Springing into Action: The Spring Kapha Diet
by Gary Gran, CYT, D.Ay.
Now that spring is here we have said good-bye to winter for another year. Or have we? It is possible that we are still carrying around the effects of winter even though the calendar pages tell us it is over. Ayurveda tells us that the effects of winter accumulate in the body over the course of the winter to the point of possible aggravation in the spring. This is termed aggravated kapha. Kapha has the qualities of earth and water which together are cold, damp, heavy, slow, downward-moving and contracted. When in balance with the other elements, earth and water provide stability, nourishment, and insulation from the cold of winter. However, when in excess, we can feel overly heavy, sluggish, dull and congested. If you are feeling heavy in this way, it may be time to do some spring cleansing and change your diet according to the change in season.
It is important to eat warm nourishing foods that have adequate amounts of proteins, fats, and carbs during the winter months. We can think of good winter foods as those that store easily, like nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains and roots. These are foods that are harvested late in the year and are traditionally stored for winter use. They are dense and known as heavy or building foods. In the winter it is sensible to take more of the heavy foods, but in spring time we need to change our diet to favor the lighter foods like vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices. If we do this, we can avoid carrying around winter longer than we need to!
These days in America we can eat almost any food we want whenever we want due to availability. But it can be most instructive and helpful to consider what foods are naturally in season. Nature has a way of maintaining balance and providing just the right types of foods at the right time, if only we pay attention. There is an old saying that to go against nature is unwise.
In early spring it can be helpful to gradually lighten the diet. This means eat less and chew more. If we had to rely on stored provisions, we may have to stretch out our remaining food reserves until the spring harvest. As the weather turns a little warmer we can consider some light fasting and more exercise. We can sleep less and get outside more often to experience the miracle of spring. We can notice how the earth stirs and new life begins to literally spring up from the ground.
The long dormancy of winter is over and nature wakes up refreshed and renewed. We see the green mantle of the earth returning. Migrating birds pass through and buds form. The animals forage for rhizomes, shoots and sprouts. Sap rises in the trees. If you want to know what is meant by kundalini rising just walk outside on the ground in the springtime!
The seasonal spring diet is a natural antidote to the heaviness of winter. If our winter diet leaves us feeling cold, damp, and heavy, then a true spring diet brings us warmth, dryness, and lightness. Spring foods have an upward-moving and expanded energy.
First of all it is time to reduce the amount of fats and oils in the diet. Consider a vegetarian diet or use only low-fat animal foods. Especially consider eliminating or restricting dairy to low-fat or fermented forms like yogurt. And forget about ice cream until the full heat of summer! By all means get the junk oils and saturated fats out of your diet.
Change your cooking methods. Eat more raw foods, especially salads. Consider steaming and using lighter pots and pans. Put away the heavy pots used for hearty winter soups and stews. On windy days you can take more liquids or prepare light brothy soups.
Definitely favor all the spring vegetables and herbs, especially greens.You can easily identify the best spring foods as shoots, sprouts and tender greens. Shoots include scallions, chives, asparagus and celery. Notice the upward-moving energy.
Sprouts are most excellent in spring. Consider how whole seeds, grains, beans, and even nuts can lie dormant all winter to sprout in the spring! The germination begins as the ground softens and becomes moist from the spring rains. But growth really takes off after the first thunder and lightning of spring! The lightning serves to wake up the life force and hasten new growth.
If we follow nature, we also need to wake up our foods. Soaking and sprouting is the best method. Consider sprouting seeds like alfalfa, clover, radish and fenugreek. Then there are sprouted beans like lentils, garbanzos, peas, and mung. Whole grains can be sprouted like barley, wheat and rye. You can even sprout almonds. A classic ayurvedic tonic is to soak 10 almonds overnight. In the morning slip off the peels and eat or blend with water into nut milk.
Spring greens are a must. Young and tender greens are perhaps best, but be sure to eat more lettuces, radicchio, arugala, endive, kale, collards, chard, mustards, spinach, brocolli, Brussels sprouts and cabbages of all kinds. You can even get out and forage for wild greens and early perennials in your garden. Look for dandelions, nettles, parsley, sage, raspberry leaf, chicory, sorrel and thyme. In fact, a classic spring tonic of the yogi’s is to collect and boil nettles. Just be careful to wear gloves because nettles can have quite a sting before they are boiled. And be sure to throw out the boiling water and rinse the nettles before eating.
And don’t forget those sprouts as a source for spring greens! When the tips turn green they are ready for eating and are full of chlorophyll. Wheat and barley sprouts can be grown into wheat and barley grass and then juiced. The juices are excellent tonics, cleansers, and health builders - just the thing to chase away the remnants of winter.
Also consider eating more rhizomes, bulbs, budding flowers, and bitter and pungent roots. Ginger, turmeric, onion, garlic, forsythia and honeysuckle flowers, dandelion root, chicory root, burdock root, gentian root, radish and turnip are excellent spring foods to break up and dispell kapha. Also consider hot chilies, peppers and spices to help burn off kapha. And be sure to include saffron which is collected from crocus flowers. The only seasoning not recommended is salt. A classic ayurvedic springtime fast is to give up salt for ten days.
A special herb used in ayurveda for rejuvenation and to reduce kapha is called punarnava, which means to make new again. The plant ,also known as spreading hogweed, can lie dormant for long periods of time before suddenly springing back to life!
Early in spring we can rely on dried fruits, lemons and the spring grapefruit harvest for fruit. We can reduce some of the heavier, sweeter fruits like bananas, oranges, figs, dates and avocados. As spring progresses, we can enjoy all the wonderful berries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and later blueberries and others. Please note that commercial strawberries are highly sprayed and best avoided. Look for organic strawberries which are much more delicious as well.
As for grains, we can reduce the amounts we eat in the spring or we can sprout our grains which give them a lighter, more alkaline effect. We can also eat dried grains like crackers, and decrease or avoid breads and pastries, which are heavy and mucus-forming. Certain grains have more of a warming and drying effect and are especially favored in ayurveda for spring use. They are buckwheat, corn, rye, millet and barley. By all means consider limiting or avoiding all the simple carbs like refined sugars, refined flours, and junk food for your spring diet.
Eating a seasonal springtime diet is cleansing, refreshing and invigorating. In general, favor fresh foods with lots of prana, eat light and eat lighter foods, increase the amount of raw foods and salads, flush out your system with fluids and herbal teas, and decrease the richer, heavier winter fare. Exercise more, get out and enjoy nature, and break up any old habits, attachments and routines. Try something new.
In yoga class favor asanas that are upward moving with lots of arm extensions, and practice the invigorating breathing practices like kapalabhati and bhastrika. For meditation, draw the vitality of the earth upwards using mula bandha and uddiyana bandha. Lift your heart and draw your awareness up the spine. Lift your spirits and soar to the spiritual heights like a flower reaching up out of the earth for the sun. Throw off the shackles of winter. Then raise your voice in song and share the life and joy of springtime with all.