In Ayurveda, rtucharya describes the cycle of the seasons.
The word comes from the root rtu from the Vedic rtam, meaning “cosmic rhythm.” Within the great mandala of the yearly cycle, the Earth completes its orbit around the Sun, bringing cold and heat, dark and light, to our environment, including all creatures and our own bodies.
The uttarayana, the six-month period that begins with Winter Solstice, is a time for the great exuberance of life. The plant world grows from seed to fullness with the waxing light of the sun, which strengthens and intensifies until summer solstice.
Winter can generally be divided between the vata and kapha energies. The early part of Winter, marked by wind and dryness (vata), then shifts to the later colder, damper aspects (kapha). In this cycle, it becomes important to stay in alignment with the forces of nature as we move from the lightness of Fall to the heaviness of Winter, then yield to Spring.
This is a time of renewal and rebirth for all cycles, offering awakening, warmth, and growth. Kapha predominates during this time, as the forces of earth and water are strongest and exert their influence upon the earth and our bodies. Pitta emerges in later spring as the sun begins to peak.
And still, after all this time, the Sun has never said to the Earth, You owe me. Look what happens with love like that. It lights up the sky.
The first signs of spring are the breaking open as death gives way to life: buds bursting from the trees, shoots leaping from the earth, a great rising amid the debris of winter. For nature, renewing herself through dying is the only way she can be reborn. And this rebirth is what links the Spring Equinox to the other holidays of Easter, Passover, Purim, and the Goddess Sarasvati festival Vasant.
Alban Eilir – Spring Equinox
Alban Eilir, “light of the earth,” is the balance point between the Winter and Summer solstices of Imbolc and Beltane. The Spring Equinox is one of two times during the year when the tilt of the Earth’s axis is parallel to the center of the Sun. On this day, the forces of darkness and light are equally matched, with light on the increase. It is a time of great fertility and hopefulness, containing the promise of abundant crops and bourgeoning creativity, aligned with the holidays connected to the reigniting of the candle flame — from the Jewish Passover as a time of liberation, to the Christian Easter as a time of the resurrection of the light. Mayan temples also affirm the cyclical process of time as the serpent of light Kulkulkan descends and manifests at the Spring Equinox and then returns back in the cycle of death with the Fall Equinox. The connection to the triumph of light is also reflected in the Indian Festival of Colors, Holi, and the celebration of the strength of Hanuman, known as Hanuman Jayanti, celebrated in April. Spring is the time to be reborn and to flourish.
According to Ayurveda, Springtime is a time of kapha, which brings the gunas, or qualities, of heavy, dull, liquid, dense, slimy, and oily. These qualities have been prevalent since the Winter (another kapha time); whatever quality was increased in the Winter, unless brought to balance during the Spring, can adversely affect your health.
The gunas, or qualities, of Spring that we seek to balance are:
• Heavy and Dull with Stimulation
• Static with Activity and Movement
• Oily and Liquid with Astringent and Bitter
• Smooth and Dense with Dry and Rough
When these qualities are balanced, we can look forward to a time of renewal and invigoration. Excess kapha in Spring can bring allergies, asthma, sinus infections, colds, and chest infections, leading to mucus-producing cough and excreta.
The Essential Spring Rtucharya Rhythm
1. Melt your inner snow (excess mucus) with invigorating and heating practices and activities.
2. Change your eating habits toward a preliminary cleansing. To decrease excess kapha, favor lighter and drier foods that are bitter or astringent, and pungent. Clean up the diet and avoid sweets, refined sugar, dairy, and wheat, all of which increase the heavy, dull, and dense qualities in the body.
3. Spend time outdoors and soak up the radiant and increasingly abundant solar energy known as atapa seva (sun bathing) in Ayurveda.
4. Exercise outdoors with plenty of cardiovascular activity. This is a great time of year to sweat and begin to move winter stagnation out of the body. The best way to move excess heaviness and mucus is to move the lymph and blood that circulates throughout the body. This is best done in the morning between 7 and 10 a.m.
5. Start to wake up one hour before sunrise and bring greater circulation to your daily dry brushing with more invigorating Ayurvedic self-massage.
6. Kapha time begins around 6 or 7 a.m. To avoid increasing kapha qualities in the body, it is important to be up and moving before the sun rises to move toxins and stagnant lymph that have accumulated over the night. Notice that sunrise will continue to come earlier during this time, so stay present to this change.
1. Warm water with honey is great first thing in the morning. For excess kapha, add apple cider vinegar.
2. Agni becomes weaker now, and you may tend toward lethargy or feelings of heaviness after meals. It is important to properly spice food and to not overeat or indulge in rich foods. Eat light, dry, and heating foods.
3. Favor bitter, astringent, and pungent foods. Avoid heavy foods like wheat, avocado, cucumber, dates, banana, melons, and potatoes.
4. Favor vegetables like sprouts, dandelion greens, kale, mustard greens, Swiss chard, endive, collard greens, and spinach. Eat light and astringent fruits such as apples, pears, cranberries, pomegranates, and dried fruit, and avoid sour and juicy fruits like watermelon and oranges.
5. A good spring tea is ginger, lemongrass, and honey. Other good teas are dandelion, cardamom, cinnamon, orange peel, and hibiscus. Cumin, coriander, and fennel tea is a natural diuretic for any excess water weight that may accrue in the spring.
6. Use oil sparingly; mustard, sunflower, and safflower oils are best, as they are light. The best grains are amaranth, barley, quinoa, and rye.
7. Spices for flavor include black pepper, pippali, clove, fresh ginger, nutmeg, sage, thyme, rosemary, cayenne, and turmeric. trikatu (black pepper, pippali, ginger) is an Ayurvedic herbal mix to increase digestion and remove toxins from the body.
Spring body care is centered on moving lymphatic stagnation, invigorating the tissues and skin, and lightening the body. Choose stimulating and invigorating scents over heavy and earthy scents, since kapha is predominantly earth and water.
1. Abhyanga is done very sparingly (if at all) during this season and generally with only minimal oil. The technique of “friction rubbing” is recommended, where the massage strokes are brisk and quick rather than long and smooth. Favor light oils for the body like sunflower or mustard oil.
2. Spring essential oils/scents include clearing and stimulating ones such as eucalyptus, tea tree, turmeric, peppermint, and rosewood.
3. Enjoy dry-brushing the skin with silk gloves or a loofah to bring blood to the surface and begin the detoxifying process.
4. Use a neti pot to keep the sinuses free and clear.
5. Take saunas or steam baths as a favorite detox practice to decrease kapha and ama (excess toxins).
Now is the time to give full power to the seed dreams you incubated during the darkness of winter. The Spring Equinox is a powerful time to care for the Earth and shed any limiting or toxic behaviors. During this time of tremendous growth, let us all take care to protect the precious seedlings that have emerged from the depths of winter. Let us honor the fiery energy of new life.
Article adapted from Tending the Heartfire: Living in Flow with the Pulse of Life by Shiva Rea. ©2014 by Shiva Rea. Published by Sounds True.
Photos by Amir Magal
Shiva Rea is a shaktidasi—servant of the life-force. She is the dedicated founder of Prana Flow—Energetic Vinyasa and Samudra Global School for Living Yoga offering pilgrimage and yogadventure retreats, teacher trainings, and online programs in collaboration with teachers, artists, and activists around the world: pranaflowyoga.com.