Ayurveda and the Effect of the Seasons
Last week we passed the Spring equinox. It’s an important time in Ayurveda when we transition from one season to the next. Our bodies start to make changes to adapt to the changing environment and it is in a way when we are at our most vulnerable in terms of our physical well-being. In fact, one of the main causes of illness in Ayurveda is said to be the “effect of the seasons”.
However, nature provides us with exactly the right foods to combat the effects of the changing seasons, so that our bodies can remain strong and adapt as necessary for our continued health and well-being. And so Ayurveda teaches us that an important pathway to improved health and well-being is to re-learn the art of listening once more to nature and the messages of her seasons. Ayurveda invites us and guides us to live in alignment with nature. As an example, let’s consider the autumn season which is another important transitional time of year, as we move from the active summer months to the darker and (in nature) quieter winter months. The plants are drying, the sap is returning to the roots, and the dry leaves fall from the trees. The whole season is therefore considered in Ayurveda to have this quality of drying and when I have asked students in workshops in the past if they have noticed the skin becoming dryer at this time of year, many nod in agreement. Meaning, this drying is also taking place internally and when substances dry they become lighter which in turn means that also we can feel a little “lighter” in the body in a kind of un-grounded sense. We can feel restless, less balanced, feel more insomnia than usual. And if we think about the foods that nature provides us with at this time of year, you will see they are products of the opposite nature: such as the heavier, earthy grounding root vegetables and all the colourful squash of the autumn season. Nuts are on the trees, heavy with oil to ground us and lubricate the drying inner and outer body. In spring, the earth is becoming moist again to waken up the plants to start to send forth fresh green shoots from through the earth. We have spring greens, bitter in taste and stimulating the liver to cleanse. These lighter Spring foods are great to combat the heaviness of late Winter and early Spring. When we think about it, earth and water mix to make something pretty heavy and sticky which we call clay. And after the heavier, richer foods of the Winter season, we can also start to feel this kind of weighed-down, heaviness: we can feel sluggish, lethargic and low in mood by late Winter, Think back a few weeks. Were you feeling this way? I know the people around me were noticing it in themselves. And since the Spring equinox are you feeling a little more upbeat in spirit, planning ahead…your travel adventures and other new projects.
In taking on a diet of seasonal cleansing Spring vegetables we can lighten the inner load, supporting the liver to cleanse itself of old fats and get those fat-soluble toxins out of our system, so we feel less fatigued, and more motivated and inspired. Adapting our diet to the messages that nature gives us in the Spring season, can give us the energy we need to make the most of the more vital, active and joyful days of summer months ahead. If we continue throughout the year to listen and pay attention to nature, the nature of each season and the types of foods that nature provides us with, we will find ourselves maintaining more good health and well-being throughout the year, even through the more challenging late autumn and winter months at the end of the year.
Needless to say few of us are managing to live this way these days. Our busy lifestyles put us out of balance and leave us with all kinds of cravings for junk, packaged and out of season foods. Our supermarkets are stocked with all kinds of foods from other climatic zones and so belonging to other seasons. I remember the outcry some last Winter when we couldn’t get courgettes because of growing problems in Southern Europe. Quietly I thought it was a good thing for everyone: there’s a reason nature is not giving us courgettes in our local environment. We have the digestive enzymes for the foods that are grown in our climatic zone in our current season. I read one Ayurvedic doctor cite a research project with deer. When the deer were given out of season foods they quickly became sick. They did not have the enzymes to digest out of season foods. We are, like the deer and all other living creatures, one with and a part of Mother Nature. However, we tend to think and live as if every living being is part of nature….except ourselves. We are also nature’s children and the best way we can honour ourselves is to honour Mother Nature, living in tune with and with respect for her rhythms.
Nature slows down in the Winter and we expect to be able to keep going and doing as much as we do in the summer months, We do so with stimulants – coffee, tea and sugary snacks. Already in autumn, nature is quietening and Ayurveda teaches us that it is the time for us to do the same, to become quieter and more introspective, just as is happening in our outer environment. There is a message for our minds and spirits in each season, as well as for our physical bodies. Ayurveda teaches us that once we start to live in balance with nature’s rhythms, we will digest better, sleep better, feel happier and more connected to the innermost nature through this awakened connection to the nature around us. Ayurveda teaches us also that once we start to eat and live in accord with the teaching encapsulated in each season, as we digest and sleep better, our cravings cease to be unhealthy and our metabolism becomes supported rather than damaged by our habits and we become more balanced in our weight, stronger in our immunity, happier in our souls. For example, eating seasonal foods and living a lifestyle attuned to the seasons we may find that come the Winter months we will no longer crave those salty, fried snacks or sugary treats, but maybe satisfied with just a few whole unsalted nuts or seeds, drawn to them by their good oil and protein content in the WInter. That is, we will crave what supports balance and what nourishes us in each season.
If like me, you succumbed to one of the horrid bugs that did the rounds this Winter then by starting to bring the wisdom of Ayurveda into your daily life at this time of year, and following Ayurveda seasonal and lifestyle guidelines throughout the year, you can go a long way towards improving your digestion, your health in general, including your immunity as a preparation for staving off those viruses next Winter. Last year, in the late part of the summer, when Autumn was already whispering to us, I was on an intensive and quite gruelling training in India. I came back to the UK exhausted and when Autumn would ask me to slow down, I slowed down a little but apparently not enough after the previous months’ hard work. Sometimes 21st century life demands something of us that is out of accord with nature, right? We have to pay the bills, support ourselves and our families. Eating the right foods, doing the right Yoga practices, I thought I could get away with it, and I’m sure it helped me recover comparatively quickly. However by late Winter, I was home and off work with a debilitating dose of one of the cough-cold viruses that hit so many of us down. For the past couple of years I had lived more fully in harmony with the rhythm of the seasons and had passed through each Winter without any nasty bugs or viruses. So that was a good lesson! This year, I’m certainly back to following 100% Ayurveda’s guidance. I’ve was reminded just how worth it it is and how we cannot become complacent and overly-confident in our well-being and begin to go off track. 🙂
Living in an Ayurveda way, we start to find more health and happiness, contentment and peace of mind waking up within ourselves. In starting to eat in alignment with the rhythms of the Spring season now, we are likely to enjoy more of the joy and vitality characteristic of the Summer season. Spring invites us to take the opportunity at this time of year to cleanse with it’s cleansing nutritive seasonal vegetables, to rest and strengthen the digestive system. A cleanse at this time of year can support the removal of the heavier, fattier foods we are likely to have consumed over the Winter season, and also the many fat-soluble environmental chemicals, including the pesticides that we take in with non-organic foods, both of which can challenge our liver function and leave us feeling sluggish, lethargic, with less than optimum digestion and so impaired assimilation of nutrients, and impaired immunity.
Actually, my Ayurveda teacher said only last week, that if we clean up the liver we go a long way towards reducing many of the symptoms of many chronic modern day illnesses. Ayurveda also teaches us that we can eat the best and freshest, organic seasonal foods but if our metabolism is not functioning well through a lifestyle that goes against our nature, then we will be creating an internal toxicity that also challenges our health and well-being and can lead to symptoms of fatigue, aching joints, fogginess in the mind, digestive malfunctions, PMT and many other common complaints. By changing our lifestyle, living in accord with nature’s rhythms and in alignment with our own individual metabolic rhythm (which Ayurveda reveals to us), then we support optimum functioning of our metabolism and an improved state of health in body and mind. I’ll write more on this another time. However, once again, a seasonal Spring cleanse can free us from some of the effects of any such internal toxicity.
I hope you will join me through future writings, and also scheduled Ayurveda workshops and weekend intensives, and take on board some of these ways of eating and living that this great ancient medical system promises will leave to your greater health and happiness.
Ayurveda empowers us with an understanding of our own bodies and minds, their individual tendencies and how we can live, work, eat and play to reset and maintain their optimum functioning to support our continued well-being for as long as we might live.
Below is a traditional cleansing recipe in Ayurveda. This is my go-to comfort food. It is soothing for the digestive system, cleansing and nourishing, and balancing for all Ayurveda types. Spring is a good time to give it a go as a mono-diet for a day or two, alone or alongside fresh steamed seasonal vegetables. Please do let me know how you go on!
Love & blessings, Shama
1 cup Organic Yellow mung dahl
1 cup Organic white basmati rice
1 tspn ground tumeric
1 tbspn fresh grated root ginger
1 tspn cumin seeds
1/2 tspn mustard seeds (black or yellow)
1/2 tpsn ground cumin
1/2 tspn ground coriander
1/2 tspn organic rock salt.
Chopped organic fresh coriander leaves for garnish.
Organic ghee (optional)
Boil a 2.5 litres of filtered water in a large pan, with the salt added.
As the water starts to warm, add the spices.
As the water starts to warm, add the spices.
Once the water is boiling add the spices and turn down the heat and simmer for a few minutes.
Wash the rice and mung dahl thoroughly in a sieve until the water runs clear.
Add to the water and spices, and cook on a low heat for 40-45 minutes, adding more water as necessary, until the rice and dahl are very soft (like a baby food consistency).
Once cooked, serve steaming hot with chopped coriander leaves for garnish. Add a little organic ghee to taste or enjoy a fat-free version for a low fat spring cleanse.
Look out for my next blogs on the benefits of kitchadi and ghee!
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