Ayurveda’s Seasonal Wisdom in Florida – Has Spring Sprung?
By Denise O’Dunn
“Spring has sprung” is a fun alliteration, but the season didn’t really “spring” up on us. That would imply a clearly defined state of exiting one season and being firmly established in the next. Here in Florida we experience a more subtle transition from summer’s lush coverage to the trees losing leaves and then blooming. It is not as defined as the northern cycle of autumn to winter to spring. It’s not only subtle, it is inconsistent and seems to have a back-and-forth seasonal effect. We live in a place where the weather fluctuates in such a way that it seems to be a different season each day. This is apparent by looking at the condition of our trees as they are still losing leaves while they are blooming, spreading clouds of pollen and sprouting new leaves.
Ayurveda, the science of life, encourages us to be present and notice the subtle shifts that transpire in nature. When we are aware of these on-going changes, it is less likely that we will be caught off guard and thrown out of balance. The best way to apply the “seasonal” wisdom of Ayurveda in Florida is to look at today’s weather — and tomorrow’s forecast. Is it cool to cold and dry? That’s Vata, the Dosha or dynamic force of ether and air. When the day will be warm to hot and humid, that’s Pitta, the Dosha of fire and water. If the weather calls for cool and wet, that’s Kapha, the Dosha of water and earth. We can make appropriate decisions to maintain our personal balance when we are aware of the current Doshic influences, called Vikriti. So the Vikriti of the day includes the influences of the weather.
Everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere it is spring and so everywhere north of the Tropic of Cancer it is pollen season! The air is alive with the purposeful explosion of pollen from the variety of trees, plants, grasses and flowers that are blooming. According to Doshic principles, pollen is primarily Pitta. Pollen carries Pitta’s aggressive nature and irritating potential. The concentrations of pollen can be so high that even with no known allergies; everyone can be affected by pollen according to their Doshic nature or Prakriti. If we are a dominate Vata type our response to pollen may be sneezing, itchy eyes, wheezing or interrupted sleep. If Pitta is our dominate Dosha, Pitta will increase causing watery eyes, nasal discharge, inflamed or infected sinuses, and may be associated with fever or headaches. With Kapha dominance, pollen will influence our congestive nature with sinus congestion, swollen mucous membranes, deeper chest congestion or sluggish energy.
Whether our response to pollen manifests as Vata, Pitta or Kapha symptoms — or a combination of each, a common thread between them is the excess mucous (Kapha) created by the body to help soothe the irritated linings of our nasal passages, sinuses, throat, lungs and even your stomach. Ayurveda works on a basic principle that opposite actions contribute to greater balance. To decrease the effects of Pitta pollen and to balance the system we use cleansing, cooling and calming measures. The same traditional Ayurvedic cleansing ritual found in the daily routines of Dincharya, but with a special emphasis on the particulars of the season (Ritucharya)
This Pollen season is “Tri-Doshic” — all three Doshas are displaying their dominate natures. Below are 16 classical Ayurvedic recommendations designed to:
• Cleanse, soothe and rejuvenate the nasal passages and sinuses
• Clear the nadis or channels where prana (vital energy) flows
• Enhance circulation of blood and lymph
• Assist balanced agni or digestive fire
• Support the immune system
• Calm the mind and soothe the senses
• Balance the current Doshic influences
Keep in mind that, an essential concept in Ayurveda is that your Prakriti or birth-given Doshic type must be considered when incorporating Ayurvedic practices into your day.
Neti – Is the act of rinsing your nasal passages and sinuses with a saline solution of warm purified water and sea salt, equal to the normal saline of tears. With the use of a specially designed neti pot, the solution is poured into one nostril and drains out through the other. It is not recommended to use the neti pot if a sinus infection is suspected. Another form of neti is the simple act of swabbing your nostrils with a cotton tip dipped in rose hydrosol or rosewater. The gently cleansing and soothing application of rosewater to your nasal passages can be part of Dincharya, your daily cleansing routine.
Nasya – Is the use of herbal oil to assist with clearing and lubricating your nasal passages, opening your sinuses, enhancing sensory organs and enabling the balanced flow of prana. Nasya oil can be applied with a dropper, 3 – 5 drops of Nasya oil in each nostril. It is not recommended to use Nasya oil drops directly after using the neti pot, as the oil will drain into your sinuses. Nasya oil can also be applied with a cotton swab just inside each nostril. This application can be used daily and immediately follow the use of the neti pot or swabbing the nostrils with rosewater.
Pranayama – Is the regulation of your breath. Your breath carries prana, your life force energy. Deep, purposeful and efficient breathing supports the purification of your blood as it is processed by your lungs. The inhalation is revitalizing; the exhalation is restoring. Nadi Sodhana (purification of the energy pathways) is an alternate nostril breathing technique used to clear the channels for prana to flow. It also helps to keep the tissue of your nasal passages resilient. To perform this calming and grounding technique: use your thumb and ring finger on the hand that you write with, close your right nostril to breathe in and out through your left nostril…slow your breath down…repeat this, breathing through your right nostril…alternately breathe through one nostril and the other in a slow and controlled manner for at least 12 rounds. If your nasal passages are clogged, keep the closed nostril partially open. To warm and ground Vata, breathe only through your right nostril — to cool and calm Pitta, breathe only through your left nostril.
Bija Mantras – Are “seed” sounds repeated to affect the chakras or energy centers of your subtle body. The vibration that is created by verbalizing these mantras has a balancing effect on the associated areas of the body. For the 5th Chakra (Vishuddha or Throat) place your hands on your throat, visualize the color blue and make a repetitive sound of “HAM” (pronounced like “lawn”) out loud to the length of each exhalation 9 to 108 times. For the 6th Chakra (Ajna or Brow) place your hands between your eye brows, visualize the color indigo and repeat a continuous sound of “AUM or OM” (pronounced like “home”) out loud the length of each exhalation 9 to 108 times.
Relaxation & Meditation – Are practices of becoming still and letting go of all that doesn’t serve you in the moment. Relaxation and meditation effectively rest the systems of your body, while purifying and rejuvenating your mind. The simple act of following the natural rhythm of your breath is a form of relaxation. The meditative practice of silently repeating the sound “So” as you inhale and “Hum” as you exhale, while being aware of the silent gap between each phase of your breath, is a powerful method of witnessing the still point of your mind.
Asana Practice – Yoga postures enhance systems of your body by stimulating the flow of blood and lymph. The circulation of lymph is passive and can only be achieved through moving your body, the lymph system is a crucial part of your immune response so movement then becomes essential in your wellness.
By systematically holding and moving through yoga postures you increase the flow of energy throughout your body and this redirects ama or toxins from tissues of your body to the proper organs for elimination. Be sure to include postures that are invigorating, but not over stimulating, and postures that encourage the upward movement of energy while, at the same time, keep you grounded. Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskara) will bring you to this balance when practiced mindfully. Back arches like Bridge pose (Setu Bandhasana) are helpful in removing excess Kapha or mucous from your lungs and stimulating your thyroid gland. Include forward folds and spinal rotations, as they massage and assist the function of your internal organs. Practice standing postures, such as Warrior I and II (Virabhadrasana I and II) to open your chest with extended arms. Follow your natural breath through your asana practice; breathing-in all that you need to sustain you and breathing-out that which you no longer need.
General Exercise – Any form of moderate physical activity that you practice on a regular basis will greatly enhance the proper function of your bodily systems. Choose exercise that you enjoy and you will positively affect your body/mind response; this will support your immune system and reduce the effects of stress. Walking is an excellent exercise for all body types. Walking in the early morning is especially beneficial — as you witness nature awakening, you feel your body and spirit come alive.
Dry Brushing – Stimulation, through dry-brush massage, is an effective way to encourage your body’s internal cleansing activity, while reducing stress on the other organs of elimination. An important benefit of skin brushing is that it “exercises” your lymphatic system, which is a vital part of eliminating toxins and waste. Use a long-handled, natural bristle brush to reach all areas of your body. Apply moderate pressure when you use the dry brush on dry skin.
Abhyanga – Is an Ayurvedic oil massage, the term can also refer to a daily self-massage technique. The word Abhyanga suggests the movement of prana (subtle energy) into your body and the movement of ama (toxins) towards the organs for elimination. The main function of Abhyanga is to enhance the flow of prana by anointing your body with Dosha specific oils. Through the action of Abhyanga, impurities are released from your skin and toxins are detached from your deeper tissues to be removed by your body’s elimination system.
Herbal Preparations – Chyavanprash is a rasayana (rejuvenative) in the form of an herbal jam. Made in a base of amalaki fruit, this traditional Ayurvedic formula contains a synergy of over 40 herbs. Amalaki or amla is a very rich source of vitamin C, making it a potent antioxidant and excellent rejuvenative. It nourishes and strengthens the immune system by supplying energy to all the cells of your body. This vitalizing formula is slightly warming, supporting healthy digestion and elimination, while stimulating metabolism. It serves to gently balance your nervous system and respiratory system. One teaspoon of Chyavanprash jam taken twice daily is recommended. Herbal tea blends containing cleansing, cooling and calming herbs, as well as those that support immunity, will help to balance systems of your body affected by pollen. Herbs such as, red clover, burdock root, marshmallow, (not the candy) coriander, cumin, fennel, hibiscus, tulsi, bayberry, mullein and rosehips can be used in combination with herbs that are balancing to your Doshic nature.
Aromatherapy – Is the use of essential oils to create balance through their aroma and their application to your skin. Some of the essential oils most beneficial during pollen season are eucalyptus, camphor, wintergreen, lemongrass, ginger and basil. A synergistic blend of these oils can be inhaled from the bottle or a few drops placed in a basin of steaming water, then inhaled with a towel over your head. Be careful not to get undiluted essential oils on your skin or in your eyes, it can be irritating.
Digestion & Food – Enhancing your digestion is an important way to help all of the systems of your body function optimally. Choose Dosha balancing, natural foods that are light, fresh and seasonally available, such as leafy greens, cabbage, kale, green beans and asparagus. Enjoy fresh berries or cooked fruit, like apples and pears with a pinch of cinnamon. Eat legumes and grains that have a drying quality like black beans, chickpeas, aduki beans, basmati rice, barley and millet. The proper use of spices such as turmeric, cumin, fennel, coriander, mint and fresh ginger will promote good digestion and detoxification. Start your day by drinking a cup of warm water with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a spoonful of aloe vera juice; sweeten it if needed with Agave nectar. Take small sips of warm water or Doshic tea during your meals, avoid iced beverages.
Elimination – Our bodies are brilliantly designed to eliminate wastes and toxins, but if you are experiencing irregular bowel movements, constipation or diarrhea, there are naturally gentle and effective ways to assist regularity. Triphala is a classic Ayurvedic blend formulated to support proper function of the digestive, eliminative, circulatory and respiratory systems, by cleansing and nourishing their associated organs. This traditional formula contains the dried fruits of amalaki, bibhitaki and haritaki. It helps to balance the Doshas. The blend contains five of the six tastes (Sweet, Sour, Bitter, Astringent and Pungent). Triphala can be taken regularly, by all body types, as a tea or 1-2 tablets before bedtime.
Ayurvedic Treatments – Over time Doshic imbalance can result in the accumulation of Ama or toxins deep in bodily tissues. The Sodhana or cleansing principle behind traditional Ayurvedic treatments is to soften, release, and mobilize ama through the use of oil, massage and heat. This redirected ama can then find its way back into the blood stream and out through proper channels of elimination. For Pollen Season I recommend Nasyakarma, a treatment which begins with a shoulder, neck, and facial massage to relax tension and facilitate the nasal administration of warm herbal oil. This unique therapy aids in clearing and lubricating your nasal passages, opening the sinuses, enhancing your sensory organs and enabling the balanced flow of prana. Balancing cleansing methods with Rasayana or rejuvenating practices, Shirodhara is the perfect complement to Nasyakarma. In a Shirodhara treatment warm Dosha specific oil is streamed over your forehead, balancing the effects of excess Vata and calming the conditions of increased Pitta.
Panchakarma – Is the traditional Ayurvedic cleansing, rejuvenating and balancing program for your body, mind and spirit. According to the Vedic texts, the formula for optimal wellbeing is good digestion, efficient elimination, harmony between your mind, senses and consciousness, and a natural balance of the elemental energies of your being called the Doshas. Ayurveda explains that your natural state of balance and wellbeing can be challenged by rhythms that occur in nature, like seasonal changes. For this reason, Ayurveda recommends that you receive Panchakarma during the transition between seasons, so that you can be clear of the prior season’s excesses before the start of the next season. Everyone, especially those who suffer from seasonal allergies, can benefit from this wisdom. As the seasons seem to change day to day here in Florida, anytime is a good time for Panchakarma.
With awareness and the ways of Ayurveda you can experience balance & bliss in this blossoming time of year!
Disclaimer: This article was written for educational purposes only and is based on the tradition of Ayurveda. It is not intended to treat, diagnose, prescribe or heal any health condition or to replace standard medical treatment or advice.