Looking at the world through the lens of Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda gives us a rich and broad language to use when describing the way we feel, the different seasons, and the many ways we can get well and stay well naturally. Whist we can all intuitively feel a difference between each season of the yearly cycle, Ayurveda classifies each season as having a different energy and therefore affecting us in different ways. Knowing the various qualities each season holds, we can tune into how the weather, amount of light, the seasonal food etc is making us feel, and how we can align our daily activities with what’s happening out there in nature.
Ayurveda’s wisdom often refers to the five elements: Earth, water, fire, air and ether (or space). Everything in nature is made of the elements and the specific qualities of each element are mirrored in our bodies. The earth element shows up as our bones and muscles, the water as our synovial fluid, the water in our systems, our sweat, urine and tears; the fire element is our digestion and all the processes involving heat; air is our breath and the movement of circulation and nerve impulses, and ether is the space in our bodies and minds. Each season is also governed by certain elements, and from an Ayurvedic perspective, Spring is all about Earth and Water, which together for the dosha or ‘type’ known as Kapha.
Earth & Water
Kapha dosha – being made of earth and water – is the dominant energy during Spring, which means all of Kapha’s characteristics tend to show up during this season. The primary characteristics of Kapha are: Heavy, slow, cool, loving, loyal, strong, consistent, cohesive, sticky, wet, prone to routine, stable, growth, abundance, endurance, and sweetness. Spring presents these characteristics in the wetness of rainy days and April showers, the abundance and growth of plant and new-born animals, the stickiness of mud, the heaviness of the air, which can often be damp and pollen-filled.
We can also recognise when Kapha season arrives because we may start to feel different within our bodies. Digestion during Spring can be a little slower, as can metabolism of both food and water, making us a little more prone to water retention and puffiness or oedema. Clogged pores and cool, oily skin are other signs of having a build-up of Kapha in the body, as can a thick white coating on the tongue (suggesting slow digestion, indigestion or an accumulation of ‘ama’ or ‘toxins’ in the digestive tract). Feeling heavy and lethargic, unmotivated, being prone to emotional eating and feeling overly attached to material possessions, people and memories are typical signs of harbouring excessive Kapha energy.
Strength & Softness
The news isn’t all bad, however! Whilst an excessive amount of Kapha doesn’t feel good (just as an excessive amount of anything doesn’t feel good), this dosha comes with some valuable chaacteristics that we can really make the most of come Springtime. Kapha is all about unity and togetherness, meaning we may feel more loving towards others and enjoy spending quality time with family and friends. In the very same way; that unity and togetherness refers to the body, as our tissues tend to be stronger and more resilient at this time of year, making it the perfect time to start a new exercise regime, take on a challenge or heal aches, pains and niggles. Endurance is a key aspect of Kapha energy, so anything that requires a commitment and lasting effort (such as a marathon, triathlon or a long walk in the countryside) is supported during this season. Kapha’s strength also shows itself in the immune and reproductive systems too, meaning that even though allergies and sinus issues can manifest in Spring, the body is less likely to catch an illness or infection, and we’re generally a little more fertile than in other months. A craving for sweet foods may show up during this season – especially if you already hold a lot of Kapha energy – so be mindful of when your body has had enough.
Stay Well This Spring
Knowing all of this and becoming more aware of how we feel on a daily basis can all help the body and mind stay in a state of good health and balance. A daily routine or specific practices focusses on balancing Kapha energy during Spring can also be a great way to align with the season and stay well. Try the following and notice the difference:
Redefine Your Relationship with Light: The way we interact with light is essentially the exact opposite of what nature intended. Before we were able to stay indoors for the majority of the time and light up our houses at the flick of a switch, we had a far more natural and beneficial way of working with light from the sun. Living in tribes in close contact with the earth (as some parts of the world still do), our circadian rhythms (the body’s clock) would be perfectly balances and in tune with the arc of the sun. We would wake just before or just after sunrise depending upon the season, and go to bed a couple of hours after sun set. The important factor isn’t just the natural waking and sleeping times we would have experienced; it’s the way we used light during those times. In the morning, the natural light outside contains lots of blue light waves, which essentially tell the body clock to wake up, start revving up digestion, releasing hormones and getting us ready for the day. At dusk, that blue light is replaced by more red light waves, which help us wind down for sleep, eventually leading into darkness. Today however, the light we expose ourselves to indoors is nowhere near as bright as the outside light, meaning we don’t properly ‘wake up’ until we spend some prolonged time outdoors in the morning. At night, we tend to miss out on those red light waves and natural darkness, because we switch on lightbulbs and screens that emit blue light waves, preventing us from releasing the necessary hormones required for healthy sleep. If we want to feel well, the number one thing we can start doing this Spring, is to get outside in the morning and absorb that morning light, and try having less ‘light pollution’ entering our eyes at night.
Seasonal Eating: Nature tends to provide us with the exact nutrients and vitamins we need in our immediate environment, and trees even give off specific scents from their essential oils that benefit us in different seasons! As the season changes, head to your local market, farm shop or browse the ‘seasonal foods’ section of your local supermarket and try adding in more of those foods wherever you can.
Be Bitter: Kapha’s heaviness can soon be relieved and cleansed by consuming more bitter foods, which help increase digestive strength and ‘scrape’ toxins from the digestive tract. Choose foods like lemon, rhubarb, dandelion root, milk thistle, green and black tea, lettuce, sorrel and turmeric.
Spice It Up: Adding warming, stimulating spices to your meals can really help enkindle the digestive fire and prevent that lethargic, heavy feeling in the abdomen. Ginger, cinnamon, clove, cardamom, ajowan, fennel, turmeric and black pepper are all great ways to spice up sweet and savoury dishes.
Experiment With Intermittent Fasting: Whilst we need enough calories to feel strong and resilient, as well as of course making time to enjoy meals with friends, the body does benefit immensely from brief periods of fasting. Intermittent fasting tends to be most easily practiced overnight, leaving a 16 to 18 hour gap between dinner and breakfast. During this prolonged break from food, the digestive system starts digesting any ‘leftovers’, and cleans up the intestines. With less energy placed upon the process of digestion, the body uses this extra energy to repair injuries and rejuvenate cells, thus helping increase longevity and wellbeing. Not everyone is able to fast or will enjoy fasting, but if you’re able to, Spring is a great season to practice it.
Boost Circulation: With Kapha’s tendency towards sluggishness, keeping circulation moving is important during this time of year. Enhancing circulation not only helps the body’s processed work efficiently, it also helps the immune system fight off illness, particularly chesty coughs and Spring colds.
Body Brushing: Another way to boost circulation; body brushing involved using a bristle brush in a circular motion all over the skin, paying particular attention to the armpits, chest, inner thighs, abdomen and lower back. Start on the legs and brush upward towards the heart.
Spring Cleaning: As simple as it sounds – de-cluttering our environment can seriously help de-clutter the mind. When we see things around the home we’ve been meaning to sort out for a while, or things that are broken and still haven’t been mended, it all creates subconscious clutter in the mind, and becomes an addition to the ‘to do’ list that never quite gets ticked off. To create calm and clarity in the mind, schedule a few hours to de-clutter, fix and Spring clean your home.
Take on a physical Challenge: Kapha’s qualities of strength and endurance are supportive of taking on new challenges this Spring, and as the weather becomes a little warmer and brighter, it also contributes to feeling more motivated. Have you always wanted to start running, join that outdoor bootcamp, or climb a mountain? If you have a physical goal in mind, this is a great time of year to start working towards it, especially if it involves getting outside.
Choose Your Colours: Balance out any heaviness and lethargy by embracing those bright Spring colours. Vibrant reds, orange and even violet can help increase energy and motivation. Try wearing these colours, having them around your home, or switching your phone and computer home screen to match these energising colours.