Ayurveda seasons

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As the days lengthen into spring, you may have noticed feelings of invigoration, with an urge to exercise and reconnect with nature, for example by working in the garden or by spending time outside in the sunshine. In Ayurveda, health is considered to be created when a balance between mind, body and the environment is maintained, and so with the changing seasons, it is important to follow the body’s natural inclination to respond to the seasons by adapting our diet and activities. Just as individuals are considered in Ayurveda to express a dominance of one of the three ‘doshas’ or body types, vata, pitta or kapha, so the seasons are considered to represent these three characteristics. Vata, loosely translated as 'air', is characterised by individuals who tend to be thin, quick thinking, and fast moving, but with a tendency to anxiety, and a dry complexion. The vata season begins in autumn and continues until early winter. Kapha, or 'earth', is dominant in people with a solid body frame and a calm and thoughtful temperament, but with a predilection to lethargy, attachment and depression. The skin tends to be oily. The Kapha season begins in late winter and continues until early spring. Pitta, meaning ‘fire’, is associated with individuals with plenty of drive and energy, a sharp intellect and strong willpower, but with the potential to become easily angered. The complexion is warm with a tendency to inflame easily. The pitta season is from late spring until the end of summer.

When our dosha is activated by extremes of weather or by eating foods that aggravate our dominant dosha, the negative aspects of our dosha are likely to be accentuated. So for example when a pitta type eats hot spicy food and is exposed to the heat of summer, pitta is aggravated, potentially causing skin inflammation and promoting feelings of irritability. During late winter and early spring, the kapha time, a pitta individual’s fiery nature would tend to be reduced, whereas a kapha person’s tendency to increased weight-gain, lethargy and development of colds would be increased unless protective measures are taken. A person’s predominant dosha can be predicted by completing quizzes (there are a number of these online), but will be determined more accurately by an Ayurvedic practitioner.

Below are some general principles for all doshas to help adjust to the onset of spring - the kapha season - aimed at reducing kapha tendencies:

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  • Minimise cold, sweet, sour, salty or oily foods, and avoid cold drinks. Look for warm foods and drinks that are spicy, such as ginger, garlic and onions; astringent, such as pulses and certain vegetables; and bitter, such as the dark leafy greens like kale and spinach. Try to minimise consumption of wheat and substitute with lighter grains such as quinoa, millet and barley which are all kapha reducing.
  • Don’t sleep in too late (aim to be up before 7am), and minimise daytime sleeps which slow down the metabolism, increasing kapha.
  • Exercise regularly to promote the movement of lymph, stimulate digestion and enhance waste elimination. Exercising outdoors helps to reconnect with nature and promotes a healthy mind.
  • Practise self-massage daily. In Ayurveda, a self-massage ritual known as ‘abhyanga’ can be performed every morning using warmed sesame oil. Abhyanga is a healing, soothing practise that helps balance the mind and stimulate waste elimination.
  • For Ayurveda devotees, spring is the principal time to carry out ‘panchakarma’, a cleansing and rejuvenating ritual traditionally carried out over 1-4 weeks, ideally once or twice a year at the change of seasons. It involves massage, heat treatments, meditation, fasting and a cleansing diet designed to eliminate accumulated toxins and restore balance in mind and body. Panchakarma is offered by Ayurveda centres throughout the world where the procedure is tailored to the individual’s dosha and specialised treatments can be given by Ayurveda practitioners. The Chopra Centre describes its purpose here: “According to Ayurveda, good health depends upon our capability to fully metabolize all aspects of life, assimilating that which nourishes and eliminating the rest. When we can’t completely digest our food, experiences, and emotions, toxins accumulate in our bodily tissues, creating imbalance and – ultimately – disease. Panchakarma is an elegant cleansing process that releases stored toxins and restores the body’s innate healing ability.”
  • It is possible to carry out a mini panchakarma treatment yourself at home over a few days, which we will describe in a separate post. You can prepare for panchakarma by gradually eliminating sugar, dairy, caffeine and alcohol from the diet in the 2 weeks leading up to your panchakarma treatment.