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.”

Keep reading to learn more about the qualities of Kapha and what you can do to shed winter sluggishness and make the most of spring.

Qualities of Kapha

In Ayurveda, Kapha endows your body 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 are more likely to feel strong, composed, and stable. By contrast, when out of balance, you may experience:

  • sleepiness and lethargy
  • mental dullness or depression
  • excess lung or sinus congestion
  • nausea
  • difficulty losing weight
  • water retention
  • heaviness in your limbs

It’s natural in the winter months when the world becomes colder and wetter for your  body to have more Kapha-like qualities, such as eating and sleeping more. This creates a “winter coat” of insulation which we need. 

In spring, you need to shed this excess Kapha or risk becoming vulnerable to seasonal allergies or head colds. The solution? Develop a spring-time routine that allows your body and mind to “lighten up” without disturbing the stable virtues of Kapha.

 

Ready to shed your “winter coat” and feel your best? Here are six (6) easy changes you can make to your daily 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 ama ,or toxins, that have accumulated during the winter.

Start by limiting your consumption of sugar, dairy products, alcohol, caffeine and red meat 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!).

To aid in digestion, consume warm, lightly cooked foods. And 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, with these simple additions: 

  • Start the day with a glass of warm lemon water
  • Enjoy ginger tea after every meal
  • Eat fermented foods like sauerkraut to give your intestinal flora a boost
  • Enhance your meals with pungent spring herbs and spices such as onions, scallions, ginger, black pepper, parsley and cilantro.

Aim to start your day with a light breakfast of fresh fruit and tea. Then focus on lunches and dinners of light, cooked grains, steamed vegetables, and legumes. An especially good food for spring is kitchari, a warm, soupy dish made with yellow mung beans cooked with rice. Delicious and very warming! 

3) Breathe Easy

The stomach, chest, throat, and head are the energetic seat of Kapha. Since all of these areas produce and tend to accumulate mucus, make it a priority to find five to ten minutes a day to practice pranayama.

Try starting with this simple breath practice:

  • Inhale through your nose to a count of five
  • Pause the breath for a count of two
  • Exhale for a count of five
  • Repeat for six complete rounds of breath 

If you have more time, include a few rounds of Victorious Breath (Ujjayi Pranayama) or Skull Shining Breath (Kapalabhati). Both of these deep, rhythmic breathing practices are excellent for strengthening the lungs and clearing the head and sense organs.

4) Rise with the Birds

The shift to Daylight Savings Time in early spring means the sun rises earlier and so should you. If possible, aim to wake up by or before 6AM.

Then, stimulate your senses by brushing your teeth, scraping your tongue, and applying a few drops of nasya oil to your nasal passages.

Next, drink about 8-10 ounces of warm or room temperature water. This will rehydrate your body after sleep and give your digestive system a jump start.

Try to make time for some exercise, yoga or meditation, too. Even ten minutes of movement will set the tone for your day.

Then to help you wind down at the end of your day and get a good night’s sleep, start by taking a short walk after dinner. The movement will help you more easily digest your evening meal. 

Hard as it can be, aim to turn off all electronics–including the TV– by 9PM. Prepare for bed and ground your mind by briefly massaging your feet and head with some lavender-scented oil. Then read or listen to some soothing music until it’s time to turn out the lights around 10PM.

5) Connect with Nature 

Kapha brings out the homebody in us. Your inner Kapha child would happily lie on the couch eating her favorite chocolate treat 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. As a result, they are prone to retaining fat and water. To counter this, head outside for an active, fast paced walk. Weather too rainy to get outside? Opt to climb the stairs instead of taking the elevator or make an extra effort  to get outside in the sun whenever you’re able. 

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 chest openers and standing poses into your practice. Poses like Chair Pose (Utkatasana), Garland Pose (Malasana), or their lesser-known cousins Lion Pose (Simhasana) and Tail-Wagging Pose (Khahanasana) create heat, improve joint mobility, aid digestion and elimination, and increase circulation.

A word of caution: be mindful 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 your daily habits and routines using the wisdom of Ayurveda, you can make the most of the glorious season of spring.

For detoxifying spring yoga practice, read, Revitalizing Spring Yoga Flow: 8 Poses for Balancing Kapha.” 

Be well!

 

published 3/29/21; updated 3/31/24

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