Lifestyle Medicine for Spring (and Kapha mind-body types)


Do you know which foods will help you feel like the best version of yourself and not a sticky lump of mud? Did you know that the foods that are the most healing for you vary from season to season, where you live and what your mind-body type is?

Even 'healthy' foods may have qualities or tastes that - when eaten in the spring - can congest your sinuses, gut and lymph and make you gain weight, rather than cleanse and energize you. Yet those same foods might be life-giving when you eat them in the fall, winter or summer.

Luckily this all becomes common sense once you start to pay attention with your senses to the world around you, the local harvest, and how you feel. My goal is to help you learn to intuit this for yourself without needing to memorize lists and rules. So let's dive in.

As I know that you would rather feel lean, clean and radiant than stuffed up, sluggish and puffy, I created this Kapha Balancing Guide for Spring to help you on your wellness adventure. Kapha refers to a dosha, or mind-body type (dosha) that has the qualities of 'water' and 'earth'. We see these watery earthy qualities in the spring season, in folks with a Kapha mind-body type, and in different foods and herbs. In a future article I will describe more about how Kapha shows up in humans and how to know if this is your mind-body type.

During the spring, I frequently get calls from new clients who are horrified that they feel so sloooow, groggy and sniffly all of a sudden. They are gaining weight. They can't get off the couch. They feel unmotivated and lethargic. They are afraid to go outside due to seasonal allergies.

When I eat too many vegan ice cream bars in my excitement that the winter snow has finally melted, I can also start to get these tell-tale signs of a Kapha imbalance. Even though I have almost no Kapha in my constitution, the spring season can bog me down, because it impacts all of us. Nature has as powerful of an influence on us as our lifestyle and the foods we eat. The good news is that all this Kapha excess can be washed away with the right foods and herbs.

Before grocery stores, cargo ships and diesel trucks, we humans spent millenniums only eating the foods that nature provided in each micro-season and region. Nature's harvest is always the perfect 'farm-acy'.

Spring is Kapha Season

In most regions, spring typically carries many qualities of the Kapha mind-body type (dosha), which are cool, heavy, dense and damp. Though the weather is beginning to warm up after winter, it is still cool. Some of us already have more Kapha in our mind-body type than others, and all of us are more susceptible to Kapha imbalances during the spring season.

We see these cool, heavy and damp qualities in the chilly spring rains, damp air, and sticky mud. Kapha is also naturally soft, dense, sweet and creates growth. We see this in all the sweet-smelling blossoms, soft blooming flowers, sprouts in the garden, growing baby calves, chicks and goats, and the new leaves unfurling from bare limbs. This is nature's time of growth and expansion. If we aren't paying attention to the seasonal harvest, our bodies can also expand in ways we don't want to. We can start to grow wider, grow mucus, grow toxins.

When we pay more attention to these qualities in nature and in ourselves, we naturally start preferring foods, herbs and activities that help us feel energized, clear and light during the spring season. I invite you to focus on nourishment that has qualities that are the opposite of the naturally cool and damp spring which are: light, dry, warm, bitter, savory/spicy, astringent and cleansing.

If we eat foods or do activities that are heavy, damp, and cool during a heavy, sticky, damp and cool season, guess how we will feel? Heavy, sticky, damp and cold!

While nature is cleansing the earth with spring rains and the rivers are flowing again, it is time for us to also detoxify our lymphatic and digestive systems, release excess weight, and clear our minds of old emotions.

Historically, Spring was a Lean Harvest

Until recently in human history, we all lived off the land. Let's take a moment and imagine what that was like. During a long, dark, cold winter we likely ate all of our fall harvest of root vegetables, fermented veggies, grains and nuts. Any foods that were left over were probably rancid by the time spring came.

As spring is the season of new growth and not the harvest, there wouldn't be much to eat yet. The few precious cows, goats or sheep we cared for had hopefully just given birth to one or two offspring that needed all of it's mother's milk.

Early spring was a period of time before the first berries, sprouts, greens and tender roots arrived, so we naturally fasted. This was a time of calorie restriction and to naturally detoxify and release the stagnation of winter. This cleansed our lymph, blood and liver without the need for willpower as we had no choice, and we were all in it together. There is perfection in nature's rhythms and how we evolved.

We Modern Humans Have Lost Our Deep Alignment with the Seasons

As a 21st Century human, most of us are not finely tuned into spring. We spend most of our time in climate-controlled buildings and cars, insulated from the elements. We eat more than we need. Our grocery stores and restaurants are supplied by factory farms and out-of-season foods from the other side of the world. These foods are often too heavy, oily, damp and cold for spring, such as gluten/wheat, dairy, oily/fried foods, sauerkraut, sweets and cold beverages.

While eating healthy whole foods is important, it is only one piece of the puzzle. This Kapha-Reducing Guide for Spring will help you feel strong and healthy during the spring and in future seasons.

Signs of Excess Kapha

If you are experiencing any of these imbalances, it may be a sign of too much Kapha in your system. You may be more susceptible to these health challenges during the spring and/or if you naturally have more Kapha in your mind-body type (dosha):

  • sinus congestion (too much mucus)

  • frequent colds or flus

  • seasonal allergies (sneezing, runny nose)

  • extra weight (and too hard to lose it)

  • slow metabolism (you feel like you wear everything you eat)

  • slow digestion

  • sleeping too much

  • water retention/swelling

  • high blood sugar

  • depression, greed, possessiveness, envy

  • Women may experience more PMS symptoms that make you feel weepy and bloated.

  • sticky stools

Please note that Kapha is not 'good' or 'bad'. Having some of these symptoms doesn't mean that you are Kapha and that is bad, it simply means that an excess of Kapha has accumulated in your system, and you will feel better when you return to balance.

Stay tuned as I will be writing more about the Kapha mind-body type, as well as Vata and Pitta, in future articles.

General Guidelines for Spring and Balancing Excess Kapha

During the spring season, or times when you are experiencing excess Kapha, focus on eating a menu made up mostly of foods that are astringent, bitter and pungent (spicy) and light and dry. Such as alkalizing grains, mountains of leafy greens, sprouts and berries, bitter roots, spices, and lean protein like beans.

The diet of many Asian cultures is a great example of a Kapha-balancing diet because it is light, full of vegetables, a bit spicy and free of gluten, flour products and dairy. Think of traditional meals from Japan, South India, China and Thailand for ideas. (Ethnic restaurants are typically more of a reflection of rich festival food than what people ate on a day-to-day basis).

To feel your best this spring, eat LESS foods that taste sweet, sour and salty, and are cold, heavy or oily, such as less sweet potatoes, dates, bananas, sauerkraut, kombucha, oil, fried foods, salty foods, ice cream and cold drinks.

Aim for at least half of each meal to be vegetables, ideally seasonal spring vegetables:

50% vegetables, 25% complex starches/carbs, 25% protein.

Drink tea made of ginger and cinnamon, or the classic Ayurvedic FCC tea (fennel, cumin and coriander seeds in equal proportions). Add a 1 teaspoon or less of raw honey to help clear the channels and break up mucus (never heat honey and always add it after your tea has cooled for at least one minute.)

Detox! As this is nature's season of a lean harvest and cleansing foods, it is the best time of year to enjoy a detox. A simple cleanse is to eat only kitchari for 3 days with steamed greens and drink the FCC tea. Check out this easy cleanse, and stay tuned to learn how to do a more thorough spring cleanse.

Move Your Body! It is always good to exercise, and spring is an important time of year to get outside and walk or hike, do yoga, dance, lift weights, etc. Kapha needs activity and movement more than any other dosha to stay clean, cleear and light. Kapha can be slow to start moving but unstoppable once they start, so know that you only need to get through the first few minutes of resistance and then you will start enjoying exercise.

Wake Up Early! When Kapha is out of balance or the spring rains turn the sky grey, it can be tempting to sleep in and take naps. This can create excess Kapha. If you need to rest, enjoy some soft quiet deep breathing (such as ujjayi pranayama) or meditate. Or simply drink a cup of ginger tea while resting. This will help energize you.

Spring Foods That Balance Kapha

Below is a more complete list of foods that are balancing during the spring and for Kapha mind-body types.

If you don't see a food on this list, don't worry about it. You don't need to be 100% perfect. Aim to eat the majority of foods that match these qualities. If you aren't sure about a food, smell it and taste it. If it tastes bitter, astringent or spicy and feels light, then enjoy it. If it tastes sweet, sour or salty or makes you feel heavy, then save it for the fall/winter when those qualities are more health-full.

Keep in mind that spring isn't the same everywhere. In Colorado or New York it can still be cold and snowy, the Bay Area flowers are already blooming and the trees are green, Arizona is drier and sunnier comparatively. Southern Mexico may be hot, while England will be wet and grey. Spring is the time when it is generally wetter in your area than other times of the year, and when new growth is beginning. Pay attention to what is growing locally and how the weather is influencing you.

In the Northern Hemisphere, spring is generally from March through May.

In the Southern Hemisphere, spring is typically September through December.

FRUITS

Astringent fruits are the most helpful, especially berries, cherries, apples and pears. Add lemon or lime juice to meals and teas for extra spring and Kapha support. Fruits that are sweet are best avoided, such as tropical fruits like mangoes, pineapples, bananas and dates.

apples

applesauce

apricots

berries

cherries

cranberries

figs

grapes

lemons

limes

peaches

pears

persimmons

pomegranates

prunes

raisins

strawberries

VEGETABLES

In general, pungent (spicy) and bitter veggies are the most helpful, especially sprouts, leafy greens and bitter or spicy roots such as onion, garlic, radishes, daikon, burdock, etc. Spring is an excellent season for salads. Vegetables that are heavy and sweet, such as sweet potatoes and winter squash, can aggravate Kapha, so best to save them for treats or avoid them completely.

artichoke

asparagus

beet greens

beets

bitter melon

broccoli

Brussels sprouts

burdock root

cabbage

carrots

cauliflower

celery

cilantro

corn

daikon

radish

dandelion greens

eggplant

fennel (anise)

garlic

green beans

green chilies

horseradish

Jerusalem artichoke

kale kohlrabi

leafy greens

leeks

lettuce

mushrooms

mustard greens

okra

onions

parsley

peas

peppers (sweet & hot)

potatoes, white

prickly ear (fruit & leaves)

radishes

rutabaga

spaghetti squash

spinach

sprouts

squash (summer)

tomatoes (cooked)

turnip greens

turnips

watercress

wheat grass

GRAINS

Choose lighter grains that are more alkaline.You will feel best if you reduce flour-products, such as pasta, bread, pancakes and gluten. Gluten-free products can also create more congestion in the body, so enjoy those sparingly as well. If you are experiencing signs of excess Kapha, completely avoid heavier grains and all flour products until you are free of symptoms.

amaranth

barley

buckwheat

cereal (cold, dry or puffed)

corn

couscous

crackers

durham flour

granola (no sweetener or lightly sweetened)

millet

muesli

oat bran

oats

polenta

quinoa

rice (basmati, wild)

rye

sago

sprouted wheat bread (such as Essene or Ezekiel)

tapioca

LEGUMES

Almost all beans and lentils are nourishing yet cleansing, so enjoy them! FYI: soy and soy products can be a bit too heavy if eaten frequently.

adzuki beans

black beans

black-eyed peas

cannellini beans

chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans)

lentils (all kinds)

lima beans

mung beans

mung dal (whole or split)

navy beans

peas

pinto beans

soy milk (drink warm and spiced with turmeric, cinnamon, ginger and/or nutmeg)

split peas

tempeh (eaten warm and cooked with spices)

tofu (cooked well with spices and eaten warm)

white beans

DAIRY

You will feel light and clear if you save dairy products for the fall and winter season, as they can be heavy, congesting and mucus-producing in the spring and in those of us who already have more Kapha in our mind-body type. Cheese, sour cream, cow's milk and ice cream are excellent ways to create a Kapha imbalance, particularly in the spring and in Kapha mind-body types. Small amounts of these dairy products should be fine unless you are experiencing congestion, mucus, or heaviness.

buttermilk

cottage cheese (from goat's milk)

feta

ghee (in small amounts)

goat's cheese

goat's milk

yoghurt (diluted, like in a lassi)

ANIMAL PRODUCTS

If you feel you need to eat meat, these are the least Kapha aggravating:

chicken (white)

eggs

fish (freshwater)

rabbit

shrimp

turkey (white

venison

wild game

CONDIMENTS

These condiments will help flush mucus, toxins and congestion from the system.

black pepper

chili peppers

chutney (spicy mango)

cilantro/coriander leaves

dulse

hijiki

horseradish

lemon

mustard (without vinegar)

scallions

seaweed

sprouts

NUTS & SEEDS

Small amounts of seeds will help you stay energized and satisfied, especially when sprouted. As nuts are heavy and acidic, it is best to limit them until the fall/winter.

chia seeds

flax seeds

popcorn (without any salt or butter - try nutritional yeast and garlic powder)

pumpkin seeds

sunflower seeds

hemp seeds

OILS

You will feel light and lean if you learn to water saute and cook without oils. Oil tends to be too heavy and acidic during the spring and for Kapha mind-body types. If you need some oil, small amounts of these are fine.

ghee

almond oil

BEVERAGES

Keep your lymph flowing clear and your body cleansed with warm spicy beverages or astringent fruits. Dilute the fruit juice with water so you don't overdo the sweet taste. To feel amazing, drink at least one green juice and/or green smoothie every day (tip: drink it room tempt, not cold, and with a bit of ginger and lemon or lime to turn it into your own super food). Kombucha is best saved for the fall/winter when the sour taste and probiotics are more helpful.

aloe vera juice

apple cider

apple cider vinegar (in water)

apple juice

apricot juice

berry juice

black tea (spiced)

carob

carrot juice

chai (yay!)

cherry juice

cranberry juie

green smoothies (mostly greens, less fruit)

green juice

grain "coffee" substitutes

grape juice

mango juice

peach nectar

ear juice

pineapple juice

pomegranate juice

prune juice

soy milk (hot and spiced)

HERBAL TEAS

These healing herbs are medicinal companions during the spring:

barley

blackberry leaf

burdock

chamomile

cinnamon clove

comfrey

dandelion root

fenugreek

ginger

ginseng

hibiscus

kukicha twig tea

lavender licorice

lemon balm

lemongrass

nettle

passionflower

peppermint

raspberry leaf

red clover

spearmint

strawberry leaf

wintergreen

yarrow

yerba mate

SPICES

All spices are healing and medicinal this time of year and for Kapha. The one exception is salt - use it sparingly and instead make your food tasty with spices, herbs and lemon or lime juice.

allspice

almond extract

anise

asafoetida (aka hing)

basil

bay leaf, black peper

caraway cardamom

cayenne

cloves

cinnamon

coriander

cumin

curry leaves

dill

fennel seeds

fenugreek

garlic

ginger

marjoram

mint

mustard seeds

neem leaves

nutmeg

orange peel

oregano

paprika

parsley

peppermint

poppy seeds

rosemary

saffron

sage

savory

spearmint

star anise

tarragon

thyme

turmeric

vanilla

wintergreen

SWEETENERS

The sweet taste tends to create more cravings and congestion during the spring and in Kapha types. I know it can feel difficult - perhaps even impossible - to reduce sweet-tasting foods at first. Please know that after a just a week or two of avoiding the sweet taste, you will feel so alive and vibrant that you won't crave sweets, because the life force flowing through you will feel so 'sweet'.

fruit juice

honey (raw and unfiltered)

SUPERFOODS

You can add these to smoothies, juice or your herbal and supplement routine if they are a good match for your current needs.

aloe vera juice

barley greens

bee pollen

minerals (copper, calcium, iron,magnesium,zinc)

royal jelly

spirulina

blue-green algae

Vitamin B complex, C & D

#kapha #spring #seasonaleating #ayurvedicdiet

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Boulder, CO, USA

+1 (970) 541-4468