In Ayurveda, spring is understood as the kapha season. It often shares the wet and cold qualities of kapha dosha, and as like increases like, can aggravate people with a kapha predominance, or children who are in the kapha stage of their lives, the juicy, wet, anabolic (tissue building) phase. Kapha dosha is the combination of two of the five elements, the pancha mahabhutas of Ayurveda, earth and water. We are very much in the energies of the earth in the spring as the viriditas is unfolding around us and in the water element with our spring rains, with everything fecund and moist and growing.
We are so blessed here in Santa Barbara county to have gotten a wonderful amount of rain this year after six years of drought. I definitely noticed strong fevers with mucous/kapha symptoms in the head and chest were prevalent in our home and community. The rivers and creeks are running and so are the noses! I managed to avoid any illness through the winter season I believe due in part to several years of seasonal Ayurvedic cleansing as well as daily lifestyle practices that help keep me protected and balanced.
I will provide in this blog a few of those practices as well as suggestions to take advantage of and pay attention to nature’s special offerings to antidote the kapha nature of spring.
Protection:Prevention. In Ayurveda, the idea is to increase our self referential consciousness and mindful awareness so that we are aware of imbalances long before a practitioner could detect any formation of a diagnosable disease or pathology. By being aware of our individual psychological and metabolic type, or dosha, we can be aware of where our type is susceptible and how to balance and protect when we have a prevalence of certain elements.
Like increases like and the opposite balances/antidotes. If you are a kapha dosha, a heavy, loyal, earth and water type, who tends to be cold and heavy, holds weight well, has thick hair and nails, has a tendency to oversleep and be greedy or possessive when imbalanced, as well as loving, steadfast, calm, with eyes like milk when in balance, and it is the wet, cold season of spring and raining outside with heavy, damp cold, and it is the kapha time of the evening, between 6 and 10, and you decide to have ice cream, a cold, wet, heavy, mucogenic food, you are likely to get severe congestion as a result of your ‘offense against nature’. If you are already run down, you may develop bronchitis or ear infection from toxicity and susceptibility, and an overload of kapha dosha. Your may, if you repeat this, accumulate kapha in the stomach and lungs, and have it begin to move in the body, looking for areas of weakness and settling there, say in the joints, to begin kapha type arthritis.
Remember. Protection:Prevention. So, instead of having ice cream at 7pm on a cold rainy day, try this;
Begin a rhythm of cleansing in the spring and fall to reset digestion, clear heaviness and stagnation from the winter and accumulated heat from the summer. Check out info on our bi-annual spring and fall cleanse workshops in person and at a distance.
Get up early, preferable before 6am. Do morning abhyanga, self oil massage with warm herbalized oils, to protect the nervous system and create an antimicrobial antibacterial border for our entire skin, and, to ingest, for your skin eats as surely as your mouth does, nourishing healthy oils and herbs to balance your doshic tendancies (like the cold, heavy, sticky tendencies of kapha by applying warming stimulating herbs and oils).
Practice nasya, oiling the nasal passages with sesame oil infused with traditional herbs for clearing sinuses, srotas, and subtle passageways of the cranium, keeping the mucous membranes of the nose from getting dried out and creating reactive mucous, which becomes the perfect environment for pathogens to feed and flourish. As mentioned, the oil itself also creates an antimicrobial antibacterial layer of protection as well.
After abhyanga and nasya take a shower and do morning movement, either yoga, tai chi, a brisk walk, etc. Just get your body moving. Find time to meditate, ideally between the hours of 2:00 and 6:00 in the morning or afternoon/evening.
Have a 4-8 oz of plain warm water before taking any food, tea, coffee, etc, or a cup of turmeric tea (1/4t turmeric powder, 1/4t ghee, pinch of black pepper and juice of 1/2 lemon in hot water).
Stay warm. Eat lightly throughout the day. Try to stick to three meals and little to no snacking between meals to strengthen your agni, or digestive capacity/inner fire. For whatever remains undigested in our system, be it physical food or emotional experiences, it will stay and fester and become what Ayurveda refers to as ama, a sticky substance that feeds pathogenic intruders and allows them to take over our ahamkara, our personal I-maker.
Drink plain warm water throughout the day. This is a simple and effective lymph cleanser, lymph being the foundation of our immune system and the primary tissue on which all other are built in Ayurveda. This is different than drinking warm, even herbal, teas. Our bodies have the ability to immediately metabolize and integrate plain water without sending it through the vetting station of the digestive tract first. Anything with tea, lemon, etc, will need to be checked and double checked before it is allowed into the system. Plain, warm water is an immediate and effective for hydration and fluidity of lymph and the digestive tract.
Eat light foods. Nature always offers an antidote to the eccentricities of the season, so for the wet, cold season of spring, coming out the of dark, cold winter where we were eating heavy foods and less active, nature provides fresh spring greens of all shades and hues, as well as the bright, antioxidant rich berries of the season. An antioxidant is a pigment of color, and you can imagine it painting your cells with protection from oxidation, rust, and general breakdown. In the picture at the top of the article, from the my children’s school garden which I run, there is a profusion of red mustard leaves and sugar snap peas. Spicy greens like mustard and arugula are great anti kapha foods, as well as the fresh, light, green snap peas that are so readily available this time of year.
Emphasize these light, brightly colored foods, avoiding heavy, cold foods, especially on days when the weather is wet and cold and your internal digestive capacity reflects the natural world around you.
Get outside. Visit the creeks and rivers. Walk along the ocean. Work in your garden, a community garden, or a school garden. Take in the prana, the conscious life energy of the wildflowers unfolding towards the heavens, the herb and medicine plants in proliferation, and the green and brilliant explosion of viriditas that is spring.
The below picture is from my backyard garden, the bright orange and yellows of Mary’s gold, calendula, and the bright, fragrant blossoms of Ma Elder. Notice what spring is offering you to antidote an excess of certain elements in the season. Elder blossoms are cooling and drying, diaphoretic and relaxing to the bodily pores (which is how they cool, by allowing sweat which releases toxins and wastes from the body), so take a cup of elder tree, then a hot bath or sauna, and get toxins out of the body through the largest organ of elimination, the skin. Elder is a vulnerary herb that helps to heal the skin, which goes for the internal skin of the digestive tract as well as the external skin of the body. The flowers are especially good for situations of sinusitus as well as a full cough with easily expectorated phlegm. The elder blossoms don’t last long, so get out and harvest with awareness and respect, or grow your own, and befriend the ‘medicine cabinet in a bush’, which Charlemagne decreed must be grown in every garden in France due to their medicinal qualities and value.
Calendua is another powerful herbal ally for spring. Mathew Wood has written that calendula is analagous to astragalus, the famous powerhouse of the Ayurvedic pantheon. Calendula was a traditional folk tonic, gathered and dried and sprinkled in soups or taken as tea, as well as sprinkled fresh over salads, their bright and vibrant colors (remember antioxidants) delight the eye and care for the intelligence of the body. They help with chronic infections, act as a general systemic tonic, and support the healthy flow of lymph through the entire system. Being another superstar skin herb, calendula is great for external as well as internal skin (again think lungs and intestines). Calendula, as a drying herb, helps with the kapha elements in spring, and has been used to address lymph congestion. Calendula is vulnerary, antiseptic (think clearing the drains), anti inflammatory.
This is one way to show that you don’t have to go to exotic ‘foreign’ herbs to apply Ayurvedic principles. Ayurveda is about noticing the qualities in all the manifest creation, and how to balance qualities with the antidotes provided in the wisdom of local seasonal foods and local medicine plants.
Remember that even if you are not kapha predominant, we all have all three doshas in our being and can accumulate an excess of kapha, as in a head cold, even if we are stronger in our vata or pitta dosha. We all need to look at and observe the qualities of our personal being, the qualities of our season and time of day, and the qualities of what we are about to ingest, be it food, herbs, adventures, or media.
What do we have the capacity to truly digest at this particular moment, and how can we enjoy life by living in health and balance?
Remember that staying in balance doesn’t mean you don’t indulge and enjoy the sweetness and abundance of life, but just that you begin to notice when it is a good time to indulge without the repercussions of an offense against wisdom. So on a warm summer day when you’ve had a nice morning hike with family and a delicious lunch, it’s a good moment to enjoy the sweet coldness of ice cream with someone you love. Enjoy. Ayurveda is not about deprivation, but about enjoying life to the fullest for the longest time possible through vibrant health and subtle awareness.