By JiJi Russell
Contributor, Sports and Fitness Network
It’s no mistake that humans get into the spirit of cleaning in the Spring. After all, springtime provides some of nature’s best gifts for cleansing. The season gives over more water than the drier winter months, which helps to flush out our lands and bodies alike of winter detritus. And bitter plants, which are known as detoxifying cleansers for animals and humans alike, grow abundantly in springtime.
This two-part series will explore the concept of spring cleansing for your body, mind, and spirit.
What is “cleansing” and why bother?
With all the hype on “clean eating,” juicing, Vitamix-ing, etc., we hear a lot about the importance of cleansing. But how and why did this trend come about? Many philosophies and perspectives weigh in on the question, but let’s keep things simple. Here are two good reasons to cleanse our bodies internally in the springtime.
Reason 1: We tend to eat heavier, perhaps more oily foods in the winter. Starchier fruits and vegetables (think winter squash; bananas) are the foods that have been available more readily in the cold seasons. They tend to add bulk (perhaps inches) to our bodies, which served us well during cyclical times of low agricultural yield. In springtime, you can think of eating lighter in order to slough off some of your own “accumulations” of wintertime.
Reason #2: We are under exposure to a greater number of chemical toxins than ever before. Toxins accumulate in the liver when the liver cannot fully process them; and eventually can come to “rest” in the fat cells. Any time is a good time to consider eating/drinking in a way that will help your body naturally rid itself of toxins.
Coming Out Party
We can bring ourselves into greater alignment with the inherent intelligence of nature by practicing simple yoga poses and targeted breathing techniques, and by eating appropriately, and through meditation. This article introduces a deep, yogic style of breathing and a primer of what to eat in springtime.
Next month, we’ll explore several yoga poses, a more advanced breathing technique, and a meditation appropriate to the season of detoxification. As with any endeavor, setting an intention behind your effort may press you toward greater energy and a more “light filled” presence of being as springtime presses through the earth.
Start Here: Breathe
Always a wise place to begin, conscious breathing offers a continuous massaging action for the digestive organs, as the movement of the diaphragm muscle exerts gentle pressure on these organs. Deep breathing also delivers oxygen to all the tissues and organs of the body, which in turn promotes greater energy and vitality.
Practice diaphragmatic breathing, or “belly breathing” for just five minutes a day (see article footer), and make note of your observations. This simple technique returns your nervous system to a relaxed state, which is known to help improve digestion and sleep, and helps you to more effectively manage stress.
Whenever you can, as often as you can, notice your breath. Try to slow it down by focusing on elongating your exhalation just slightly. This technique will both enliven and ground you.
Next: Let Food Be Thy Medicine
Eating appropriate foods for the season in a relaxed, unrushed atmosphere provides a key to proper digestion and absorption of nutrients. Important signs of good digestion include regular bowel movements, feeling hungry at regular times, and having a light, energetic feeling in the mind and body after digestion.
Many cookbooks categorize their recipes by season. See resources below for cookbook ideas, and/or hit the farmers market as soon as possible to see for yourself what’s “in season.” If it’s growing in the ground nearby to where you live, it’s an appropriate seasonal food. A shortlist of seasonal foods from a more traditional perspective includes: peas, Swiss chard, water cress, lentils, chicken, quinoa, freshwater fish, and many more. (See Resources section for where to find a complete list.)
The next time you walk outdoors, take note of the seasonal changes around you. Then take a deep breath while you invite your own body, mind, and spirit to reflect the glorious season of springtime.
This article was excerpted from its original publication in The Observer of Clarke County.
Search for CSAs in your locale on Local Harvest:
Great Food Fast by Martha Stewart Living magazine (recipes categorized by season).
The Modern Ayurvedic Cookbook by Amrita Sondhi.
Eat, Taste, Heal, an Ayurvedic Cookbook by Thomas Yarmea, et. al.
The Three Season Diet by Dr. John Douillard (Lifespa.com)
The Spring Grocery List by Dr. John Doulliard (Lifespa.com).
Try the Belly Breathing Technique
This explanation of yogic breathing was adapted from training text written by the Kripalu Yoga Fellowship. www.kripalu.org.
- Come into your restorative yoga pose.
- Begin taking long, slow, deep breaths through the nostrils.
- Focus first on filling the lowest chamber of the lungs so that as you inhale, your belly gently puffs out, and as you exhale, your belly deflates and drops back toward your spine. Work on this portion of the technique for as long as it takes to feel comfortable breathing “into the belly” this way. It may seem contradictory to your usual breathing pattern and might take some practice to master.
- Once Step 3 becomes easy for you, expand your awareness of the inhalation into all three chambers of the lungs, first the abdominal region, then the thoracic region, then the clavicular region. Feel each chamber expanding as much as possible as the breath flows through the lower, middle, and upper regions of the lungs in a wave-like motion.
- As you exhale, allow the breath to flow out of the lungs like a balloon deflating, in the most relaxed and natural way possible. Just before the end of the exhalation, contract the abdominal muscles, squeezing the residual air out of the lungs so they empty completely.
- Continue taking several deep breaths in this way, keeping your body totally relaxed without inducing strain. Let the breaths be smooth, even, and uninterrupted.