I believe that the simplest way to understand the winter months and their impact on us is through the lens of excess. You can ascribe this to the holidays if you like - the overindulging in more ways than one. But it also applies to our general accumulation in the cold, wet and dark months of the year. Just as many mammals hibernate in the winter, we humans tend to create insulation through our winter habits - we eat more, rest more, are more introspective in our thoughts and emotions, all the while moving less. Ayurveda refers to the winter months as a time associated with earth and cold - kapha increasing. The over-accumulation that naturally occurs in the winter months can be reflected in weight gain, sluggishness, lethargy, sleepiness, depression and other issues of density and heaviness.
But not to worry, nature always abides. So just as the winter months bring excess, the spring months encourage space and lightness if we address them with the intention of reducing winter kapha. The Spring Equinox reminds us of the natural opportunity to address that which we have accumulated through the winter and to begin creating space. Think "spring cleaning." There are number of practices that will help to clear excess from our koshas (the 5 bodies recognized in Vedic science). As always, listen closely to yourself and your unique needs, but I encourage you to bring some or all of these practices into your life as the spring emerges.
1. GET OUTSIDE. The weather is warming and the light of the day is longer and longer. Take advantage and get out of the cave of your dwelling and into the space of nature. Allow the fresh air, expanse of sky and birthing of new growth to support and inspire you. A walk in the woods or the park does wonders for feelings of heaviness and lethargy. Convince yourself to leave the comfort and warmth of hunkering down to experience the uplift and enlightening advantage of time spent in the outdoors. Even if just for 15 minutes. And try to be consistent - the more you do it the lighter you will feel.
2. CLEAN OUT YOUR SPACE. Reserve a day in the coming weeks to do some spring cleaning in your space. One of my teachers is adamant that each spring we should begin with a deep cleaning of the space we live in as a reflection of the space within. And it works. Clean out the fridge, the cabinets, the closets and drawers where excess has accumulated in your home. Get rid of things that you do not use or that are expired. Donate the dress that you never wear despite thinking it is adorable. Get rid of the condiment bottles that have seen nothing but the side shelf in the fridge since last year. Recycle the business cards that have stacked up in your wallet. Create space in your external environment and be prepared to enjoy a feeling of lightness in your internal environment.
3. IGNITE THE AGNI. In Yoga and Ayurveda we often refer to the digestive fire or Agni. This mechanism for digestion, metabolism and overall energy creation in the body is instrumental for moving out of the density of winter and into the lightness of spring. Igniting the agni is a great way to encourage a clearing of excess in the digestive track and build energy in the body. There are number of practices that can help. The first and perhaps the easiest is to consistently bring the breath deep into the belly. If you have a yoga practice, pay special attention to pulling the breath all the way to the root and be sure to exhale completely. A morning tonic of warm water and half a squeeze of lemon is a wonderful way to ignite the agni as metabolism first thing in the day. And many find this tonic helps to clear the bowels first thing, leaving a person feeling lighter in the step from the get go and making for a clearer meditation practice. Ginger tea any time of day is also lovely for digestive health and is recommended for all doshas; just be aware if you have a fiery constitution and keep it to a minimum. You may also consider working with the pranayama practice breath of fire and engaging with meaningful twists in your asana practice. But if you are not familiar with these practices, please make sure to find a suitable teacher to introduce these methods safely.
4. FOCUS ON SPRING FOODS. Nature provides us with what we need and one of the fundamental beliefs in many theories of food as medicine tell us that we should eat what is in season for optimal health. Springtime is a wonderful time to engage with this idea. Notice that hardy leafy greens are in abundance - enjoy them steamed for a smooth transition between the dense foods of winter and the raw foods of summer. Enjoy salads featuring the micro-greens that are beginning to sprout and use the root vegetables that have sustained you through the winter in juices. And just as spring can be associated with water as the snow melts and the rivers run, the foods which serve to get our energy flowing contain water. Bring celery, cucumber and the like into your diet in moderation as long as your constitution tolerates. And finally, given you enjoy heat, spicy foods are a good choice this time of year and will help to increase energy and internal fire.
5. SWEAT. The skin is the largest organ of the body and serves a very important role in excretion. Through our pores and sweat glands our bodies have the miraculous ability to safely store and then eliminate excess toxins. As we have been more stagnated in the winter months, it is certain that toxins have accumulated beneath the surface, and there is nothing like a good sweat to move them out! Whether you choose to engage in vigorous exercise or sit in the sauna, you will be well served to open the pores and let the sweat carry away the excess toxins. I would recommend finding time for a good sweat at least 3 times per week as we move out of winter and into spring.
If nothing else, recognize that spring is a time of rebirth and growth. Allow yourself space to create and experience newness and freshness in your life. Look forward to longer days because you intend to enjoy them and move your body to clear out the cobwebs. Bring the concept of space into your awareness - notice the way you feel in the space around you. Do you feel crowded? Observe the quality of your internal space. Do you feel heavy? Whatever spaciousness might mean for you, bring it into your consciousness and let it do what it will do. Take notice of your need for space as we move forward from this first day of spring and be kind to yourself.
Om mani padme hum.