With the dawning and waning of each new season, we experience shifts in environmental characteristics and qualities. When we look closely, we find these changes of season are reflected within the body and mind as we adjust to changes in temperature, daylight hours, seasonal foods, etc.
With each season, different elemental forces come to the fore, both in nature and within ourselves. In order to maintain balance and equilibrium it is important for us to recognize how these elemental factors affect our own doshic constitution, and how we can best support the body through adopting a diet and lifestyle appropriate for the season.
Spring is a season of fluid transition and fluctuation. Some days can still seem cool, wintery and dark, while other days give us a warm glimpse of the summer months to come. The goal of an Ayurvedic seasonal routine is to stay in alignment with the shifts and changes of nature’s rhythms. In this way, we’ll avoid the common allergies, colds, and other illnesses that accompany seasonal shifts. Rather than developing a rigid or static routine, we should stay sensitive to the qualities being presented by the season and alter our practices accordingly.
Transition from Spring to Summer
The transition from winter to spring is one of the most delicate shifts. After a long, dark season of introspection and rest, the earth slowly begins to reawaken. All of the energy that has been building through the winter sleep begins to emerge. Sights are now turned outwards and the process of growth begins. There is a sense of freshness and rejuvenation as the dormancy of winter is shaken into soft action. We may notice that during this period inspiration begins to flood in as our energy levels gradually pick up. We might feel the urge to make plans for the rest of the year. Both the body and mind start to stretch back into a rhythm, feeling rejuvenated and reinvigorated. However, we should curb the desire to suddenly rush back to a fully active lifestyle. The spring season, although getting warmer, is still cold and damp in most parts of the world. The ground is heavy and swelling from moisture and new growth. By keeping your diet and daily routine in line with spring’s qualities, you’ll have a much easier time managing your physical and mental health.
Qualities of Spring
Spring is dominated by the earth and water elements. In nature we witness the heavy, sticky earth, often damp from snow melt or rain. Although the trees are beginning to produce leaves and the days are gradually increasing in length, it is still a relatively dark and sleepy time of the year — particularly at the beginning of the season. Kapha dosha predominates during spring. This is reflected in the heavy, cool, sticky and dense qualities exhibited by the earth during this time. We may also notice these qualities within the mind and body during this period. A lingering sense of heaviness and lethargy often remains in the body after a long, dark winter. Our bodies are also more susceptible to aggravation of kapha during the spring. Just as the end of winter and beginning of spring witnesses the snow melt in certain climates, the kapha in the body becomes liquified in the hopes of eventually being eliminated. Symptoms that can occur during this time of year include:
- Sluggish digestion
- Weight gain
- Seasonal allergies
- Sinus infections
- Chesty coughs
- Excess mucus production
- Low self-esteem
Mentally, the heaviness of an imbalanced kapha can result in:
- Feelings of depression
- Low self-esteem
- Lack of drive and lethargy
It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with these signs of an aggravated kapha dosha so you can quickly notice any symptoms as they arise and address them straight away. In order to pacify kapha and maintain a healthy internal balance, we should try to adopt dietary and lifestyle practices that counteract the qualities of the season and support the healthy elimination of excess kapha. Spring has the qualities of being cold, dense, heavy and moist, therefore we should look to incorporate light, dry, and warming qualities into our diet and lifestyle routines to find a healthy balance.
With the shift in season, many of us might recognize a subtle shift in our natural cravings or desire for certain food types. The heavy and substantive foods that keep us cozy and nourished over the dark winter months may begin to feel a little too heavy. The kapha nature of the spring season requires something a little more light-weight and in a more moderate quantity, as the digestive fire is low and appetite decreases. At this time of transition, the body has a natural desire to purify, and may start giving you little signals that it needs a spring clean, such as cravings of fresh fruits and vegetables. Further into spring, once the days are warmer and brighter, you may feel ready to do a cleanse, such as a juice fast or a mono-diet, depending on your particular constitution. While your dietary choices should reflect the environmental conditions of your particular location, here are some general guidelines for an optimal spring diet:
- Favour pungent, bitter and astringent flavours
- Favour warm and light foods that are easy on the digestive system
- Incorporate a generous amount of warming digestive spices such as ginger, black pepper, cayenne, chilli, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, cardamom and turmeric.
- Avoid chilled or cold beverages, instead choosing room temperature, warm or hot water and herbal teas. Honey can be added to tea as it’s astringent quality helps dry some of the mucus produced by excess kapha.
- Make freshly prepared vegetables and legumes the basis of your meals, however avoid eating too much raw produce as the digestive fire is low during this period. Examples of kapha pacifying vegetables are: artichoke, asparagus, beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, green beans, kale, peas, potatoes, and spinach. Examples of kapha pacifying legumes are: black beans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), lentis, miso, mung beans and Toor dal (pigeon peas).
- Limit the amount of heavy or water vegetables you consume, such as avocado, cucumber, sweet potato and squash.
- Avoid heavy grains, instead choosing grains that are gentle on the digestive system. Examples of kapha pacifying grains are: amaranth, barley, basmati rice, buckwheat, corn, millet, quinoa, and rye
- It is best to start the day with a light breakfast, perhaps sticking to fruits. Beneficial fruits during the spring season include: apples, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, lemons, limes, pears, pomegranates, raspberries and strawberries. Try to reduce the amount of heavy or sour fruits you consume, such as oranges, coconuts, bananas and dates.
- Over the shift from winter to spring, gradually reduce your intake of oily, heavy, and fried foods.
- Avoid snacking between meals.
- Limit the amount of sweet, sour and salty flavours you incorporate into meals
- Reduce the amount of oil used when cooking and minimize the amount of dairy consumed, as this will aggravate kapha and increase mucus production. If you prefer cow milk to rice or almond alternatives, try warming the milk with spices such as ginger, cinnamon or turmeric to aid digestion.
Spring Lifestyle Practices
To counteract the heavy, wet quality of the spring season, exercise is a powerful tool to improve circulation, increase internal heat, and promote a sense of lightness. Exercise is particularly balancing for kapha dosha, which can feel very slow, heavy and lethargic. This is a good time of the year to push yourself a little harder in your movement practice, while still being mindful of your individual constitution and being careful not to overdo it. The ideal hours of day to exercise is during the kapha hours of the morning, between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. Try to get the heart rate up and promote a light sweat with activities such as jogging, hiking, biking, or swimming. Vinyasa yoga is excellent during the spring, since it’s a more active form of yoga practice. As kapha can sit heavily on the chest, it is nice to incorporate some heart opening stretches and backbends. Inversions are also a nice way to counteract the heaviness of kapha.
Breathing exercises are an excellent way to root out stagnation and stimulate your internal systems. The best practices for balancing kapha and cleansing the body during the spring are invigorating and heating breaths such as Kapalabhati and Bhastrika.
If you have a kapha constitution or find spring a particularly difficult month in terms of your health or sense of well-being, it can be beneficial to enlist the help of some herbs to aid the cleansing process and boost the immune system. Chyavanprash is an Ayurvedic medicinal jam consisting of over 20 herbs that support the immune system and give you an energy boost. 1-2 teaspoons of this rejuvenative blend can be taken once or twice daily throughout the spring season. Triphala is a blend of three Indian fruits that support healthy digestion and help rid the body of toxins. If you have very weak digestive fire, triphala can be taken before a meal to stimulate agni, otherwise it can be taken at night to aid the natural detoxification process of the liver and kidneys as you sleep. Many of the most beneficial herbs for balancing kapha dosha are everyday spices that you likely already have in your kitchen. Teas from any combination of fennel seed, fresh ginger, cumin seed, coriander seed, cinnamon, black pepper, cardamom, lemon and turmeric, support the digestive fire and the process of internal cleansing.
As we emerge out of the winter season, Ayurveda encourages that we begin to rise earlier in the morning — before 6 a.m. — to greet the sun and prepare for the day. Although we should certainly honor the light-hearted and playful energy of spring by trying new things and being adventurous, keeping a stable routine will always benefit our health in the long run. The structure of having regular habits of eating, sleeping, working, exercising, etc. (dinacharya) helps to keep the doshas balanced and our immune system strong.
Cleansing the body first thing in the morning upon rising is important for removing excess kapha and toxins that have stagnated in the body overnight. Scraping the tongue, drinking hot water and practicing abhyanga (warm oil self-massage) before bathing are all examples of daily self-care practices that support your body’s cleansing process in the springtime. Kapha dosha can also be pacified by invigorating dry-brushing and exfoliation prior to your morning shower. Stimulating the skin in this way will help circulation, improve lymphatic drainage, and promote healthy, supple skin. If you have access to a sauna, this is an excellent way to dry out some of the residual water element of kapha and create a sense of lightness.
Transition to Summer
Towards the end of the spring season there will be a shift towards more expansive energy. Longer days and warmer temperatures will see pitta dosha begin to increase within the system resulting in more outgoing energy and a desire for fresher and more cooling foods. As the qualities of the season become lighter, it is important to remain grounded and treat the seasonal shift with sensitivity.