Spring, Ayurvedically speaking
A few days ago, I was surprised by a patch of blooming violets in my backyard. In my body at least, it still feels like winter. But there they were, bravely bearing the variable temperatures and breezy days to put forth new growth. As if to reinforce the message that spring was on its way, an unlucky bird chose to make her home in my mailbox while I was away for the weekend. Regrettably, I cleared away the bits of worn leave and moss, presuming she was anticipating laying some eggs on my front porch.
New life, more warmth, increased hours of daylight … but what about the old, the cold, and the dark? Even those transitions we look forward to can be difficult, and the transition from winter to spring brings its own unique set of challenges. In spite of the vibrant energy outdoors, I find myself feeling stuck to my comfortable couch and cup of tea. The slow pace of winter meeting the dynamic pace of spring has created a laggard reluctance that leaves me tired and resistant. Unlike the shiny blue of new violet blossoms, I feel rather dull and listless.
So you get the idea, maybe you can even relate. But what can we do about it? Are we resigned to simply wait it out, believing that like the long nights of winter this too must simply be endured? Or just as we can embrace the restful time of winter, perhaps we can embrace the rapid changes and bursts of energy we see in nature during the spring.
Ayurveda is a traditional holistic system of healing and healthy living that like yoga, originated in India. Within this framework for understanding the Self, three main doshas, or elemental substances, are present within the individual and also in nature. Often, one of these is dominant, but everyone has elements of all three that make up their unique body/mind self. In winter, the earthy, watery kapha is especially pervasive and supports eating and sleeping habits conducive to extra warmth for staying comfortable in colder temperatures and deep rest. Kapha in balance is associated with healthy joints, bones and muscles; patience and thoughtfulness; sound sleep and good digestion. But in spring, lingering kapha energy threatens to create imbalances in our bodies and minds. Too much kapha can result in lethargy and weight gain, or resistance to change and emotional dullness.
Fortunately, Ayurveda and Yoga offer us some guidance. By modifying our diet for spring (eating lighter, easy to digest foods, increasing our consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables), we can increase our digestive fire (agni) and decrease excess kapha. By practicing invigorating asana (think warrior sequences, sun salutations, backbends, and twists) and pranayama (try Kapalabhati and steady Ujjayi), we can begin to flush fresh prana throughout the body, rooting out stuck energy. And perhaps the most rewarding practice of all – attuning with the hum of nature all around us. Take a walk, pull some weeds and plant some herbs, or simply get up off that couch and park your asana on the front porch. But move slowly, awaken gently, choose your own mindful path to spring renewal.
Here comes the sun!
Recently, as I zipped up my coat and put on my gloves to head out for our morning walk, I thought of the Aesop’s Fable about The North Wind and the Sun. I have found myself this winter feeling closed up, cranky, and desperately praying for the sun to warm me up. I searched for this old fable and was struck at how much it spoke to me, my life, my practice, and the way I teach.
If you know me, you know I love hard work. I tend to be aggressive with my physical self, and that definitely translates to most of the classes I lead. So yes, I am exhausted! I have been feeling this huge pull to slow down, take naps, stretch more, warm up, and just take it easy. As the universe does so beautifully, all of these things are beginning to align with perfect timing. The sun has come out and Spring is so close I can smell it. Thursday mornings at the blue are now Deep Stretch (this Warrior needs some serious hip openers), and I have managed to put two massages on my calendar in the next few weeks. While I know my windy side won’t settle completely, I am embracing my sunny side. I am seeking power in gentleness. Aaaaahh!!!! Feels good already.
The North Wind and the Sun
The North Wind boasted of great strength. The Sun argued that there was great power in gentleness.
“We shall have a contest,” said the Sun.
Far below, a man traveled a winding road. He was wearing a warm winter coat.
“As a test of strength,” said the Sun, “let us see which of us can take the coat off of that man.”
“It will be quite simple for me to force him to remove his coat,” bragged the Wind.
The Wind blew so hard, the birds clung to the trees. The world was filled with dust and leaves. But the harder the wind blew down the road, the tighter the shivering man clung to his coat.
Then, the Sun came out from behind a cloud. Sun warmed the air and the frosty ground. The man on the road unbuttoned his coat.
The sun grew slowly brighter and brighter.
Soon the man felt so hot, he took off his coat and sat down in a shady spot.
“How did you do that?” said the Wind.
“It was easy,” said the Sun, “I lit the day. Through gentleness I got my way.”
Belize Retreat 2013
“Stay… I got this.” That was my text to Jill after she painfully made the decision to stay home instead of return to our beloved Belize. It was last minute, in hopes her back would somehow miraculously heal. Each morning I texted her (in a slang it seems only we understand), “How is?” and her replies about the same… no miracles. After her decision, came the reminder where the universe is concerned, you just never freaking know. A year of planning, dreaming, and fantasizing, it came down to me leading the retreat. No friend, no partner, no Jill.
Well okay then.
The interesting thing about this particular retreat is we hadn’t met about half of the people who signed up. No clue about personalities, or practices, or purpose. All we knew was 16 yogis were gathering in Belize, and they wanted their yoga experience.
All of us from the Raleigh / Durham / Chapel Hill area gathered early Saturday morning to catch our flight. We were to meet the rest of our crew upon arrival in Belize. The flights were easy, and right on time we landed in Belize, a country that, from our first retreat there, seemed to welcome us like a long lost friend. This time was no different. Jessie the director of Belize Yoga Retreats and our guide for the week greeted us as planned.
I must mention the only contact I’d had with Jessie prior to our arrival was a few emails. At first glimpse, her smile was worth a thousand meetings and instantly I knew she was like us… or rather, she was us.
After introductions and a few post travel stretches, we loaded into our vans and took off for a 2.5 hour ride into the jungle. Our destination: Black Rock Lodge. We roll in late in the afternoon. The magnificence of the place, well, there are no words or pictures that can do it justice. The light seems to filter differently so that an ever-present glow surrounds everything. The jungle in every shade of green is within reach at every turn, and a low running river served as the bridge between earth and sky. I feel an instant and profound pull, as if gravity had just increased tenfold.
At dinner that night we gathered at our outdoor dining room. The view and sounds of the jungle were the perfect backdrop for our gathering. Through our conversations we learned just who and what our group was made of. In no particular order, we were a judge, a lawyer, a violinist, a doctor, two engineers, a coach, a nurse, two social workers, a vet, a marketing manager, a (pregnant) Lululemon manager, a therapist, a flight attendant, and oh yeah, a yoga teacher.
Our jungle mornings began with yoga, then breakfast, then one of the following: Mayan Ruins tour, kayaking, horseback riding, cave tubing (floating down a river in an inter-tube, meandering in and out of wondrous caves), and lastly the ATM Cave. What, you ask, is the ATM cave? See for yourself.
At the end of our days was more yoga, food, drink, and laughter.
Repeat, repeat, repeat.
The Journey Moves On
After three days in the jungle, we packed our bags and headed to the beach. A two-hour van ride took us to our boat and, as they say, the journey is often more important than the destination. We got to see Belize and her people, poor and rich alike. You couldn’t miss the culture, the history, the magic… its chaos made perfect sense.
The days on our private island ran at a much slower pace. Yoga always bookended our days, but in between there were hammocks, swimming, napping, snorkeling, paddle boarding, and more napping.
It was because of the slower pace we could really dig into the practice of yoga. As mentioned, about half the crew had no idea what my teaching was like.
(Those of you who attend my classes… I can hear your chuckles.)
Needless to say, the chakra practice, the arm balance class, the chanting, the meditation were new to some. Most definitely, tough for all.
But guess what?
One night I invited the crew to my 5:30 a.m. personal meditation practice (I say this like I do this EVERY morning, which I sure as F do not), thinking no one would show. Well, they did. Everywhere I turned there was gratitude and a genuine curiosity that through our week together turned into an unquenchable thirst.
For me, watching their journey was the best part of the whole week. From fear to courage, from unsteadiness to strength, from imbalance to balance, and from unknowing to knowing.
Tamaso mā jyotir gamaya
From darkeness to the light
The journey back to the States was, at its best, full of beauty.
And at its worst, full of fear.
We met each hour of our last day together with goodbye after goodbye. But with the goodbyes came the promise of enduring friendship, sisterhood, purpose, wisdom, and love.
I am grateful that I could be a part of the experience.
I am grateful. Full Stop.