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Journal of Inspired living

6 ways to welcome spring plus a brightening yoga sequence


Welcome spring with a balancing and brightening yoga sequence

Credit: Cathy Pham

Spring is a long-awaited, exciting time of the year that symbolises the reawakening of life. Nature moves from its winter dormancy into dynamic spring energy, bringing with it hopes for growth, new beginnings and the inspiration to refresh, rejuvenate and clean out what no longer serves you, physically and emotionally.

Spring is the time of nature’s rebirth, bringing with it vibrant colours, longer sun-filled days, warmth and an abundance of food. It’s also the season of the regeneration and reawakening of your creative force, motivating you to put into action the visions you have been contemplating over winter, to establish new habits, to reflect on what you want to clear out of your environment and within yourself, and envision what you yearn to happen.

Whereas winter is considered the most yin season, TCM sees spring as the most yang season, a time of awakening, birth and creation.

And yet, while spring is the season of motivation and happiness, you may not yet have experienced the joy, inspiration and hope it promises.

Have you been feeling jumpy and grumpy? Are you overwhelmed by the pressure you feel inside but can’t quite pin it to anything? Do you feel you’re about to burst out? Are you feeling stuck and impatient about the release of the accumulated stagnation within? Does your body feel sore and stiff? Many people experience feelings like this heading into spring. So be kind to yourself — and read on.

The holistic disciplines of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda, the sister of yoga, teach that we need to adjust our lifestyles as the wheel of the year turns. These time-honoured traditions hold that aligning how you behave, exercise, breathe, eat and practise self-care with nature’s cycles will keep you healthy, balanced, nourished, filled with vitality and free of imbalances and disease.

Spring, according to TCM

Chinese medicine is based on the principle of five elements (wood, earth, fire, metal, water) that are linked to particular times of the year. TCM sees a human being as a microcosm within the universe (macrocosm) and establishes that human bodily processes, emotional and energetic states are subject to the cyclical seasonal changes.

Whereas winter is considered the most yin season, TCM sees spring as the most yang season, a time of awakening, birth and creation.

Spring is associated with the element of wood which, as integrative medicine practitioner Dr Elson M Haas writes, refers to living, growing entities: trees, plants and the human body. Wood rules the health of your spine, limbs and joints, and represents growth and flexibility. “The wood element creates our mental clarity and our ability to plan and to make decisions,” Haas continues.

According to the classical text on Chinese medicine, Neijing’s The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine, spring relates to the biliary system. “The liver is the reservoir of stamina storing the intuition. The liver is in the yin location of the abdomen but belongs to the yang element of wood … it corresponds with the spring.” The gallbladder also belongs to spring, Neijing continues, and corresponds to initiation and decisiveness.

As the largest internal organ in the body, the liver has multiple physiological functions ascribed to it by Western medicine. These are further expanded by the physical, mental and energetic attributes TCM attributes to it.

In spring, Ayurvedic practitioners suggest incorporating seasonal kapha-clearing dietary and lifestyle changes to invite lightness and renewal into your life.

The liver is the body’s detoxification factory, filtering and purifying the blood of any toxic matter such as medicines, caffeine, alcohol, pollution and preservatives. It stores blood in the body and releases it when you move, so movement is important for proper liver function.

This organ also helps to stabilise blood sugar levels and produces bile, which is essential for the digestion of foods and is stored in the gallbladder, the yang organ paired with the liver in TCM.

Energetically, according to Chinese medicine, liver chi controls the healthy flow of energy around the entire body, ruling the health of muscles, tendons, ligaments, nails and eyes, which reflect the vibrancy of liver chi.

Imbalances in liver chi are linked to muscular tightness, fatigue, dizziness, weight gain, sluggish digestion, menstrual irregularities and eye problems. Nausea, tendon injuries, migraines, heartburn, ulcers and high blood pressure may also indicate an imbalance.

Liver chi governs your emotions, too. When it’s in excess, you may make rash decisions, and emotions like frustration, irritability, hostility, edginess, emotional outbursts, annoyance and anger — the most yang of emotions — may surface in spring, the most yang time of the year. When liver chi is deficient, you may feel stuck, resentful, hesitant and unable to express your emotions or defend yourself.

When liver chi is balanced, you feel in harmony with the flow of life; you are calm, content and connected to your body; you are compassionate, patient and honest with yourself and those around you. You are also able to make rational decisions, are filled with determination and are able to follow through with your plans. These are the mental qualities of healthy liver chi.

Ayurveda’s take on spring

Ayurveda defines the seasons of the year by the cycles of vata, pitta and kapha, which are doshas or forces that make up our bodies and that correspond to air, fire, water and earth elements. Spring is seen as a pure kapha season, characterised by the elements of water and earth.

A warm, moist season, spring is known in Ayurveda to aggravate kapha that has accumulated throughout the cold, damp winter.

Spring yoga will help you create space in your body for the new, wringing out sluggishness accumulated over winter and releasing frustration and anger, emotions associated with the imbalances in spring.

Acharya Shunya, a renowned Ayurvedic scholar and founder of Vedika Global, explains how kapha correlates with winter and spring, when it is predominant: “Both excessive cold and hot can aggravate kapha. Think of water and the way the extreme heat can make it vapour and cold can cause it to harden into ice. Either extreme changes the form of water. This is why in the spring sun kapha melts and comes out as liquid phlegm (allergies), and in the cold of winter kapha again gets stirred up as a congested mass.”

Imbalanced kapha can manifest as poor appetite, depression, hay fever, joint pain, mucus, fluid retention, a feeling of dullness and heaviness, weakened digestion, spring colds, chest and sinus congestion.

In spring, Ayurvedic practitioners suggest incorporating seasonal kapha-clearing dietary and lifestyle changes to invite lightness and renewal into your life. Just like the teachings of TCM, Ayurveda advocates liver-cleansing practices to clear out sluggishness and increase blood flow in the body, restoring proper circulation, aiding metabolism and detoxing and revitalising the liver.

Holistic self-care tips for spring

Wake early

Arise with the sun, waking before 7am in the morning. An early rise will balance out kapha dosha, while sleeping in aggravates it.

Incorporate dry skin-brushing

Dry skin-brushing in the morning is an opportunity to rejuvenate your nervous system and reconnect with your body. It will stimulate the lymphatic system, shed dry dead skin, clear clogged pores and increase circulation to your skin, leaving you feeling invigorated and energised for the day ahead.

Exercise

Exercising first thing during the spring months will increase circulation and boost immunity.

As discussed earlier, the liver controls the tendons and stores blood during periods of rest and releases the blood to the tendons at times of exercise. Exercising is necessary to maintain the health of the tendons as well as the body’s range of motion and flexibility.

Try acupuncture

Acupuncture will help release the blockages of chi and restore the flow of energy you need this season. It can also assist with relieving muscular aches, management of allergies, enhancing digestion and clearing out your eyes.

Consider kapha-pacifying and liver-cleansing dietary changes

In spring you’ll want to bring some lightness into your post-winter diet. Although the weather is getting warmer and you may want to include cooling and moisture-forming raw foods in your diet, unless your digestion is great, pace yourself. Choose warm, light and easily digestible foods instead, livening them up with pungent spices.

Ayurveda suggests incorporating bitter, astringent and pungent tastes into your spring diet to stay balanced throughout this season.

Pungent spices include black pepper, ginger, lemon, cardamom, cloves and turmeric; astringent flavours are found in apples, berries and coriander; bitter tastes exist in chlorophyll–rich seasonal greens such as asparagus, broccoli, sprouts, rocket, endives, watercress, kale and mustard greens. These healing greens are easily accessible in spring and have been linked to refreshing and rebuilding the body, so helping with liver cleansing, weight management and enhancing digestion.

Opt for lighter varieties of grains such as rice, millet and quinoa.

Use good sources of fats such as avocado, coconut oil and ghee in moderation to keep your muscles, joints and tendons well lubricated.

Hydrate

Start your day by drinking a glass of warm lemon and ginger water first thing in the morning to invigorate your liver, enhance your digestion and help clear out any accumulated mucus.

Throughout the day, drink eight glasses of filtered water, occasionally adding lemon juice to it or a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar per glass to further nourish your liver and gallbladder.

Drink tulsi and ginger tea for better digestion. Ayurveda also advises tea made with cumin, coriander and fennel in equal proportions.

Avoid dairy, for its mucus-forming qualities, as well as chilled drinks.

Yoga, pranayama and meditation for spring

Spring yoga practice reawakens your vitality and encourages you to renew your commitment to your wellbeing and healing deep within, just as renewal occurs in nature. It’s a great way to release soreness and tightness in the muscles and tendons, which so many of us experience in spring due to liver chi imbalances.

Begin your spring yoga practice with sun salutations, which will generate warmth in your body, increasing healthy circulation, lymphatic flow and metabolism, and enhancing the functions of your respiratory and cardiovascular systems.

Follow these with a series of kapha-reducing yoga asanas (postures) — twists, side stretches and chest openers — to help relieve congestion and stimulate the lungs and abdominal organs as well as improve the body’s digestion, detoxification and elimination processes.

Spring yoga will also help you create space in your body for the new, wringing out sluggishness accumulated over winter and releasing frustration and anger, emotions associated with the imbalances in spring.

Finish your practice with two yin, longer-held, postures to stimulate energy flow to the liver by targeting the liver and gallbladder meridian lines: the channels through which chi or prana (your body’s vital force) flows. The liver meridian flows along the inside of the ankle, continuing through the inside of the leg, through the groin and then entering into the body towards the liver. The gall bladder meridian runs along the outer hip and leg, from where it zigzags up the front and sides of the ribs to the shoulder and face.

Through aligning with the energy of the spring and implementing the practices above, you will feel reinvigorated yet calm, clear and connected, and able to move with more ease and lightness, with your eyes shining bright and creative juices flowing through you.

Sun salutations (surya namaskar)

Perform at least five rounds of sun salutations to warm up your body thoroughly before proceeding into the deeper asanas described later in the sequence. Hold downward-facing dog (adho mukha svanasana) for 5 breaths at the end of each sun salutation. After the final round, transition into your next pose from downward-facing dog.

Revolved low lunge (parivrtta anjaneyasana)

From downward-facing dog, step your right foot forward, lowering onto your left knee for the low lunge. Inhale, lifting your arms up and, as you exhale, hook your left tricep over the outer thigh of your right leg. Make a fist with your left hand, placing the right hand on top of it, and use that as leverage to twist deeper and create space in the body, lengthening your spine and side body without collapsing your chest onto the front thigh. Remain in the pose for 5–8 breaths, breathing deeply. To release, unwind, step back into downward-facing dog and repeat on the other side.

After that, you can repeat revolved low lunge pose on both sides once again, or alternatively perform high lunge variation of this pose by lifting your knee of the mat. Continue with the next pose by coming into kneeling position from down dog.

Gate pose (parighasana)

From a kneeling position, extend your right leg out to the side, rotating it externally with your right heel on the floor and the right knee and toes facing up. Flex your toes. Either remain in this modification of the pose or release the right foot flat onto the floor with your toes facing forward or out to the right side.

On the inhale, extend your arms out the sides and, as you begin to exhale, lean with your body sideways towards the straight right leg, placing your right hand on its thigh or shin. Keep your left arm facing up or extend it over the left ear. Remain in this pose for 5–8 breaths.

Come out on an inhalation, bringing your knees together. Repeat on the other side. Come into standing to transition into the next pose in the sequence.

Extended side angle (utthita parsvakonasana)

Step your feet wide apart, extending your arms out and bringing your feet approximately under your hands. Turn your right foot out to the right 90 degrees and turn your left foot slightly in, engaging your leg muscles. Inhale here. On the exhalation, bend your right knee deeply, around 90 degrees, and rest your right forearm just on the front thigh, bringing your upper left torso back to encourage the opening of the chest. Extend your left arm over the left ear, lengthening the entire left side of your body, stretching from the left heel all the way to the left fingertips. Keep your thighs active and your shoulder blades firm. Remain here for 5 breaths.

From there, maintaining the deep bend in your front knee, extend your bottom right arm out, keeping the sides of your torso long and the upper body strong, as if you are holding a big exercise ball between your hands, and open your front body. Stay in this variation for a further 3–5 breaths before repeating on the other side.

Fiery angle pose (utkata konasana) with kapalabhati breathing

Step your feet wide apart, turning your heels in and toes out at a 45-degree angle. Bend your knees out to the sides, allowing your hips to descend deeply. Bring your palms together at the heart centre and engage your back muscles, keeping your spine long and drawing your tailbone towards the floor. If you know it, begin kapalabhati breathing while in the pose. Perform 1 cycle of 30 breaths.

Repeat 1 or 2 more times, resting for a few breaths between the rounds by straightening your legs and, with the hands at the heart, observing the effects of the pose and pranayama (breathing) practice.

Reverse tabletop pose (ardha purvottanasana)

Sit on your mat with your legs straight in front of you. Bend your knees, placing your feet flat on the ground comfortably away from your hips, allowing enough space to come up into reverse tabletop pose. Place your hands about a foot behind you, fingers facing forward. Lean onto your hands and, with an inhale, lift your hips, pressing actively into your hands and your feet, straightening the arms and, with your wrists under your shoulders, bring your torso parallel to the floor, opening your chest. Keep your legs strong.

You can maintain the neutral neck position, keeping your chin in, or drop the head, if it does not strain your neck. Remain in the pose for 3–5 breaths before resting in a seated position. Repeat 2 more times.

Frog pose

Begin in child’s pose, sitting on your heels with your knees apart, big toes touching and arms extending forward. This is tadpole pose variation. If you are ready to transition into deeper frog pose, separate your feet as wide as your knees. If the pose feels overly strong on your hips, lift your hips above the knees. Relax your upper body, resting your chest on the floor or padding, if necessary. Remain in the pose for 3–5 minutes.

To come out, bring yourself back into child’s pose, slide forward and rest on your abdomen for 1–2 minutes.

Square pose

Begin in a cross-legged seated position, moving your shins away from the groins until they are parallel to the front of your mat. If you have tighter hips or sciatica, sit on a cushion or a block to elevate your hips. If you feel this depth is enough for your hips, remain there. If you are ready to deepen the pose, place the front ankle over the opposite knee so that your other ankle is positioned under the opposite knee and your shins become stacked on top of each other.

Fold forward, resting your elbows over the top leg or hands or forearms on the floor in front of you. If this variation is not appropriate for your hips or back, remain upright with your spine straight. Stay in this yin pose for 3 minutes.

To come out, lean back, straighten your legs and lie on your back for 1 minute before repeating on the other side. Take a simple supine twist after the rebound, before resting in savasana.



 

Mascha Coetzee

Mascha Coetzee is a yoga teacher, holistic health coach, nutrition assistant and linguist, and a practitioner of hatha yoga, inclusive of ashtanga, vinyasa and yin yoga. She integrates the wisdom of yoga, Ayurveda, CTM and modern research in her lifestyle and teachings. Mascha is based in Launceston, Tasmania.