This is a special post from Somya Devi, a regular Vedic Astrology contributor to YOGANONYMOUS. For her regular contributions, click here. For more information about Somya, or to schedule a reading, click here.
It's time to shed a few layers of clothes—and to similarly lighten our diet and modify self-care routines to keep up with the changing season. Nature is awakening and becoming more active. To stay in harmony and alignment, we can turn to the ancient science of ayurveda for tips. Ayurvedic tradition recommends following a Ritucharya, a seasonal regimen, to maintain a healthy balance in both body and mind.
Early winter is dominated by vata dosha, the lightest of the energetic qualities governing our world. Vata is comprised of the air and ether elements, and is cold, light, dry, and active. As such, we tend to counteract that quality of winter by eating warmer and heavier foods to feel more warm and grounded: stews, winter squashes, root vegetables, casseroles, bread, dairy, all considered kapha dosha-dominent. Kapha is the heaviest of the doshas, comprised of the earth and water elements. It is cold, moist, heavy, dull, and static, tending to cause stagnation. We are prone toward a more kapha lifestyle routine in the winter, as we slow down and opt for sedentary, indoor activities.
Though all this is helpful in the beginning of winter, by late winter and springtime we may have begun to accumulate kapha in our systems, too much of which can turn into ama, or toxicity. Just as the animals in nature begin to shed their winter bulk, spring is also the time for us to let go of some of those pounds we acquired to feel warm and grounded during the vata season.
Late winter and spring are more kapha-dominant seasons. Before we begin to feel the accumulation of that heavy, moist energy outside, it's best to create some space in our internal environment by changing routines and diets to a more kapha-balancing regimen. This protocol will help you to maintain balance after normal winter-time kapha accumulation, or to detox some of the built up ama if it has begun to accrue.
Signs that we need to cleanse some accumulated kapha and ama buildup can include lethargy, weight gain, indigestion, a white coating on the tongue, water retention, swelling, congestion, and slow thinking or "brain fog." Even seasonal allergies can be caused by a buildup of kapha dosha within your system, and can be alleviated by a seasonal routine.
It's said in Ayurveda that every three months we should take at least seven days off, around the equinoxes and solstices. Eight days before these seasonal junctions is an ideal time to dedicate to a personal practice for cleansing and rejuvenating (or a full-on cleanse and rejuvenation protocol done under the direction of a professional healthcare practitioner). Even if you can't fully take time off of work, you can create your own retreat at home to facilitate seasonal balancing and a purging of excess kapha.
You may still be accustomed to eating lots of soups and cheeses, but it's time to let go of all of those kapha-heavy foods and start integrating more kapha-pacifying foods. That means avoid anything too heavy, sweet, salty or sour: bread, pasta, meat, winter squashes and roots, fried food, excessive dairy, yogurt, any processed or canned foods, and leftovers (the longer you leave it in the fridge, the heavier it gets). Reduce your intake of these foods, or cut them out completely to facilitate more cleansing.
Opt for foods that are lighter and dryer, with bitter, pungent and astringent flavors. Bitter, leafy greens should be your best friend right now. Light grains and baked, broiled, or grilled seasonal vegetables are great to incorporate. Lighter soups flavored with turmeric, cumin, ginger, cayenne and pepper will help you to burn ama and increase your digestive fire. Start integrating what you see at the farmers market—more green vegetables and berries are starting to come into season. Whatever is local and in season where you live is what your body needs to eat to stay in harmony with nature.
Herbs and Spices
Since kapha is cool and springtime hasn't yet brought the full heat of the summer, it's good to keep warm and build your digestive fire with more pungent spices. These include ginger, garlic, pepper, chili, and ginger. Trikatu is an Ayurvedic herbal formula which includes ginger, black pepper, and long pepper, and is excellent for cutting kapha and stimulating digestion. Triphala is a tridoshic formula which assists in detoxification and tonifies the digestive tract. These two can be taken in small amounts together, twice a day, during your seasonal cleansing period.*
Turmeric is great for kapha because it is bitter, astringent, and pungent. An herbal tea made with cinnamon, clove, ginger and turmeric will help to keep you warm and get the digestive juices flowing—plus, cinnamon naturally helps to balance blood sugar, which will help to curb any cravings you might be having for the sweet and heavy foods you're avoiding. This is a great tea to make and sip throughout the day. In general, you should make sure to drink lots of warm water, and avoid cold drinks during this period, which can aggravate kapha and increase allergies.
Exercise is the perfect antidote to kapha dosha. Kapha is heavy, cool and stagnant, and the activity needed to balance this is to get up, get moving, and get warm. Nature's rhythms have probably signaled to you already that this is a great time to renew your exercise routine, now that the weather is calling you to move outdoors, and the daylight hours are longer.
Sweating will help to remove excess water element from your body, and will also help to draw out any accumulated toxins. This can be achieved through your exercise routine, or can be augmented by visiting a dry sauna or steam room. If this isn't an option for you, simply taking a steamy hot shower will help to create the sweating effect.
Avoid Daytime Sleep
This is a good practice in general, but especially during this time of year. Daytime or excessive sleep aggravates kapha dosha and creates more stagnation in our bodies and minds. It is very important to get good sound sleep at night, starting before 10 p.m., to allow the body's natural renewal process to take place (between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.).
Yoga is a purifying and rejuvenating practice for mind, body, and spirit. Pranayama (yogic breathing) is an excellent practice to help purify and awaken the channels of the body-mind. Consider doing at least 5–10 brisk sun salutations in the morning during kapha season. This is a great routine for getting your energy moving, as well as aligning the breath, body, and mind. Shoulder stands and inversions are also good to incorporate now, as we try to lighten the energy and assist its upward flow.
These practices and diet will help to facilitate the outward flow of excess kapha and ama in the body-mind that has built up over the winter season. You can maintain this routine throughout the kapha season, until the heat and dryness really builds up in the environment, as we approach summer, the Pitta season. Always remember that cleansing is also depleting, so it’s very important to nourish the body with Rasayana (or "rejuvenative") foods, herbs and practices after the initial cleansing period.
*Always consult your healthcare practitioner before use to know what herbs, diet and routine are right for you. Ayurveda is a science that recognizes the uniqueness of each individual, and therefore what is good for one person may not always be good for another. Depending upon your individual constitution or any chronic health conditions or imbalances you face, a different protocol may be required. A more in-depth Ayurvedic cleanse, such as a Pancha Karma treatment, can be undertaken with the assistance of a professional Ayurvedic practitioner.