The Wisdom of Ayurveda: 10 Tips for the Late Winter and Spring
by Shama Palmer
Ayurveda teaches us that one of the main causes of disease is the effects of the season. Before answering the question as to why this would be, let’s pause and consider what ayurveda actually is. This will help us to understand just why the effects of the season are seen to be of such importance.
Ayurveda is one of the world’s most ancient and complete medical systems. Many of mankind’s great healing traditions (including Tibetan medicine, Traditional Chinese medicine, Persian medicine) have at least taken influence from ayurveda. It is a system of medicine whose origins it is believed are the Indus valley civilisation. Ayurveda is known to have existed at least 6000 years ago as an oral tradition and developed significantly during the Vedic period.
The word ayurveda is a Sanskrit word in which ‘ayur’ can be translated as life, and ‘veda’ as knowledge or understanding. And so ayurveda is in essence about reclaiming an understanding of life, a knowledge of how life and this existence works. It invites us to live and adjust our lifestyle according to an appreciation of the way all parts of the living universe organise themselves and function.
The ayurvedic understanding of this natural universe – which still exists with us today – is said to have been originally passed down from the gods to the sages. It is that fine, certain and complete understanding of the nature of our world. As humans we are recognised to be one with and part of that nature, and ayurveda recognises and works in accord with the fact that nature is cyclical. Mother Nature has her own rhythms: day and night, the season, the cycles of the moon. As we are one with this nature, it makes sense that to maintain our natural equilibrium in body and mind, we need to move and adjust our lifestyles and nutrition in accord with those cycles. This includes the cycles of the seasons.
From an ayurvedic perspective each season is governed a particular dosha (ayurvedic humour), and each season will have the qualities of its dosha. For example, in autumn there is a cold and drying nature to the season. It is a vata season: the air and ether elements dominate vata and these by their nature are light, drying, cool and mobile. By late winter and spring we are in a kapha type season. Earth and water dominate the kapha dosha and when mixed together to form a gluey, clay-like substance we get qualities of cold, denseness, heaviness, damp, and we can even perceive static and stagnant qualities to these elements combined.
Why is late winter-spring a kapha season? We might think that late winter and spring, with new shoots and increasingly lighter days, might have ‘lighter’ qualities. However there is a dampness to the earth as frosts and snows melt. The earth is no longer hard with frosts in this later part of winter. The cold is still here, and earth and water are mixing to give the heavy, sticky, clogging quality that accumulates on your boots when out walking. These qualities are not only underfoot. They start to permeate the very atmosphere we live in. This means that even if we stay indoors in a warm dry environment, we cannot avoid being affected by these qualities of the season.
In winter our internal fire (agni) increases to keep the body temperature at the point needed for us to stay healthy. As our agni increases, so too does our hunger, and we tend to eat more. In the winter season we will find ourselves not only eating more, but craving and eating the heavier, fattier foods of the season. If we are attuned to nature and our own inner nature, once late winter arrives and our digestive fire naturally goes down, we should also naturally want to reduce our food intake and consume lighter foods. Our system opens to compensate for the lighter days and to prepare for the warmer days ahead. However, we are creatures of habit and will often find ourselves still eating large amounts of the heavier food that we might have become accustomed too, only now without our digestive fire to cope with the load.
This will congest our system, clog the lymphatics and compound the heavy, cold, damp and stagnant effects of late winter to early spring. We will begin to feel heavy in the body, with less energy also as our metabolism tries to cope with unseasonably heavy eating patterns. This can make us more susceptible to illnesses going around, and to respiratory congestion. Our immunity may suffer and we can find ourselves also susceptible to allergies such as hay fever later in the spring.
There are simple remedies you can introduce over the next weeks to support your body and mind to maintain a healthy equilibrium through this season, and this will support you to have the health and vitality to enjoy the more active, lighter days that lie ahead of us in late spring and summer.
10 Tips for Health and Vitality in Late Winter and Spring
1. Reduce dairy and heavy dense foods like animal products.
2. Reduce oily foods like nuts and fried foods. Try water sautéing instead your foods instead of frying in oil.
3. Combat the effects of this damp, cold, heavy season by eating foods with an opposite quality. Go for warming foods and drink and avoid cold, raw foods.
4. Light, easy-to-digest foods should be favoured.
5. Pungent spices can boost the digestive fire to clear heaviness remaining from the winter diet: ginger is especially beneficial, as are turmeric, cloves, and cardamom.
6. Make a ginger tea with fresh root ginger and drink throughout the day. This will help to clear clogging and stagnation in the tissues, and to burn ama, or toxins.
7. Try daily dry skin brushing with a raw silk glove or natural bristle brush before showering in the mornings.
8. A stimulating breath practice like kapalabhati is good at this time of year, according to your dosha. That is, kapha dosha types can probably do three rounds of kapalabhati, whereas a vata dosha type will do better with just one round. (For instruction on performing kapalabhati please see my YouTube channel, LoveYogaHealing).
9. Daily sun salutations a little faster than usual for kapha types will be good to stimulate the system to clear toxicity and heaviness.
10. Try rebounding (a form of aerobic exercise performed on a small trampoline) daily for 10-12 minutes, alternating a steady pace for one minute with a sprint-pace for one minute, allowing time to warm up and cool down gently. Rebounding is reported to be great for stimulating the lymphatics to clear congestion from the system.
Ayurvedic Ginger Foot Bath
In Ayurveda, ginger is known as the universal healer. It is beneficial for so many things and is tri-doshic, meaning it is supportive to all three Ayurvedic types or doshas. Taking a ginger footbath on these late Winter evenings is a wonderfully soothing and beneficial practice. Benefits include:
– Sound sleep
– Calmer nervous system
– Better circulation
– It helps to drive out viruses and bacteria
– Reduces inflammation
– Opens the body’s energy channels (which end in the feet) to promote health
Grate a 2” piece of ginger and place in a pan with about 1 quart of water and bring to the boil. Once the ginger starts to boil, simmer for about 10 -15 minutes. Do not let the ginger water boil as this will destroy some properties. Strain the ginger infused water and add to a basin big enough to place both feet in, which is already half full of hot water. Rest your feet in the water for 10 minutes. You can have a flask of hot water nearby and cautiously add more hot water to the basin as the ginger water cools.
About the author
Sara Palmer (Shama) is an ayurveda practitioner and registered senior yoga teacher and therapist. Join Shama for an Ayurveda Yoga Weekend Retreat on the beautiful East Devon coast, Mar 20-23, 2020. For 1-1 Ayurveda consultations or for details of Shama’s other retreats in the UK and Cyprus, please visit www.loveyogahealing.com