Cleansing with AyurvedaAvi Zer-Aviv May 1, 2009
Bring Your Life and Body Into Balance This Spring
The expression “April showers bring May flowers” is not only a testament to the rainy and damp qualities of Spring, but it also reveals a process that takes place inside of each one of us during this time of year.
Ayurveda is an ancient philosophy which views the world through the lens of the five elements of ether, air, fire, water and earth. These elements come together in nature, including inside of us, to form three principles: the principle of movement, known as Vata; the principle of metabolism, known as Pitta; and, the principle of structure, known as Kapha. Each one of us is a unique combination of these forces and displays an inherent Ayurvedic constitution.
According to Ayurveda philosophy, Spring is the Kapha (Watery Principle) time of year. As the bitterness of late winter passes, the elements of water and Earth take greater hold and grace us with the first blossom, flowing rivers, and a sense of being more alive and creative. Channels of the human body and mind begin to flow more rapidly, and with that many people experience a renewal of energy, sexuality and vitality.
Spring’s moisture and dampness also brings with it the potential for congestion. As our channels open and prana (life force) circulates with greater force, accumulated toxins and internal debris dislodge and easily take hold of us. An excess of Kapha is connected to diseases of congestion, sluggishness and stagnation.
Unlike other modalities, Ayurveda does not recommend generic detoxification as a rule. Depending on your constitutional type — either Vata, Pitta or Kapha — and current state of health, only people with excess Kapha and Ama (toxins) should be focusing on deep cleansing regimes. When we are not on toxic overload, heavy purification can deplete our tissues and causes impairment.
Ironically, it is often the people who are least in need of detoxification that jump on its bandwagon, and the ones who need it most are those who resist. I have seen this again and again in my years working with Ayurveda. Vata (Air Principle) type’s bouncy nature makes these people prone to choose experiences that further “un-root” them, as deep purification does. Whereas Kapha (Earth and water Principle) type’s tendency towards attachment makes them most reluctant to give up substances and experiences that create dullness and complacency.
Whatever your constitutional type, if one or more of the following symptoms is aggravating you during Spring, Kapha or Ama are most likely in excess, and a detoxification regime may be in order.
Symptoms of Excess Kapha
- Respiratory congestion (“wet” cough, excess phlegm)
- Lethargy and fatigue
- Sense of “sluggishness”
- Oily skin
- Water retention
- Slow metabolism
- Dull and persistent aches and pains
BITTER HERBS AND FOODS AID SPRING CLEANSING
Kapha’s moist, heavy and slow qualities are balanced by choosing foods and activities that are dry, light, warm and stimulating. If Kapha is in excess, it is best to avoid dairy, heavy meats, excess sweets, and oily foods, such as avocadoes and fried items. Kapha is best brought into balance by bitter greens, well-spiced legumes and eating simple foods, such as Kichadi (see recipe below). Flat breads are also a great alternative to yeasty breads during this time. Kapha needs a kick, and in moderation spices such as ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, cloves and cayenne do just that.
Dr. Vasant Lad, a leading Ayurvedic physician in the U.S., is fond of saying, “Bitter is better,” and no doubt this applies in spring more than any other time of year. The bitter taste is dispelling, detoxifying and cleansing. Composed mostly of the element of Air, the bitter taste pushes out blockage and is the primary taste in many Ayurvedic, Chinese and Western herbal preparations.
Bitter greens provide much of this cleansing affect, and are an excellent way to bring Kapha into balance. According to Ayurveda, the best greens for this season include kale, collards, arugula, dandelion, chicory, mustard and turnip greens. Aside from working on both the liver and immune system, these greens aid digestion and assimilation of nutrients. For pure Kapha types, the more heating bitters, such as mustard greens, are excellent to counteract the chilliness of Spring. For Pitta (Fire principle) types, cooling greens such as kale and collards are recommended. Where Vata is concerned, bitter greens are best cooked and eaten in moderation or as a supplementary dish.
AYURVEDIC RECIPE FOR CLEANSING CONGESTION
Below is a simple recipe to clear out Kapha in the Spring. Kichadis are special Ayurvedic stews and offer an alternative to long bouts of fasting and depletion. Ayurveda does not recommend fasting on water for more than a few days. Fasting regimes that deny nourishment to the system actually serve to create more toxins, as the fear of starvation encourages the body to hold onto waste products even more tenaciously. A healing kichadi is a fantastic alternative to this type of excessive fasting and can be eaten for up to a week.
Spring Cleansing Kichadi Recipe
2 cups Indian white basmati rice
1 cup split mung beans (“mung dhal”)
10 cups water
2 Tbsp. ghee (clarified butter – homemade ghee is best)
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. coriander
1 tsp. turmeric powder
3 whole cardamom pods
2 tsp. powdered ginger
pinch sea salt, or kelp
pinch asafoetida powder (“hing”)
Soak beans for at least an hour. Wash the rice and beans until rinse water is clear.
Warm the ghee in a medium saucepan on medium-low heat. Once warmed, add cumin, coriander, turmeric and asafoetida. Sauté spices lightly, and once they brown, add the mung beans and rice, stirring into the spice mixture for about a minute. Then add water, ginger, cardamom, and salt or kelp, and bring to a slow boil. Cover and simmer on medium-low heat until beans and rice are soft, between 35 to 45 minutes.
BALANCING IT OUT
Spring does not need to be a time of excess and overflow. Ayurveda is here to remedy the imbalances in our system during this time, and to remind us of the pitfalls which are commonly experienced during this season.
When in balance, the joy of Spring is contagious, ushering in creative potential and a new cycle of change. The seeds we plant now will set the stage for continued bounty and abundance. Ayurveda’s message here is to take root in existence, and flow with ease and clarity.