Ayurveda and The Seasons
By Sonja Shah-Williams, Grace’s Ayurvedic Therapist
Ayurveda is a system of healing with its origins in ancient India. It is believed by scholars to be the oldest healing system on our planet. Ayuh means life and veda means knowledge. The knowledge within Ayurveda deals with the nature, scope and purpose of life, and includes both physical and metaphysical aspects- health and disease, happiness and sorrow, pain and pleasure. A key principle of Ayurvedic theory is that the Universe is the macrocosm and Man is its microcosmic replica.
The purpose of Ayurveda is to heal and to maintain the quality of life. This is to be achieved through correct living and adjustments according to the time of day, the season, and time of life, through a deep understanding of each person’s unique body, mind and spiritual makeup.
The five elements present in the universe- Ether, Air, fire, Water and Earth, are organised into three functional principles within the body. These are known as the Tridoshas- Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Like the elements, they cannot be detected by our senses, but their qualities can be. They are responsible for all the physiological and psychological processes in the body and the mind- forces that determine growth and decay. Every physical characteristic, mental capacity and emotional tendency can be explained in terms of the Tridoshas.
Vata is a combination of Ether and Air and it is light, cold and dry. Vata controls movement, blinking, thinking, breathing, muscle movement, the beating of the heart, and all cell movements. In balance, it promotes creativity and flexibility, but out of balance, it can lead to fear, anxiety and abnormal movements.
Pitta is a combination of fire and water and is light, hot and oily. In balance it promotes understanding and intelligence; out of balance it arouses anger, hatred, jealousy, and inflammation.
Kapha is a combination of water and earth and is heavy, cold and oily. In balance it is expressed as calmness, love, forgiveness. Out of balance, it leads to attachment, greed, possessiveness, and congestive disorders.
When the doshas are in balance, we are healthy – in their normal state, they maintain equilibrium of the body in its entirety. It is when various factors affect their quantity and quality that disease can develop.
We all have a unique constitution that is made up of a combination of the three doshas, with one usually being the strongest. This is the one that is most susceptible to illness. However, the doshas are in constant flux, due to lifestyle and environment, and factors such as time and season.
When I conduct a consultation, I look at every aspect of a client’s life. Childhood, how we have been parented, family health history, nutrition and lifestyle choices, personality, and relationships, all affect our holistic health. Similarly, I determine how the previous season and the current season are affecting a client’s equilibrium. A fundamental principle of Ayurveda is that like increases like and opposites reduce each other. As with everything, the seasons can be seen as having doshic attributes. The qualities of Vata, Pitta and Kapha are more prominent in different seasons, so we need to adapt our nutrition and lifestyle choices using the above principle as we transition from one season to the next.
We are currently in transition from late winter to early spring. In the winter, Kapha is more prominent and during the winter months we tend to eat foods and make lifestyle choices that provoke Kapha Dosha.
During winter we will have experienced heaviness, cold, sluggishness, and wanted to sleep longer. Our movements will have been slower and heavier. Many of us suffer from flu and heavy colds during winter.
In the spring, we need to literally spring clean our bodies and minds to rid ourselves of the above, as we transition into summer (the Pitta season). During spring, Mother Earth wakes up and her lighter energy is seen to move upwards. Everything begins to grow, bloom and flower; colour returns to the world.
Likewise, our energy increases, we feel lighter, we spend more time outside, and we want to celebrate life and nature.
The qualities of spring are warm, light, moist and unctuous. The warm quality causes any ice and snow to melt, and similarly, the Kapha in the body starts to liquefy. However, the overlap from winter causes some of us to get spring colds. Early spring means winter has only just started to lose its grip, so we need to slowly make adjustments to clear the system of the accumulated Kapha.
The key to nutritional adjustments in the spring is to avoid heavy, cold and oily foods, and keep to the absolute minimum food that is sweet, sour and salty (all these qualities provoke Kapha).
Dairy and all cold foods and drinks should be avoided in early spring. The foods to favour are bitter, spicy and astringent- now is the perfect time to eat legumes, basmati rice, millet, onions, garlic, leafy greens and most vegetables, poached eggs, and plenty of ginger, black pepper, chillies and other spices.
After a meal, drinking a cup of warm water with ginger, black pepper and cinnamon will aid digestion and help to clear excess kapha. Warm water with a little honey added to it is great first thing in the morning during spring, as honey is heating and cleansing. In fact, you can sip this throughout the day.
Rice milk and almond milk are good substitutes now for the heavier Kapha- promoting cow’s milk. If you drink cow’s milk during this time, boil it first and drink it warm with a little turmeric and ginger to dry out its wet and cold qualities.
For those who eat meat, favour light poultry and venison during spring. Heavy red meats are best avoided. A small amount of freshwater fish is ok too.
Aerobic exercise should be increased during spring, and yoga and deep breathing will help to reduce the stiffness of winter and clear the sinuses and the mind of the heaviness we have experienced over the last few months.
To book an appointment with Sonja, please contact the Grace Medical and Wellbeing Clinic by calling 020 7235 8900 ext 2 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.