind
- Sluggish digestion
- Excess mucous & congestion
- Oily skin
- Cold & clammy skin
- Feeling stuck in a rut
- Attachment issues
General Recommendations for Kapha Balance
The beauty of Ayurveda is that it offers simple, effective tips to deal with each ailment listed above. Below are some recommendations to help keep kapha in balance this spring.
Favor astringent, bitter & pungent tastes.
Springtime gives us an opportunity to incorporate cooked greens into the diet. Begin to move away from the heavy, grounding, nourishing stews & sweet root vegetables you have been favoring all winter long. Instead, lightly sauté spinach, chard, mustard greens and/or kale with a small amount of ghee or safflower oil. These greens contain the bitter and astringent tastes which will help cleanse the body and counterbalance any congestion and heaviness within the digestive tract. Add to your sauté pungent vegetables like onions, parsnips and garlic. These vegetables work particularly well for kapha dosha because they are light, dry and heating. This is exactly the taste you need to increase agni (your digestive fire) and to cleanse the body of ama (toxic residue). According to Ayurveda, it is best for people that are kapha predominant to start with cooked greens in the spring and then move to raw salads only in the summertime. This is because their agnis tend to be low; thus, raw foods are more difficult to digest versus cooked vegetables.
Beans & Legumes
Avoid large amounts of beans, as they can be difficult to digest if your agni is low. The best beans & legumes to balance kapha dosha include mung beans, lentils and aduki beans.
Fruits like ripe bananas, strawberries and sweet apples should be avoided. Favor astringent fruits like Granny Smith Apples, pomegranate, grapefruit and citruses instead.
Nuts & Seeds
Seeds are more balancing to kapha dosha compared to nuts. For example, a macadamia or cashew nut have heavier qualities compared to sesame, pumpkin or sunflower seeds. In short, when you are preparing a snack, opt for seeds over nuts to keep yourself feeling light and energized.
As Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist, Dr. Halpern explains, “some grains are lighter than others”, oats for example are heavier than corn or barley. In general, the best grains for kapha dosha are light warming grains like corn and buckwheat. Light, cooling grains can also be consumed including quinoa, millet, buckwheat and amaranth. Basmati rice is also an option as it is considered tridoshic, or balancing to all doshas- vata, pitta and kapha.
If you are feeling the strong effects of kapha dosha, you might consider going meat free this spring. In general, meats are not recommended for kapha dosha because they are the heaviest and nourishing of all foods. People of kapha dosha are generally solid and do not require the heavy nourishment that meat offers. If you do go meat free, know that eggs are not considered meat and Ayurveda believes that eggs are just fine, even for kapha dosha.
Generally, all spices are beneficial for kapha dosha. Here is a list of the most ideal spices to support kapha and add to your spice rack this spring: turmeric, ginger, black pepper, asafetida, cayenne pepper and mustard seeds. These are the most pungent and heating spices that will help stimulate digestion and ease any feelings of sluggish digestion you may be experiencing.
Awake before the sun & to bed at 10pm.
Rise and shine! Have you ever noticed that getting up and out of bed at 5:30am is easier than getting out of bed at 6:30am? You should try it! The reason why it is easier to get out of bed at 5:30am is because kapha dosha is accumulating at that time rather than being aggravated. Between the hours of 6am-10am, kapha dosha is predominant; thus, the heavy, dense, dull qualities of kapha settle into the body and mind and it becomes more difficult to motivate and get up and at ‘em.
Due to the movement of the doshas, try to get to bed at 10pm and awake before the sun, at 5:30am. The trick is to get up and out of bed to wake up. Instead of having your alarm next to your bedside where it is easy to press the ‘snooze’ button, place your alarm somewhere in your room where you have to get up and out of bed to turn it off then DO NOT GO BACK TO BED! You have already made it out of the sheets, time to seize the day.
- YOGA ASANA
Focus on flow sequences with rapid movement.
When you step onto your yoga mat, if you feel like a stiff bear coming out of winter hibernation, it might be time to incorporate a strong vinyasa flow practice into your yoga ritual. Moving rapidly through sun salutations, taking one breath per movement, will help relieve stagnation in the body and mind. Focus on postures that expand and open the chest like fish pose, camel pose and full wheel pose. These postures will help relieve any congestion in the respiratory system and help stifled emotions get unstuck.
- OIL PULLING (Gundusha)
If you have not already begun to incorporate Ayurvedic self-care rituals into your daily routine, there is no better time than NOW. Gundusha, the Sanskrit term for Oil Pulling, is the ancient Ayurvedic ritual of pulling or swishing oil through the teeth to support overall oral health & hygiene. When you oil pull daily, it helps strengthen gums, whiten teeth, eradicate plaque & draw toxins out of the body. This daily ritual is also seasonally appropriate because it helps purify and reduce excess kapha in the body. If you are in the market for an oil pulling oil, try our PAAVANI Oil Pulling Oil. Herbs of turmeric, bhringaraj, bayberry, barberry, clove, amalaki and cinnamon are infused in a base of coconut and sesame oil to improve your oral health. PAAVANI offers Oil Pulling Oil in 2 flavors, Refreshing Mint and Spiced Cinnamon.
As we shift into the gentle days of spring, we hope these simple Ayurvedic rituals help you feel renewed and refreshed. Remember, your daily practices are the most powerful things that will determine your short and long-term health. Each and every day take time for yourself amongst all of the chaos and demands. Here’s to renewal and the promise of spring.
written by Trudy Collings