TOPIC OF THE MONTH
With spring right around the corner (hopefully!) there are a few seasonal habits and foods we can set in place to assure a symptom free spring.
These recommendations are based on Ayurveda. Ayurveda is the science of life, which can literally mean, “the truth of life”. In ayurveda healing the body becomes a vehicle for discovering our true nature.
Just like Yoga, Ayurveda originated in India around 5000 years ago. The ancient rishis studied the body for thousands of years and recorded what happens with certain behaviors or when we eat certain herbs and foods. What’s nice about Ayurveda is it does not say “don’t do this or do that”; it says “if you do this, then expect that” — for example if you want to drink beer and eat ice cream every night then you can expect to have some extra belly fat and a mucus . . .
Ayurveda aims to maintain health in the healthy, it can also help heal the sick with natural remedies and lifestyle modifications, however Ayurveda works best as preventative medicine. An Ayurvedic Dr. checks for signs of disease in your body before the disease actually develops (he checks your pulse, tongue, eyes, fingernails, skin, etc. ), your body will tell you when something is out of harmony -– we have to learn to watch and listen for the signs. Disease is much easier to cure when you catch it before it takes hold on you!
Ayurveda teaches us to live in harmony with nature, to adjust our foods and routines with the season to keep our bodies in balance — imbalance in our bodies is what leads to disease. Ayurveda works in 3 seasons; Spring, Summer, and Winter/Fall. Most of us just eat the same year round not recognizing that nature should dictate what we eat — not an RDA!
Spring is known as Kapha weather, in the doshas (see June 2009 topic of the month) Kapha consists of the elements earth and water, so it is wet and cohesive — Kapha literally means ‘to stick together’. And in the spring we have snowy March leading into April showers making the earth is damp and muddy and moist — so be it also in our bodies.
In the winter months our bodies kick into high mucus production to keep our membranes moist — the cold dry air of winter coupled with most of our home heating systems dry our our bodies so our body has to make extra mucus to keep everything moist and flowing. Then the spring rains come and suddenly the air is not so dry — so our bodies need to switch over to producing less mucus — if not then congestion comes. Congestion is a common problem in the spring — which is also why allergies and colds develop easier in the spring as mucus starts to fill our systems. The beauty is that the foods nature provides us with in the spring are the perfect antidote for mucus — Imagine if you had to live off the land, what would be available to eat now? What we have been able to store over the winter like dried fruits and some grains, this time of year the earth also provides us baby greens and sprouts, onions and garlic, and some berries in late spring. These foods help to strip mucus and fat from our bodies, providing the perfect antidote from the heavy winter foods our bodies needed to stay warm and hydrated.
In the winter we eat heavier foods, more fat, and slightly more food for warmth. Spring is then weight loss season in Ayurveda. It has less fat and is a mucus free diet similar to the weight loss gurus like Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers. The difference is that Weight Watchers wants us to stay on this diet for the rest of our lives, which is sad 🙁 Ayurveda changes with the seasons; we eat the Kapha balancing diet only in the spring. It is fun to change your foods with each season, making seasonal foods appealing since we do not eat them year round.
Some specific tips for spring:
In the spring our digestion gets sluggish from all the moisture so it is important to keep your digestion strong and to eat foods that are easy to digest and that boost digestion. In the spring you want to avoid heavier foods like dairy, nuts, red meats and shell fish. Instead you want to eat foods that are light, heating and drying like chillie peppers, coffee, ginger, cayenne, black pepper, etc. Spicy foods are good in the spring, as are lots of greens and spinach, beans, and drying grains like corn.
You also want to eat slightly less food and slightly smaller meals as too much food is hard on digestion.
GLUTEN . . . I am not a fan of gluten free everything (the new latest buzz word in nutrtion). Yes gluten is a bit harder to digest — especially since wheat has been so modified that our bodies barely recognize it any more. And if you eat a lot of processed foods you are getting gluen and white flour way too much . . . But beware, many of the ingredients in the gluten free breads and pastries are not ANY better for you than gluten . . . Part of the solution is to eat less process foods and less processed grains in general! If you just avoid gluten you are limiting your diet and not “fixing” the problem. The answer is to improve and strengthen your digestion! You do this with herbs, foods, and moderation in how much you eat. Still since wheat and gluten is harder to digest you want to reduce gluten in the spring and instead eat light and dry grains like corn, quinoa, rye, buckwheat and millet.
HONEY is an excellent spring food . . .
In Ayurveda each food, herb, plant, etc. has a special job it does in the body — it is called PRABHAVA which means specific action. Usually some action the plant does that science can not quite explain . . . for example; sesame oil pulls toxins out, ghee helps medicinal qualities of herbs get into a cell, castor oil helps your body get rid of tissues it does not need, cardamom calms your adrenals, cinnamon regulation blood sugar, cumin improves digestion, fennel improves digestion without increasing heat so it is a good summer herb . . . just to name a few.
The PRABHAVA of a substance is its “inherent nature” (svarupa) and it is considered in ayurveda and indian literature to be something beyond all reasoning . ..
This is why we need a varied diet — we can’t eat every fruit or food everyday . . . the seasons will tell you what you need when 😉
Back to HONEY, honey’s prabhava is that it emulsifies mucus; meaning it scrapes fat and mucus out of the body — except when it is heated above body temperature then the enzymes in honey are ruined making fat and mucus stick in your body.
Local, raw honey also prevents allergies as the bee pollen that is in it carries the antidote for allergies 🙂
Today’s science says that even though honey is sweet, when it is taken in the right dosage and/or as a medicine, it does not harm even diabetic patients.
If you like coffee now is the time 🙂 Coffee is good in the spring as it is drying and stimulating. Spring weather makes us feel a little lethargic and coffee helps balance that. The summer is not a good time for coffee, so enjoy it now.
PRACTICE IN THE SPRING
And just a note on your practice in the spring; many spring days the lethargy sets in as we stand at the top of our mats . . . if you feel the spring heaviness in your body — keep practicing. Just go steady and slow and follow your breath, many days the lethargy will burn right out of your system. Some days it may not, if not just keep going at a nice slow and steady rate — don’t try any of the fancy tricks like jumps or handstands, just keep breathing and ticking through the poses, before you know it you will be at setu bandhasana 🙂
SPRING DIET — in our area is approx. March – June
The most beneficial foods for this season are Pungent, Bitter, Astringent / Light, Dry, and Warm. See list of six tastes below.
You want to eat less foods that are Sweet, Sour, Salty / Heavy, Cold and Oily. Such as fried foods, ice cream, and dairy.
THE SIX TASTES
Taste is important and has a direct influence on our bodies. In Ayurveda each food and herb has a specific taste (along with it’s prabhava), when we balance these tastes it keeps our body in balance. The taste buds on our tongues are organized into six groups — these are the six tastes recognized by Ayurveda; Sweet, Sour, Salty, Pungent, Bitter, Astringent. Different taste buds on the tongue percieve taste and send a signal to the brain, which the brain will send a signal to directly influence various systems of the body, for example – digestion, endocrine, organs, tissues, and even cells. When we crave a certain taste (like sweet or salty) something is out of balance in our body. In the Standard American Diet (SAD) the salty and sweet flavors are out of balance.
SEE CHARTS BELOW ON THE SIX TASTES AND THEIR CORRESPONDING FOODS.
Some specific Food Recommendations for Spring:
Most all greens are good (especially mustard greens and dandelion). Asparagus is a spring food as are sprouts, chillies, corn, kale, lettuces, mushrooms, peas, radishes, spinach, turnips and watercress. Try to make 2/3 of each meal leafy greens.
Barley, corn, millet, buckwheat and rye are good grain choices in the spring because they are drying and have less gluten and reduce Kapha.
If we lived off the land what fruits would be available to us? Dried fruits like figs, prunes and apricots and other fruits we could preserve from the fall harvest. Apples and pears are ok in the spring too but are best baked. Citrus, even though it is not local is good in the spring (as well as winter). Vitamin C blocks the release of histamine therefore making breathing easier if you do get congested. Berries also come in toward the end of spring and are good to balance kapha.
Beans, which are not so good in the winter are very balancing in the spring — especially kidney beans and Lima beans.
Spicy foods are good for the spring too as they aid in digestion, and help clear mucus from the body.
Balancing spring teas include ginger, hibiscus, cardamom, chicory, cloves, and cinnamon.
Breakfasts: Grapefruit and Honey, Grits. Yogurt with dried fruit and honey. Buckwheat pancakes.
Lunch = Mid- Day main meal: Chili and cornbread. Big Spinach Salad w/ carmelized onions. Split Pea Soup with Rye Toast. Kidney Bean Salad. Soft Tacos. Sauteed mixed mustard and dandelion greens over baked potato. Cilantro Pesto 🙂 Garlic Scapes :)) Barley Vegetable soup. Curry.
Light Suppers: Brothy Vegetable soup. Steamed Spinach with roasted pine nuts and Pecorino. Brussel sprouts with lemon and butter. Corn Chowder. Warm Salad.
Link to Spring recipes and grocery list on our website: https://www.befitbodymind.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/spring-pdf3.pdf
Six Taste Examples:
- Sugar in any form, brown, refined, white, honey, jaggery, molasses, products of sugar cane, wheat, rice, millet, barley, oats, corn, pulses (legumes), beans, lentils, peas (dahl) milk, sweet milk products like clarified butter (ghee), cream, butter, fruits like coconut, bananas, grapes, raisins, dates, figs, sweet oranges, mango, all fruit juices, peaches, plums. Vegetables like potato, sweet potato, cucumber, carrot, beets, cauliflower, string beans, animal products like beef, fish, lamb, pork, fats, oils and spices like licorice, red clove, saffron, cardamom, cinnamon, most nuts.
- BENEFITS IF TAKEN IN PROPER QUANTITIES: Promotes plasma, lymph, blood, muscles, fat, bones, semen, ovum, and Ojas in the body. Promotes life span when taken in moderation. Pleases and experiences as delightful for nose, mouth, throat, lips, tongue and mind. Produces luster, strength, healthy skin, and healthy hair. Beneficial for the throat and is nourishing, vitalizing, saturating, bulk promoting, and stabilizing. Heals wounds, beneficial for emaciation, alleviates pitta and vata and relieves thirst and fainting.
- ILL EFFECTS IF TAKEN IN EXCESS: Vitiates Kapha, produces obesity, laxity, lassitude, excessive sleepiness, heaviness, loss of desire for food, loss of appetite, abnormal growth of muscles in mouth and throat, dyspepsia, cough, coryza, food poisoning like diarrhea and vomiting, fever, hardness in the bowels, sweetness in the mouth, diabetes, loss of consciousness, disorders of voice, goiter, cervical adenitis, pharyngitis, coating in the bladder, diseases of kidney, arteries, throat, and eyes.
- Sour fruits like lemon, lime, orange, pineapples, passion fruit, cherry, plum, tamarind, green grapes, banana, tomato. sour milk products like yogurt, cheese, whey, sour cream etc., fermented substances like wine, vinegar, soy sauce, sour cabbage, carbonated beverages like soft drinks, beer, champagne etc
- BENEFITS IF TAKEN IN PROPER QUANTITIES: Produces relish in food, stimulates digestion, appetite, and produces energy. It is carminative feeling of saturation and nourishment. Alleviates Vata, increases Pitta and Kapha, gives satisfaction in food intake.
- ILL EFFECTS IF TAKEN IN EXCESS: Produces thirst, sensitivity of the teeth, liquefaction of Kapha, vitiation of Pitta and decomposition of muscles, flabbiness of body. Produces swelling in wasting, injured, emaciated and debilitated persons. It produces suppuration in wounds, injuries, bites, burns, fractures, and swelling.
- All kinds of salt like rock salt, sea salt, salt from the ground, any food to which salt has been added like pickles, nuts, chips, ready made foods, fast foods, kelp, seafood, etc.
- BENEFITS IF TAKEN IN PROPER QUANTITIES: Promotes digestion, increases appetite, expectorant, mass breaker, irritant, laxative, moistening, depressant. It increases Pitta, Kapha and reduces Vata. Removes stiffness, binding, and compactness. Overshadows all other tastes, increases salivation, liquefies Kapha, cleans the channels, softens all the body parts, gives relish to foods.
- ILL EFFECTS IF TAKEN IN EXCESS: Vitiates Pitta, aggravates blood, skin diseases, causes thirst, fainting, heat, tearing, sloughing, increases leprosy and other skin diseases, aggravates poisons. Produces inflamed tissue to burst, teeth fall out. Increases internal hemorrhages, acid gastritis, erysipelas, gout, eczema, and alopecia.
- Spices like chillies, black pepper, mustard seeds, ginger, cumin, cloves, cardamom, garlic etc. Also mild spices like turmeric, anise, cinnamon, and fresh herbs like oregano, thyme, mint. Raw vegetables like radish, onion, cauliflower, broccoli etc.
- BENEFITS IF TAKEN IN PROPER QUANTITIES: Keeps the mouth clean, stimulates digestion, helps in absorption of food. Produces secretions from the nose, mouth, and eyes. Helps in proper action of sense organs, helps to relieves disease like internal torpor, obesity, chronic conjunctivitis, alleviates swelling, corpulence, channel blocking, sweating, moisture, removes impurities sticking in metabolic waste products. It gives relish to food, destroys itching, heals wounds, kills organisms, reduces tissue, checks the coagulation of blood, cuts binding, opens the channels of circulation, pacifies kapha and increases Vata.
- ILL EFFECTS IF TAKEN IN EXCESS: Damages sexual potency, mental confusion, malaise, depression, emaciation, fainting, feeling of darkness, giddiness, burning throat, body heat, loss of strength, neurological disorders in the lower back, feet etc., produces burning, excessive movement, tremors, piercing and tearing pain.
- Fruits like olives, grapefruit, cacao, campari. vegetables like chicory, dark green leafy vegetables. spices like fenugreek, turmeric, dandelion root, tonic water, caffeine etc.
- BENEFITS IF TAKEN IN PROPER QUANTITIES: Promotes the tastiness of food, expels intestinal worms, alleviates fainting, burning sensation, itching, leprosy, other skin diseases. Pacifies thirst, provides firmness in skin and muscles, antipyretic, appetizer, digestive, absorbent of moisture, fat, bone marrow, lymph, puss, sweat, urine and feces. Pacifies pitta and kapha.
- ILL EFFECTS IF TAKEN IN EXCESS: Dries up plasma, blood, muscles, fat, bones, marrow, semen, reduces strength, produces emaciation, malaise, mental confusion, giddiness, mouth dryness, Vata disorders.
- Turmeric, honey, walnut, hazelnuts, beans, lentils, peas. vegetables like sprouts, lettuce, rhubarb, other green leafy vegetables, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, potato, spinach, celery, most raw vegetables. Fruits like pomegranate, berries, persimmon, most unripe fruits, unripe banana, cranberries. Spices like cinnamon.
- BENEFITS IF TAKEN IN PROPER QUANTITIES: Produces sedation, constipation, alleviates pitta in blood born disorders, constricting, union promoting, compressing, healing, absorbs fluid from tissues.
- ILL EFFECTS IF TAKEN IN EXCESS: Dries up the mouth, causes heart ache, hinders voice, slows movements, darkens the skin, impotency, gas formation during indigestion, discharges of flatus, urine, feces, semen. Produces emaciation, malaise, thirst, stiffness, produces Vata diseases like hemiplegia, spasm, convulsions, and facial paralysis.
Summary of Spring Tips to Stay Strong and Healthy:
- Eat more foods that are Pungent (Spicy), Bitter, Astringent / Light, Dry, Warm: such as leafy greens, spicy foods, garlicy foods.
- Eat less foods that are Sweet, Sour, Salty / Heavy, Cold, Oily: such as fried foods, ice cream, heavy dairy.
- Avoid congestive foods like refined carbs, dairy, sugar, and high fat foods.
- Sip warm water and herbal teas throughout the day (ex. hibiscus, cinnamon, clove, dandelion tea, etc)
- Eat plenty of Vitamin C rich foods like kale, brussel sprouts, broccoli, grapefruit (Vitamin C blocks the release of histamine).
- Manjistha, Turmeric, and Tulsi are good to cleanse your lymphatic system, heal your digestion, boost immunity and nourish your nervous system. Add these herbs to your diet or take them with honey.
Daily Routines (Dinacharya) for Spring:
- Self Massage with sesame oil or mustard seed oil.
- Three or more times per day practice Bellows Breath: breathe quickly and with strength in and out through your nose for 30 seconds while expanding and contracting your diaphragm (like we do in uth pluthi). Sit in silence for 1 minute.
- If possible do your practice in the morning to increase circulation, mood and immunity. Also with the heaviness of kapha in us, the earlier we practice the more likely to get to our mats . . .
- Perform Neti irrigating your nasal passage with warm salt water. Always follow with Nasya. (Perform Nasya by dripping a few drops of oil in each nostril and sniffing or dipping a q-tip in sesame oil or Ayurvedic Nasya Oil, swirling it inside your nostrils, and inhaling deeply.)
Signs of Excess Kapha During Spring:
- Cold, cough, allergies, congestion, flu, fatigue, depression, weight gain.
- If you experience some of these signs:
- Follow the above guidelines and spring foods for closer to balance your Kapha
- Schedule a consult with an Ayurvedic Dr.
- Schedule a 3-6 day Ayurvedic detox at home or a pancha karma retreat with an Ayurvedic Dr.
DETOX – Ayurvedic Style
When the seasons change it is the natural time to cleanse the body. The Native Americans always did their vision quests and fasting in the spring. It was a natural time to purify them selves from all the heavy winter meats, nuts and grains. Ayurvedic fasts are not so radical as the “master cleanse” and other internet fasts. Fasting Ayurvedic style lets you eat vegetable soup all day long as well as a nourishing food of rice, mung beans, and herbs called kitchari. In addition to eating what nature has harvested the change of seasons is a good time to do a short home cleanse (a fast—Ayurvedic style).
Our bodies are meant to rid themselves of toxins on a regular basis. The catch is, the detox “pathway” is the digestive pathway – if the body is digesting it can not detox. If you are eating and “grazing” all day long your body does not have the chance to detox since you are constantly burdening your body with digestion.
Nutritionists over the last several years have been touting the benefits of eating six small meals per day (or “grazing”) — this is actually the worst thing you can do, you will see this trend change soon. Eating all day long actually causes your body to be a sugar burner instead of a fat burner. When you burn sugar as fuel your mood and energy swings up and down vs. when you burn fat as fuel you have a nice steady mood and energy level. Also when you are constantly burdening your body with food and digestion it does not have a chance to detox.
Having a period of time each day when you fast will allow your body detox time. For me I do this by extending the time to breakfast. I get up and do some work and get to my mat about the crack of 10:00am (practice is always on an empty stomach!). I am done with my practices somewhere between noon and 1:00 pm and ready to break-the-fast. This combined with eating my main meal mid-day and only eating light soups or cooked vegetables at night gives my body a detox time each day.
- Intermittent fasting has been getting some recognition lately due to some new research which has found these benefits:
- manage your body weight
stabilize your blood sugar
increease HGH (Human Growth Hormone)
reduce inflammation in the body and therefore free radical damage
It has another major benefit and that is that it allows your body time to detox. Intermittent fasting is as easy as delaying your breakfast for a few hours. (PBS just ran a special on intermittent fasting on mice: when they fasted, they were able to generate new brain cells. Also on days when the mice weren’t fasting (while doing an intermittent fasting on other days) they typically weren’t able to binge and didn’t overeat on those days. Interesting.)
Compromised Digestion = Poor Detoxification
If your gut is not digesting well, then it will not detox well. Over time, the inability to digest well and hence detox well causes the accumulation of toxins in the lymph, liver, fats cells (cellulite), joints, and in the brain. To restore balance, these accumulated toxins need to be removed from the body with a detox to help restore proper digestion. As your digestion gets stronger so will your body better detox on a daily basis.
Ayurvedic style Detox
This is a 3-6 day detox. Several of us here at the studio do this seasonally — it is supportive to do a detox together. Here is an outline of the detox;
- In the morning you drink milk with ghee and (chai like) spices in it — each day the amount of ghee in the milk increases.
- You make a big pot of vegetable soup — vegetables and water only. You eat only this throughout the day (if you have to work you can add some rice or lentils to it).
- In the evening you drink milk with castor oil and spices (that taste like chai) in it — each night the amount of castor oil increases.
- You do this for 3-6 days, on the last day you take a pill called abhaya . . . which makes you go to the bathroom -like 26 times . . . so you are cleaned out!
- That afternoon you make a nice pot of kitchari. And the following day you can resume to your clean ayurvedic seasonal eating 🙂