Longer days, more sunshine, and temperatures cracking 50 degrees: Spring is finally here! According to Ayurveda, an ancient system of health and healing from India, spring is a time for cleansing and letting go of toxins and waste we donít need. Itís a great time to lighten up our diet and to get moving again with warmer weather. To learn more about Ayurveda and for ideas on how to clean up and out this spring, The Urbaness sat down with Karen Klutznick from Chicagoís KK Ayurveda
Q: What is Ayurveda?
Itís 5,000-year-old folk medicine from India, using herbs, yoga, breathwork, yoga, meditation and any kind of lifestyle changes to keep a person in balance. There are levels of imbalance that we can identify before a disease becomes fully manifested and needs the help of a western MD. If we catch these conditions early, we can sometimes avert doctor visits or the need for pharmaceutical drugs.
Q: What is it about spring that makes people want to get clean?
The winter weíve had this year was so hard on so many levels. Cold weather is dark, itís lonely. You donít want to be outside; itís uncomfortable. Your skin dries out, and because of the extreme dryness of being inside as well as outside, your body overproduces mucous as a way to lubricate itself. The minute that we see that sunlight, and you see anything blooming thatís green, weíre all uplifted by it. You feel freshness in the air; everythingís coming back into bloom.
In Ayurveda, itís not appropriate to have greens and berries in the winter. Winterís about having warmer and spicier foods. So you get to spring, and think about whatís going on in nature, and it makes sense to eat those kinds of foods. Youíre getting rid of mucous, of heaviness; itís going to be lighter outside for longer, so youíll be more active. You donít necessarily have to look at it through an Ayurvedic lens, just look out your window.
Q: So what are five simple tips for getting clean this spring?
Keep warm, keep dry, keep active.
Spring and fall are transition seasons. You can have a freezing day then a hot day; itíll rain then it wonít. In most places spring is a rainy season. This winter was more damp and moist, so if youíre trying to get rid of this mucous and maybe excess weight, because of the slowness and coldness of winter, then youíve got to be active and dry it out and heat it up.
Eat greens and berries
. The tastes bitter, pungent and astringent alleviate Kapha. Ginger tea, ginger is pungent; fresh ginger is less hot than dried. Also, cumin-fennel-coriander tea, thatís a tri-doshic tea, it keeps your digestive fire strong and helps to balance things out. Greens and berries are astringent tastes, and transition seasons are always good times to cleanse. Youíre moving from one thing to another, your body wants to do it anyway.
Take care of your allergies!
Even if youíre not going to do some full-on Ayurvedic cleanse, you want to support the liver in the spring. Turmeric has that bitter astringency, that will help the liver release whatever toxins itís been accumulating. Dandelion greens, milk thistle, burdock, yellowdock. Also, try freeze-dried stinging nettle capsules: youíre supposed to take them before you need them, but itís a natural antihistamine.
Use your Nasya.
The traditional way is to lie back and tilt your head over the edge of your bed or couch. Try two drops in each nostril, and you can stay there and hang out. Thatís the traditional way. But if thatís not your thing, you can just put two drops on your pinkie, and massage the inside of your nostrils. I think it should be part of everybodyís daily routine, particularly in winter and spring. The essential oils have a mind-expanding property; it feels really good. If youíre coating your sinuses with oil, environmental toxins have less ability to permeate. It also helps with TMJ, snoring, and sinus infections.
Practice vigorous pranayama.
Try this short breathing technique
with very vigorous inhalations and exhalations. Kaphaís associated with the lungs, and mucous is associated with the lungs, and Kapalabhati and Bhastrika are great head-and lung-clearing breath techniques. Itís vigorous, and warming but calming at the same time. It is a little bit weird, or loud, itís not great to do if you work in a cube, unless other people are cool with it, or you donít care.
Q: What if we really want to ramp up our internal Spring Cleaning?
Try some of these other Ayurvedic techniques.
Try tongue scraping
. A great practice is abhyanga
. At this time of year, sesame oil and sunflower oil are great oils. If you like essential oils, a little ginger oil or citrus oil is nice. Theyíre warming and uplifting, which is good. We want to get up and out. Finally, always, Yoga Nidra
Itís hard to start a meditation practice, or to stay with one, especially if you donít think itís working. In the beginning, itís just about the discipline to sit still for five minutes, and watch your mind act like an idiot. Your mind doesnít want you to sit there, and itís going to tell you all the reasons why. In the beginning itís just about dissociating yourself from the wanderings of your own mind. Still, if Iíve meditated before I walk out the door, Iíve set myself up for more choices that emanate from my mind, than just automatically getting pissed, or judgmental, or cranky or demanding. Getting cranky and irritable is one option, but maybe just saying, ďOkay, I can roll with this,Ē is another option. I know meditation is supposed to be this pathway for enlightenment: great. But in the meantime, it makes me not yell at people while Iím walking down the street.
The beauty of Yoga Nidra is all you have to do is show up and be prepared to listen. If you do it with repetition, it facilitates your ability to go to places and get rid of excess baggage, stuff people have told you about yourself that you really believed, that now you recognize might not be true. In Yoga Nidra, people get a glimpse of what meditation feels like, without having to go through that struggle. I donít think itís a substitute for a meditation practice, but if thatís all you do, itís way better than nothing. [Ed. note: Need help kickstarting your at-home meditation practice? We have a guided meditation from a Chicago expert to ease you in.]