Nature makes it look smooth, but for us humans it’s not as easy to transition gracefully from one season to the next—especially from winter to spring. More often we find ourselves feeling heavy and sluggish, like a cranky bear reluctantly coming out of hibernation.
What’s the key to feeling in tune with the seasons?
How do we harmonise with nature, to follow her lead and dance to her rhythm?
Getting technical, the ancient Ayurvedic practice will encourage people to understand the kapha dosa, creating sukha and bring it in balance to help transition smoothly and emerge feeling transformed and ready to get your springtime groove on… We are just going to keep it simple…
To enjoy a healthy spring, gradually lighten up physically, mentally, and emotionally. The best approach is multidimensional and includes eating lighter foods, adding certain herbs to your diet, and practicing asana (physical yoga), pranayama (breathing techniques), and meditation. This may seem to be rather overwhelming at first, but you can begin to integrate change anywhere you’re most comfortable—maybe you will choose to begin with your asana practice or with your diet. Whatever changes you decide to make, even if they’re small, commit to sticking with them. Successful transformation rarely happens overnight.
Again, you can do this by eating wholesome food and practicing asana and pranayama. Creating space with your asana practice, add squats, which free up “good space” in the densest part of the body: the pelvis and legs. The pelvis and legs represent the earthy-watery part of the body and are prone to retaining fat and water.
Poses like Utkatasana (Chair Pose), Malasana (Garland Pose), and their lesser-known cousins Simhasana (Lion Pose) and Khanjanasana (Tail-Wagging Pose) create heat, improve joint mobility, aid digestion and elimination, and increase circulation. Of course, these poses are also physically challenging. You might feel your legs quiver, as if someone were pouring cement instead of prana into them. During these intense moments, remember not to over contract your muscles or compromise your breath by transferring tension into your chest, shoulders, or neck.
Once you’ve created good space in the lower half of your body, you are ready to increase space in the upper half. The stomach, chest, throat, and head are areas that produce and tend to accumulate mucus over the winter. Practicing deep, rhythmic Ujjayi Pranayama (Victorious Breath) in Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I Pose), Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation), Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose), and seated twists helps circulate good energy by alternately compressing the abdomen and expanding the chest.
Similarly, inverted forward bends such as Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), standing forward bends, and Halasana (Plow Pose) all strengthen the diaphragm and encourage excess mucus to be excreted through the mouth and nose.
Kapalabhati pranayama (Skull Shining Breath) is excellent for strengthening your lungs and clearing your head and sense organs. While the best way to circulate prana in your legs is by engaging them wilfully, the best way to circulate prana in the internal organs is to engage in conscious relaxation. Try to combine the complementary actions of wilful effort with relaxation in each breath. As you inhale, guide awareness into your pelvis and legs, refining the qualities of muscle tone, circulation, and stability. Then, as you exhale, hold your lower body steady and imagine a wave of relaxation moving up along your spine. Finally, as you do this, pay special attention to your upper back, heart, throat, lungs, and brain.
A strong “fire” in the body is thought to arm you with the discrimination and courage to separate what is essential from nonessential, healthy from toxic, wise from foolish.
You build this heat by doing strong standing poses, all kinds of Sun Salutations, and backbends, which pump prana throughout your body. The prana acts like a bellows and gradually builds the heat. You support and sustain this mentally by concentrating on your breath. Try practicing Uddhiyana Bandha Kriya, a traditional cleansing practice. When you suspend the breath after you exhale, it encourages your mind to focus, which stabilises the flame of heat.
Likewise, creating a smooth, rhythmic breath while performing postures, particularly Sun Salutations, is key for maintaining concentration and ensuring that prana spreads heat equally through your body. But don’t confuse inner heat with outer heat—a sweat-drenched yogi is not necessarily the answer. When you breathe this way, you actually sweat less because the heat stays inside.
If you truly aspire to be a butterfly—and not a sluggish bear—you’ll want to complement your asana and breathing practices with more awareness about your diet. Eat light, easy-to-digest foods during spring and wait at least three to four hours between meals. Try eating less dairy products, iced or cold food or drinks, and fried or oily food—especially in the morning and at dinner. Instead of a snack, do a short pranayama practice and see what happens. If you’re truly hungry, have something nourishing like miso soup or a few ounces of carrot juice. Remember that strengthening your willpower is an excellent exercise for taming an unruly mind and stoking your digestive fire.
To take a step further, consider a dietary cleanse. As an alternative to strict fasting, spend five to 10 days eating only fresh (ideally local) fruits and vegetables. This will improve your digestive fire and eliminate toxins. During your cleanse, drinking tea made with cinnamon, black pepper, and ginger one hour after breakfast and lunch will also help to cleanse. Drink chamomile tea in the evening; it’s beneficial to your digestive and circulatory systems and helps expectorate excess mucus.
Now it’s time for the fun part—to create harmony with the seasons through acts of mindfulness and devotion. All you have to do is look around to be inspired at this time of year; renewal and transformation are literally welling up from the ground. The natural world is going through a rebirth, so be creative and forge a connection to this awesome process.
For some of you, this may mean turning to prayer or silently devoting your daily yoga practice to nature. An easy starting place is with Sun Salutations, which were traditionally practiced while silently repeating a prayer to the sun. Your efforts to connect to nature can go beyond the edges of your yoga mat. Head outdoors to a place of beauty and observe a period of silence. Slow down to examine the buds and shoots poking out in your neighborhood—if you visit them over several days and see them bloom, you may discover a deeper appreciation for this fresh, new season. Or create a candle-lighting ritual as a reminder of the increasing light of spring. Anything that gives you time and space to appreciate the beautiful transformation that’s happening around you, will fill you with inspiration, energy, and light.
Slow down and keep it simple. Don’t let the approach outlined here be one more item on your never-ending to-do list. Savour springtime by simplifying your life to include only those things that truly revitalise your body and soul.
Today’s world offers endless enticements and makes implicit cultural demands to work hard and play hard. The beeping-flashing-ringing technologies that we’ve become attached to can overwhelm and inundate our subtle digestive capacities. When we’re overstimulated, we experience the same problems emotionally and neurologically that we do if we overeat—we get filled beyond our capacity, to the point of weakening the entire system.
Whether you turn off the TV, heal a relationship, go to a spa (or have a home spa day, until then they are open), or commit more time to just doing nothing, don’t forget to create more positive space, in your life.
Ultimately, that will increase the flow of prana and you’ll not only feel healthier and lighter, but ready to revel in the glory of spring.