Spring & Ayurveda
written by Taylor Tidwell
“Life runs in cycles. The wheel never stops turning. No matter how dark the night, morning comes. No matter how cold the winter, spring comes. When you feel despair, know that the wheel is turning. Joy will come.”
As I write this, the Japanese magnolias are just starting to show their deep pink blooms and the citrus trees are beginning to call the honeybees with an unbelievably amazing fragrance from their fresh blossoms. By the time you the reader are enjoying these words we will be well on our way towards more stable and enjoyably warm weather. The azaleas will be popping all over and we will be so excitingly close to the explosion of jasmine across the city. These life affirming natural happenings in the subtropical climate of New Orleans are some of the big reasons I love living here; something is always assured to be blossoming, vibrant, and green and our return to comfortable weather comes rather quickly.
With festivals still on hold in order to keep our gathering sizes small, this spring will in many ways be similar to the last in that it will again be more quiet and inward, with most of us just sticking to those beings closest to our hearts. This is in stark difference to the typically loud and beautifully over the top celebrations of our normal spring season. This March, however, is much different than last year’s, as we now have the hue of hope coloring our perspective. With the distribution of the vaccines we can finally take a few deep breaths and know that we, along with the rest of nature, are all coming out of what Amanda Gorman refers to in her beautiful poem The Hill We Climb as “this never-ending shade.” So while things may still look the same as last year, I invite you to harness this new season’s energy of hope and renewal to recommit to your own upliftment and truly honor all of the many transformational shifts and challenges that you have been forced to overcome. Then together we will all once again pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start all over again.
From the perspective of Ayurveda, spring is the season of Kapha and a period of accumulation where, ever since the winter solstice, the days have been growing longer and our northern hemisphere is once again warming with the return of the sun’s increasing presence. Once we reach the spring equinox (March 20, mark those calendars!) we cross the threshold and day overtakes the night once again in this eons long cycle of our planet’s ever shifting balance.
If you have not yet been exposed to Ayurveda, this is a centuries old sibling wisdom to Yoga that looks at the elemental makeup of life and how these elements combine and interact in all of their forms, whether it be the physical body, the mind and thought patterns, foods and herbs, or the seasons of which I am speaking here. The basic elements of ether, air, fire, water & earth combine into what’s called a dosha. The 3 doshas of Vata (Air/Ether), Pitta (Fire & a bit of Water), Kapha (Water & Earth) are the main lens through which Ayurveda sees the world. We each have a combination of these doshas that manifest as us with most of us being more dominant in one or the other. This doshic makeup or constitution is particular to ourselves and so Ayurveda’s work is to help us continually come back to our birth nature as we shift and change through our lives.
Have you ever noticed how one person in the room could be hot and needing to bring down the temperature while someone else in the same room needs a blanket? I’m sure you’ve noticed either yourself or someone else being naturally quick to anger, while for others it takes quite a while. According to Ayurveda this is explained via the balance or imbalance of the doshas of each individual. Then, the basic underlying principle for healing is to apply the opposite to whatever is out of balance. If you are too hot, cool off with a damp towel and a nice mint water. If you are easily excitable and anxious, opt out of overly caffeinated beverages and eat more grounding earthy foods. This is a taste of what is being looked at and is not by any means one size fits all, but most of Ayurveda is about taking a common sense approach once you identify the tendencies of imbalance.
Spring is kapha season and its sweet, moist and soft qualities are expressing themselves. It is neither hot, nor cold, but rather pleasantly cool or warm. There’s a gentle and nurturing feeling to this season as the waters locked as snow in the north begin their flow southward. The earth is transformed with this movement of water and life bursts forth. Ayurveda teaches that like increases like and as we move into the spring season we want to invite in qualities that will balance and help us to match what is already happening in nature, yet at the same time due the work to apply some of the opposite in order to not be thrown off balance. One of kapha’s great traits is stability, which is wonderful for friendships, work, and romance, but too much stability (as in excessive lounging or sleeping late into the day) can lead us into unhealthy tendencies of lethargy and depression. In order to match nature, one of the best things we can do as we move away from winter into spring is to get our own earth and water up and moving! Nature is putting on its show for us. Wake up early and go be part of it. Drink a glass of warm water and go for a daily jog, a bicycle ride, brisk walk, or do one of my favorites and roll out your mat in the park so you can be with the elements fully during your yoga practice. Get into nature as much as possible. Take time to watch its display, its animals, feel the shifts in the air and the loving aspect of this time.
Kapha dosha is sweet, oily, and heavy so take this into mind as you decide what to eat. Invite the opposite to bring greater balance. Begin to move away from the heavier and sweet foods of the winter. Have a light breakfast, and then mask up and head to the farmer’s market to purvey the abundance of fresh vegetables and leafy greens. If you eat meat, lighten it up with fresh seafood and give a vegetarian meal a place on the dinner menu. (Just because you eat meat doesn’t mean it should be in every meal:-) Lighten your intake of oils, butters, and all dairy as these tend to increase the mucous like qualities of kapha. The pungent flavors of onions, garlic, pepper, and flavor enhancing qualities of herbs & spices are welcome to help break up excess kapha in our systems. If you feel balanced, this doesn’t mean you don’t get to indulge from time to time, but take the middle path and you’ll do just fine.
As the number of times we each have orbited the sun increases it can tend to feel oh so difficult and tiring to begin again. To find the energy to pick up the pieces and start all over from scratch for many of us, myself included, can seem like such a burden. It’s easy to get weighed down by the heaviness of all that we’ve gone and are going through. The world as we knew it is in the past, we are faced with all the unknowns of our future, and the mind can be incessant in its ruminations of all of this, but from the words of the beloved Ram Dass, ‘And then here we are.’ Come back into present moment awareness and honor the seasonal shift inside yourself. With the arrival of spring this is a perfect opportunity to move out of these unbalanced kapha traits of clinging and holding on. Instead we let go of clinging to how things were or should be or could be. We let the past be the past, and by joining with the hope filled spring energies of renewal and rejuvenation we can kindle the inner fires to pick up where we left off or chart a new course entirely.
My wish for all of you is for you to fully enjoy this calm quiet spring just as it is, for it is quite precious and we may never see one like it again in our lives. Reaffirm your own commitment to your personal health and wellbeing. See what is fresh, think light and get your body moving whether outside or online & in studio at Swan River. If we take a look around at all the blessings that the earth is offering us right now, and honor how this awakening of the planet is not just happening around us, but throughout our being, maybe we’ll happen into a more enlightened and balanced way of treading on this beautiful earth of ours.
As is the norm, but for this month in particular, I advise you to be well rounded and balanced in your offerings this month.
• Get students/clients motivated, well heated, and moving with sun salutations or other warm up practices that break up stagnancy and inertia.
• Bring inversions and backbends into all of your classes to invite expansion, upliftment and movement of blood & fluids to the brain and heart centers.
• Use bhastrika, kapalabhati pranayama practice, or vocal warmups with Om or chanting in the beginning of class to break up any extra kapha in the system that shows up as mucous. Bhastrika pranayam is highly recommended for breaking up mucous and to stimulate the lungs and lymph. Make sure to literally use the arms on the exhale to forcefully hit the sides of the rib cage. Here’s a smiling man at the beach practicing bhastrika pranayama: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0GBQIYyDgw
• Complete your well rounded class with plenty of room for a nice long savasana. If you need to cut a pose at the end because you are running out of time, honor savasana as taking precedence. We still need down time and space to process and digest all that we have and are going through. Savasana is pure kapha time (stable / still) and will be gladly received by all as to have some time in quiet, away from the computer and news
• For more information on Spring and Ayurvedic cycles head to Banyan Botanicals: https://www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/ayurvedic-living/living-ayurveda/seasonal-guides/spring-guide/
• Overall, bring a message of hope, joy, lightness, and know that the best is yet to come! (Or maybe it’s right now)