As a follow up to her workshop, Viriam is here with a blog on Ayurveda and Yoga for the Spring
Do you feel it in the air? A little inspiration, a little growth, a movement, a shift?
Maybe you start to feel a little warmer in your bones, more fluid in your joints and a sense of upliftment in mind and spirit… Spring is a time of rebirth.
And we can harness this energy of rebirth for conscious change.
Spring is also a time of transition – any shift between seasons can make us sensitive. Spring is traditionally a time of colds and the onset of allergies as blossoms start to come out. Spring is Kapha season (Kapha is late Winter/ Early Spring season) – see chart.
There is a heaviness still to Spring which is typical of Kapha – although it is less cold, we have Spring rains which make the ground heavy but also nourished ready for life to germinate and bud.
So what do you want to sow this Spring? We should celebrate new potential, a time for new beginnings and creativity, while also supporting our body and mind in the seasonal transition from Winter to Spring.
Ayurveda is a balancing act, we are trying to create harmony within us and this needs to be tweaked every day – it is a lifelong practice. How we live, the change in seasons, our environment, what we eat, digest and eliminate,how we move and exercise, our emotions, how we work and how we play, and our mind set and motivation all affect this balance.
Ayurvedic teacher Maya Tiwari believes ayurveda is about:
- Rhythm: Honoring nature’s nourishers: Food, Breath and Sound
- Sacred Practice: Aligning every activity in accord with nature’s rhythms
- Consciousness: Cultivating inner awareness and knowingness
In essence, she suggests listening to our bodies – rediscovering a dialogue with ourselves where we tap into our own innate healing ability.
Foundation Stones – Doshas
Spring is kapha time. In ayurveda there are three doshas or body types. Vata – Pitta – Kapha and we are normally a combination of two body types. It is rare to be purely one and equally rare to be a balance of all three. But it is a fine balancing act to create harmony between the three doshas. In a nutshell,
- Vata is dominated by air – Vata people are creative, imaginative and inspired but often lose momentum and lack stamina. They are prone to dryness, nervous system disorders and can burn out quickly and suffer from problems like migraines, insomnia and neuralgia. They are worriers and find if hard to relax.
- Pitta is the element of fire – Pitta people are dynamic and get things done. They lead from the front. They are medium-build, have moderate stamina and are prone to heat in the body – allergies, inflammation, sensitive skin, ulcers and sometimes display a fiery temper.
- Kapha is dominated by the elements of earth and water. Kapha people are calm and strong – someone you can always turn to. They are strong in build but are more prone to obesity, lethargy and depression. They lack motivation, but can be calm in a crisis. (Check out www.chopra.com for a good online dosha quiz).
We can see which dosha we are through our body shape, our skin tone, our ideas, even the quality of our dreams – our whole being. Even if it is not our prakriti (inherent nature), we can become imbalanced in any of the doshas because of changes to our lifestyle or environment or indeed seasonal change . In the spring, it is common to become imbalanced Kapha-style – colds, mucus, fatigue etc.
Kapha is the late Winter – Early Spring (typified by damp, cold, moisture, heaviness – earth and water elements); Pitta is the Late Spring – Summer (typified by warmth, heath, solar energy – element of fire)’ Vata is the Autumn – Early Winter seasons (typified by air, winds, change, dry and cold).
Whatever our individual constitution or body type we can suffer seasonal imbalances – a Vata person can still suffer from mucus in Spring or hayfever.
Creating Balance and Boosting the Immune System
Spring is a time of re-awakening. Winter gives us time to rest, conserve our energies and plan ahead, while Spring is a time to take all this energy and start anew.
To combat spring colds, drink tulsi (holy basil) tea and get lots of Vitamin C (traditional ayurvedic way is through amla or chyawanprash). Tulsi is an antioxidant and helps the body cope with and recover from the effects of stress.
A gentle detox is supported as the weather gets warmer in the spring. The spring has an inspirational quality – rejuvenation -and I think we can be inspired by this and drop our attachments to food more easily at this time. We might crave less ‘comfort foods’ as there is more light and space – we start to turn our attention out into the world a little more. In fact, you might notice that you crave lighter foods – nourishing but light.
The simplest thing to do to cleanse the system is to drink a cup of hot water first thing in the morning (this has helped cure constipation and sluggishness in so many people). You can add lemon to reduce excess kapha and warm vata – a spoonful of honey in warm water is also good for excess kapha.
You can also make a cleansing detox tea. Make a whole thermos and drink throughout the day, especially 15 minutes after each meal. Boil two litres of water and for Vata types add ½ tsp of cumin seeds, ¼ tsp of ajwain (caraway) and ½ tsp of fennel seeds. For Pitta, ½ tsp of cumin seeds, ½ tsp coriander seeds and 2 mint leaves. For Kapha, ½ tsp of cumin seeds, 1 clove and ½ inch of fresh sliced ginger. If you can get hold of fresh tulsi, you can add to every brew as it is a true cleanser.
- Decongest the skin and lymphatic system with dry skin brushing. Clear toxins from the skin and get lymph moving with exercise, skin brushing and self massage as well as yoga – we can even get the lymph moving by taking certain foods at this time of year. Lymph vessels are laced throughout the body but concentrate in certain areas including in the abdominal region (Cisterna chyli). Foods like cherries and blueberries are full of antioxidants which get lymph moving – spring and bitter greens are also particularly good – although most of us wouldn’t seek out dandelion leaves. Essentially they help flush out any congestion that has built up in the gut.
Spring Foods – Supporting Your Digestive System in the Spring
Kapha is typified by damp, mucus and heaviness – so bring in more astringent and bitter tastes, cut out dairy as much as possible and favour warm steamed or sauted foods over cold , damp raw foods. Try lighter grains like quinoa, millet or amaranth.
So bring in more fruits and vegetables – eat fresh, but not too much raw. Steer clear of heavy or watery fruit and veg (so take avocado, sweet potatoes and pumpkin only in moderation – as well as heavy fruits like bananas and oranges (sour) and reduce watery fruit and veg like cucumber and courgette (zucchini); melons etc. Bitter greens are good – broccoli, kale – or try some chard. Try spring vegetables like asparagus – and you can balance with grounding root vegetables like potatoes, carrots and leeks. Use some spice – chili if you can tolerate it – lots of ginger, black pepper. You may still need to boost your digestive fire, so add detoxifying spices such as turmeric, cumin, coriander, clove, ajwain, fenugreek, dried ginger, and fennel. Add the turmeric to foods as they are cooking, and sauté other spices in ghee or sesame oil and pour over prepared dishes for the best therapeutic benefit. Try and steer clear of wheat and dairy, and avoid ice creams etc.
Eating light is a great way to give your body a rest. Digestion takes up so much energy so by taking simple foods, we can rest our digestive system. You could try a mono diet for a few days where you simply eat one thing, like kichadi. Know your body. Know when a simple fruit or kichadi fast will benefit you and know when you need more nourishment.
Everyone is different. Enjoy your time in the kitchen – treat it as a healing meditation. “Not only do food sadhanas (daily practices of cooking as meditation) impart rasa (taste or essence of life), they also nourish and influence our life force,” says Maya Tiwari who encourages us to eat with our hands, grind our own spices in a pestle and mortar and bring awareness to the sensual nourishment of food, not simply the physical nourishment through calories.
Skip to the end for a basic kichadi recipe.
Move Your Body
Kapha is stimulated by strong exercise – dynamic yoga and pranayama, cardiovascular work, yoga kriyas to cleanse the lymphatic system. Kapha types have a tendency towards lethargy, so dynamic exercise is the key. And naturally in the spring time, to shed extra winter weight or give yourself a new lease of life, dynamic exercise and yoga can clear the head as well as cleanse the body.
In yoga, we want to create space, movement and fluidity – get out of the stagnant energy of the winter and bring in expansive movement to open the heart and lungs and stimulate the liver and kidneys. Ayurvedic Yoga in the Spring counteracts the downward pull of tamas (heavy/ darkness of Winter) building rajas (energizing movement and momentum) to bring sattva (lighteness) to our minds and bodies. Appreciating the balance of all three – we want the sustenance and support of the earth, the rejuvenating prana and breath and the expansiveness of movement and growth.
Kapha issues often centre around the lungs and respiratory system – so enjoy the fluid rhythm of sun salutations. Gentle back bends encourage opening in the chest and in the heart. When practicing try and hold for an extra breath and focus awareness in the lungs – feel into the space between the ribs – breathe into the back of the lungs and the back of the heart. Whenever you raise the arms in Warrior I and II or Reverse Warrior or you open into Side Angle – tune into the rib cage – feel into the centre point of the diaphragm – make space in the side body. Embrace twists – they will naturally draw energy from the centre to the periphery and back again – feel as if you can make more space. Bring awareness to your Solar Plexus when you come into Warrior I or to Cobra – tune into the warmth of your inner fire. Drawing awareness of the inner fire up to melt any held tension in the chest and upper back and any stagnant energy in the lungs.
- Cleansing Breath Exercise
Stand up and lean with your hands just above your knees. Stick your tongue out as far as it will go (and don’t put it back in your mouth whatever!) take a deep breath in over the tongue, and then exhale, with your breath held out pump the navel as many times as you can until you can’t possibly hold the breath out any longer. Take a breath in and repeat this cycle for five minutes. You might find you need to spit at times. This really helps eliminate toxins.
- Liver Twists
Sit in easy pose on the floor with legs crossed. Raise your left arm up at 60 degrees and bring the back of your right palm across the small of your back. Twist to the left as you inhale and twist to the right as you exhale. Do for one to three minutes.
- Taste Your Breath
Although Sitali Pranayam (breathing through the curled tongue or pursed lips) is traditionally used as a cooling breath – here we use it to taste the prana. Develop a new relationship with your breath by tasting its deliciousness. Sip the breath in over the curled tongue (or pursed lips) and focus on the sensation, not just the coolness but the softness of the prana as you inhale – exhale through the nose. Breath slowly – savour the breath.
Basic Kichadi Recipe
You can find a range of cleansing kichadi recipes for different ailments and seasons in Amadea Morningstar’s Ayurvedic Cookbook. Here is a general kichadi recipe. As it’s spring – you could opt for a lighter grain and try it with quinoa rather than rice – or you could change the ratio of rice to mung beans and experiment then with texture. You can add spring veggies too. Or maybe grab a handful of pumpkin seeds – toast these in a dry pan and sprinkle on top at the end. I’ve put seasonal options for Spring in italics.
You will need:
1 cup of mung beans and 1 cup of basmati rice. 9 cups of water, ½ cup of sesame oil, 4 to 6 cups of chopped spring vegetables, asparagus is good or rainbow chard and I like a combination of peppers and celery. 2 chopped onions, 1/3 minced fresh ginger, and garlic to taste. I personally like a lot of ginger. For seasoning, turmeric is essential so add 1tsp as is a pinch of asafetida (as it takes the gas out of lentils!) and you can use salt , soy sauce or tamari (gluten-free soy sauce) to not only add salty flavor but to bring out all the flavours. On top of this add:
Classic kichadi seasoning – you will need ½ tsp mustard seeds, 6-8 peppercorns, 1 tsp garam masala, 1 tsp sweet basil, 2 curry leaves (or bay leaves), 5 cardamom pods and you can add crushed chilis too if you want some heat.
Or opt for a Spring blend of seasoning – so insteaed of the ‘classic’ mix, add ½ tsp fenugreek 1 tsp of coriander seeds. At the end add chopped fresh coriander too and for zing – a squeeze of lime or lemon.
Soak mung over night. Wash beans and rice.(British Indian chef – Meera Sodha says one of our biggest mistakes in cooking rice is that we do not wash it first.) Bring water to boil, add rice and beans and let boil over medium heat. (you can also cook separately if you prefer) If you are going for the classic blend – add cardamom and peppercorns to water and a pinch of asfoetida (hing).
Heat oil and add mustard seeds and curry leves in a frying pan and pop if you are going for the classic kichadi!
If you are going for the Spring version – heat the oil and add the fenugreek seeds and coriander seeds .
Then add whatever ground spices you like, but namely turmeric (very healing) and then whichever blend you prefer. Then once spices are cooked together briefly, add onions and lots of garlic and ginger (holy trinity!) cook on a low heat for about 10 minutes. Add to the pot of mung and rice and leave to simmer on a low heat for an hour.
You can cook vegetables within the pot or separately. As it’s Spring, you could opt for asparagus, pak choi or colourful rainbow chard – add these to the pot in the last ten minutes or if you prefer cook separately.