Ayurveda: a gentle spring detox

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHave you ever noticed how effortlessly nature seems to transition from winter to spring? To add insult to injury, we get bombarded with ads and reminders to “spring forward” or “spring into shape”, complete with images of smiling humans jumping with glee! Yet, many find the season of renewal a bit challenging. Our bodies often carry a few extra pounds from a festive hibernation. Other typical spring complaints include fatigue, lethargy, and lack of motivation. Did I mention the frequent colds, congestions, and seasonal allergies?

In Ayurveda, spring is associated with the Sanskrit word “Kapha”, the “dosha” or principle of water and earth. When mixed together, these elements form the “mud” that allows nature to manifest its latent potential. Thus, despite an overall atmosphere of joyful growth and new beginnings, the predominant energy is often heavy, stagnant, moist, and a bit cold, just like this mud.  Guess how deeply this energy affects our physiologies!

Ayurveda gives us practical tools to adapt to each season based on this simple dual principle: “like increases like, and opposites decrease each other”. An appropriate routine for spring will therefore focus on food and lifestyles that promote drying, draining, lightening, warming and stimulating. You get the idea… Eating a huge bowl of ice cream covered with chocolate syrup while lying on the couch is probably not going to ease the process of spring-cleaning!

Not to worry. Ayurveda is not about rigid rules or restrictions. The suggestions below are just guidelines, which should of course be adapted to your unique nature and daily needs, as well as to your local spring climate. Indeed, most spring days in California actually feel like summer! Finally, if spring is the season when you feel glorious and vital, you may not need change any of your habits.

Diet: For a gentle cleanse, favor food that is light, warm, a bit dry, fairly spicy and easy to digest. Bitter, pungent, and astringent tastes all encourage the detox process our bodies need.

Spring vegetables: fresh, but not necessarily raw, except at lunchtime. Make room on your plate for all spring vegetables such as chard, spinach, kale, asparagus, dandelion, peas, radishes, garlic and onions. They all promote elimination and purification.

Seasonal fruit: Make sure to eat them on their own, either as a snack or a light breakfast. Need to shed your “winter coat”? Reduce your consumption of the heavier fruits such as avocados and bananas, and focus on lighter, more astringent ones such as strawberries and apples.

Dairy products: Consume dairy products in moderation, or eliminate them entirely, especially in the morning, as they tend to increase congestion, phlegm and mucus. Cheese lovers may turn to goat and sheep instead of cow. If you typically drink milk, make sure to heat it up and add digestive spices to it, such as ginger or turmeric. If you have a cold or feel congested, opt for rice or almond milk.

Grains: Many will benefit from taking a break from wheat and gluten at this time of the year. Their “sticky/slimy” texture aggravates all the symptoms of spring. Choose millet, quinoa, rice, or corn as fulfilling alternatives.

Legumes: Lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, mung beans and hazuki beans all have the astringent taste with its drying/draining properties. Combined with brown rice during a meal, legumes are a complete source of amino acids and proteins.

Proteins: If you are non-vegetarian, choose white meat, freshwater fish, shrimp, and eggs (in moderation).

Oils/fats: Spring is the time to reduce any type of heavy, fried, and difficult to digest food. Drizzle small amounts of olive, sunflower and flax oil on your vegetables. Replace butter with ghee.

Seeds and nut: Consume sparingly. Choose sunflower or pumpkin seeds over nuts, since seeds they are lighter and more digestible.

Spices: All “hot” spices are good -except for sea salt, which promotes water retention. Spices stimulate digestion. Ginger, pepper, cayenne, cumin, turmeric, nutmeg and cinnamon are just a few examples. “Fiery” types beware, and remember to use some restrain: with the approach of summer, these spices might be too hot for your already passionate personality and ultra-efficient digestive systems.

Sweeteners and treats: For the same reasons fats are to be used sparingly, sugar and pastries are not your best spring-cleaning allies. Cannot live without chocolate? Choose the dark kind: its bitter flavor counteracts the effects of spring. If you have a cold or feel congested, add raw honey to your tea for its drying and heating qualities. Stevia is also a good substitute.

Beverages: Coffee drinkers rejoice! Spring is the season when coffee’s stimulating effects counteract the lethargy we feel. Drink a cup in the morning, and add a little cardamom powder to it as an antidote to the ups and downs of caffeine. Those who enjoy red wine will be pleased to learn that a glass with dinner stimulates digestion. Avoid iced drinks (which stop digestion), and sweet beverages such as sodas. Hot or warm teas and herbal teas are a better option.

Lifestyle: physically and mentally challenging activities can help us out of “hibernation”

All sports fit the bill! This is the time to “play”, to break out of the monotony of daily routines, and to discover new activities. Cycling, running, and brisk walking are among the best examples of vigorous sports that are well suited to the season of endurance. Trying to shed a few pounds? A 30 to 60 minute morning workout on an empty stomach, performed at a low aerobic intensity, may encourage the body to burn fat more efficiently. Always start gradually, and carry a snack in your pocket in case of hypoglycemia.

In Yoga, favor all the challenging postures that require mental and muscular effort, such as sun salutations, warrior series and arm balances. Longer holds in each asana will be guided by precision and breathing. Chest and hip openers should also be predominant in spring yoga sequences.

In Pranayama, Khapalabhati and Ujai breathing are warming, encourage better circulation, and help reduce congestion.

Massages and self-massages should also be strong and stimulating, preferably with very small quantities of oil. Choose heating oils such as sesame or mustard. Best essential oils include eucalyptus, camphor, and wintergreen.

The dry heat of saunas is extremely beneficial at this time of the year, and will encourage drainage and gentle elimination of accumulated toxins.

May you all enjoy a glorious spring!

Florence Debout
Sports Physiotherapist
Yoga Teacher
Ayurvedic Lifestyle Counselor

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