In like a lion, out like a lamb, or so we say. Yes, Spring is a time of changes, and the transition from Winter to Spring is one of the most stressful and challenging shifts we go through all year. In most areas, Winter, with its cold weather, gradually gives way to the increasing warmth of Summer, so we go from a time of excess kapha (water and earth) energy to the increasing heat of the pitta (fire element) season. Just like the plants that start poking through the soil in the transitional springtime, we also gradually start to poke our noses out into the world. How we poke our noses out and use the practices of spring cleansing from Ayurveda can support us.
Because this process doesn’t happen quite as smoothly as we’d prefer. When the unpredictable beginning of Spring comes around, our bodies don’t quite know who to trust, Old Man Winter or the promise of balmy Spring. Do our immune systems still have to ward off colds, or do our adrenal glands have to rev up and get us out to play softball?
Your goal in Spring will be to stabilize your metabolism after being sedentary during the cold season and to get going on your annual Spring cleansing program. Your Ayurvedic health strategy will be to stay warm, get moving, dry out, and lighten up your life- in other words, to reduce accumulated kapha and detoxify any stuck ama (toxins or undigested material) that is still in your tissues from the Winter.
Spring is a time for invigorating exercise, gradually getting back into shape. Add to that some invigorating massage to get the blood circulating, and nice warm baths, saunas and warm herb rubs to revitalize and stimulate the tissues.
Spring Cleaning with an Ayurvedic Twist
During spring, concentrate on cleansing foods and teas. After all, you’ve been hibernating all winter, you old bear. Now, like it or not, it’s time to get up, get cleaned out and get active. Mucus, which also answers to the name kapha dosha, tends to accumulate in the winter (remember all those miserable days at home with a cold?) and that same mucus likes to flow in the spring, like the sap rising in the trees.
Milk tends to increase mucus, so during the Spring season, limit milk products, especially in the kapha morning time. (The kapha morning is approximately sunrise until 10:00 A.M.) Instead, reach for a cup of warm water with a teaspoon of honey.
Pungent, bitter and astringent tastes reduce kapha and assist in cleaning out the tissues. Leafy green vegetables, including lettuce, parsley, and spinach, plus leeks and okra, are bitter cleansing foods. Consider root vegetables, such as beets, carrots and turnips – raw, cooked or juiced – to help keep the liver clean.
Enjoy split peas and navy beans for protein in this season, because they stick to the ribs but are easy enough to digest that the body continues its detoxification cycle. Mung beans and rice soup, with ghee, cilantro, and grated coconut could be a good lunch for a warm spring day. Follow that with detoxifying astringent foods, including berries and grapes, especially green ones. For a punchier detoxifying action, add turmeric, which also reduces inflammation.
When it comes to kitchen herbs, green tea, basil, ginger, cloves and coriander keep the chill away. Pungent onions, garlic, ginger and chilies help speed up circulation and bring cleansing blood to all the organs.
People often develop joint and muscle pain over the long winter. Detoxifying vegetarian diets have been studied in chronic muscle pain, and have shown nice results in the research. A Norwegian study tested the effects of a three week vegetarian diet for people with chronic muscle pain. Serum peroxide, plasma fibrinogen, total cholesterol and high density lipoprotein cholesterol all reduced.
Clean Out all the Pipes
Unfortunately, Spring is allergy season, and it can bring some serious misery! Wet and heavy kapha contributes to this of springtime bane for susceptible folks.
Bring out the daily neti pot, and make it a routine. The warm saltwater and herbal nasal rinse takes just a few seconds, but it can save days of misery from sick sinuses. Think herbal decoctions for use in the neti. Triphala will shrink swollen membranes, eucalyptus will thin mucus, and goldenseal will kill bacteria. Gotu kola, skullcap and calamus are traditional nasal application herbs for sinus conditions. For inflamed sinuses, add a teaspoon of ghee to the neti.
Detoxify the Shrotas (the body’s channels)
To treat the symptoms of excess ama, herbalists use a broad selection of foods to assist the body in removing the waste products from the tissues. When it comes to detoxifying the liver, few foods are more effective than burdock root, which is specific for eruptions of the head, face and neck, and artichoke, a thistle plant in the daisy family. Used mainly as an exotic vegetable, green globe is an excellent detoxifier of the liver and gallbladder that also reduces blood fats, including cholesterol, and effectively treats gallstones and obesity. One study showed a significant lowering of elevated cholesterol (12.2%), triglyceride (5.7%) levels and body weight with artichoke extract.1 The raw globe can also be juiced.
Radish, a member of the cabbage family, is known the world over for liver and gallbladder detoxification. The black radish is regarded as a stronger remedy, but the common red radish also brings results. Other radishes, including daikon (called “mooli” in India), are used in their respective cultures. Radish is a choleretic that relaxes the smooth musculature of the bile ducts, improving bile flow. Radish is also a good vegetable to include in cases of chronic constipation. Use as a food, raw or cooked, or as juice, depending on your preference. Mooli pranthas are popular in Ayurvedic cuisine.
In the herbal arena, dandelion root also acts to increase bile flow. Take dandelion root as tea, tincture, or capsules. Three thousand milligrams per day is a good dose. You might enjoy roasted dandelion root, brewed as a delicious coffee substitute.
Besides being a general balancer, the famous triphala herbal formula is a light laxative, skin, eye, and liver remedy, and an overall detoxifier. Besides taking it as powder, use triphala as a cleansing throat gargle.
Bhumyamalaki is a standby for liver detoxification. It increases bile flow in a very mild way, so is well tolerated by people for whom a stronger liver detoxifier is contraindicated. Use up to 10 grams per day in capsules.
The spring season is Nature’s time to turn over a new leaf, and just maybe we can take her advice. Just like you clean your house, make a commitment to some serious Spring cleaning for your body, and set the tone for all the action you’ll be enjoying long into the Summer.
1. Wiener Medizinische Wocheschrift, 1975; 1223:705-9