Here Comes Spring – Supporting the Body Through Seasonal Transition
Late winter and early spring can be a grueling time. The days are starting to get longer and a little warmer, but the nights are still cold. The ground is most likely either still snowy or muddy…or both! Yet, longer warmer days get the birds chirping and the trees sending out buds and I find my self getting excited! Even if snow continues to fall and the days remain cold, our bodies are beginning to make the transition into spring. We start to make this transition when the days get longer. The presence of light is a natural trigger for plant and animal species everywhere. Even the trees get the memo, longer days in conjunction with warm days and cold nights causes the sap to run – creating the spring dance that brings us the wonders of maple syrup and birch beer!
Chickens are very affected by the presence of light. For those who keep laying hens you can see this process in action. Every spring as the days get longer, the hen’s biological clock recognizes that warm, sunny days of spring are on the way. Spring is a more appropriate time to sit on and hatch chicks than winter, so biologically their body kicks into baby making mode and they start laying eggs. The first year I had chickens, spring rolled around and they started laying like crazy! There were a few rogue chickens who didn’t like laying in the coup, so they started laying all over the yard instead. I started thinking about how great it would be to make a game out of hunting for eggs, and perhaps I should have the neighborhood kids over – Easter egg hunt anyone?
These stories are just to share that even if it isn’t warm out, our bodies are still moving toward spring. It is important and helpful to consider what will support our body as we make the transition. I like to think about what happens when the snow melts and the earth wakes up in spring. Usually there is rushing water everywhere, mud, sticks, leaves and all of fall and winter’s leftovers. So you get out the rake and start spring cleaning. Same needs to happen in the body. We are often so much less active in the winter, and we have a tendency to eat heavier foods. When spring comes it is important to help the body clear out winter’s waste and kick start your perhaps still resting metabolism.
The more we ignore the importance of helping the body transition into spring the more susceptible we are to low energy, low immune function, emotional swings, skin issues and allergies later in the season. These practices are important and we can introduce them into our diets and lifestyle in ways that are both practical and sustainable!
Everyday Practices to Help Ease into Spring
Drink Lots of Fluids.
Remember the melting snow and rushing streams and rivers that characterize spring? Think of spring rains that sprout seeds and bring flowers. Water is the basic building block of all of our tissues and cells and is required for all metabolic function. Drinking water helps clear out toxins, flush waste and kick start our eliminatory organs. Water should be drank warm or at room temperature; warm water is easier to absorb, better for digestion and more detoxifying than cold water. In general, one should aim to drink half of their body weight in ounces of water every day. For example, if someone weighs 150 pounds they would try to drink 75 fluid ounces of water per day. If you drink a lot of herbal teas, you can substitute ¼ of your water intake for tea, but that’s all! If you don’t want to think about your weight or how many ounces of water you are drinking every day, that’s okay too, just make space to think about drinking enough!
Drink Cleansing Alterative Teas.
Alteratives are herbs that help to clean the blood by stimulating the function of our eliminatory organs. Most alteratives work by stimulating and supporting kidney and/or liver function or by supporting lymphatic circulation. Most are very nourishing and also provide nutrition. My favorite spring alteratives are cleavers herb, nettle leaf, red clover blossom, violet leaf, dandelion root and burdock root. In addition to being cleansing and detoxifying, these herbs are also all very nutritive and very high in vitamins and minerals. Most of these are the first plants to pop up in the spring, showing us that the time is right! To prepare use 1 Tbs. of the dried herb for every cup of water. For the leaves and herbs, pour the boiling water over the herbs and allow them to steep overnight, or for at least 4 – 6 hours. Because burdock and dandelion are roots, they should be simmered gently for 15 to 20 minutes. Drink 1 – 3 cups of tea/day. I like to make myself a quart and sip it all day long! You can drink these herbs one at a time or combine them together and make blends. In this case, it is best not to sweeten these teas with honey.
Exercise helps keep things moving in our body. Movement stimulates circulation, digestion, metabolism and the movement and removal of waste. You do not have to go on long runs or hikes, although you can, but simply walking for 20 minutes once or twice a day is enough to get things moving.
Don’t Forget to Bundle Up.
Being cold, and especially shivering, reduces circulation and metabolic function. Being cold will impair the body’s ability to function and cleanse on all levels. It will also prevent all the great water you are drinking from flowing freely through the rivers of your body! Even as warmer weather starts to flirt, remember to dress warmly.
Eat More Bitter!
Bitter is the most metabolically active flavor of all. We have receptors (taste buds) on our tongue that only detect the bitter flavor. Just the simple taste of bitter on the tongue stimulates the entire digestive process. It is cleansing and detoxifying to the liver and helps break down and absorb the foods we eat, including fats and oils. We work hard to mask the bitter taste in our culture and consequently it is the flavor most missing from the average American diet. Try to start incorporating bitter foods into your diet, particularly in spring when it is important to promote function of the liver and digestive organs. Eating a small portion of something bitter before a meal promotes appetite and digestion. A tea or tincture of bitter herbs taken before or after a meal can help relieve digestive discomfort. Some examples of bitter foods include lettuces, endive, escarole, dandelion greens, kale and collards. Some bitter herbs are dandelion root, burdock root, yellow dock root, artichoke leaf, Mugwort leaf, gentian root and angelica root (just to name a few).
Eat More Sour!
In Chinese Medicine sour is the flavor of springtime because it is detoxifying and cooling to the liver. It stimulates secretions in the gastrointestinal track and from the liver, which is cleansing, detoxifying and promotes metabolism (similar to bitter!). It also promotes the movement of other fluids in the body, such as the lymphatic fluid, important for immune function and detoxification. Sour foods include lemons, limes, grapefruits, sour apples, berries, rhubarb, yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and other fermented foods. And a few herbs would include sorrel, rose hips, hibiscus, sumac buds and hawthorn berries.
Open Your Sinuses & Lungs.
If you are someone who suffers from upper respiratory congestion, asthma or seasonal allergies then spring is a great time to think about clearing out and opening up these channels. Nasal rinses are a great practice for cleansing the upper respiratory system. You can do a nasal rinses with a neti pot or purchase a reusable plastic nasal rinse bottle from the drugstore. Either way, when you make your own nasal rinse, make sure you use filtered, warm water and a pinch of salt (1/4 tsp. of salt for every 2 cups of water).
For clearing and opening the Lungs I like to do herbal steams. Put an inch of water in the bottom of a saucepan with a handful of herbs (some easy to grow/local herbs I like to use are pine, cedar, lavender, sage, thyme, mullein, calendula or comfrey). With the lid on, bring your mixture to a boil and simmer gently for 2 – 5 minutes. Place your pot of hot steam and herbs on the table and sit in front of the pot. Drape a towel over your head and shoulders and remove the lid of the pan. Adjust the temperature inside your towel tent by moving the towel with your arms to allow more or less steam to leave the tent. It should be hot, but not so hot that it is unpleasant or uncomfortable. Start by taking shallow, shorter breaths and increase to deeper and deeper breaths as you go. Breath in through your nose and out through your mouth and then in through your mouth and out through your nose. Stay in your tent for 5 to 15 minutes. This is a great practice for opening up your sinuses and lungs.
Exfoliate the Skin: Salt Scrubs or Dry Brushing.
Whenever I visit San Francisco my friend and I take a trip to the bathhouse in Japan town. There is a hot tub, a cold plunge, a sauna and a steam room. Outside the steam room they have bowls full of salt that you can bring inside and scrub your skin with. This is always my favorite part of the day! I start at my feet and move all the way up my body to my neck and scalp (if the skin on your face is sensitive you do not have to scrub your face). It is luxurious and invigorating and afterwards my skin feels soft and smooth. The salt exfoliates the skin, removing dead skin cells, dirt and oil. It also stimulates circulation of blood and lymph fluids beneath the surface of the skin, aiding in detoxification. It is best to do a salt scrub in a hot bath, sauna or steam room. The heat helps moisten and soften the skin and promote detoxification. At home I mix sea salt with oil and apply it as a scrub. When you add oil to the salt you are also moisturizing! Some folks like to use sugar instead of salt, while sugar is less detoxifying than salt, it still exfoliates and some find it less drying.
Dry brushing is a practice you do before the shower or bath to help exfoliate and remove dead skin cells. It also stimulates circulation of blood and lymph fluids. You can use a luffa sponge or a hairbrush with natural bristles. Gently rub your skin down with the brush or sponge, do not apply a lot of pressure. Start with your hands, work your way up to your chest, neck and underarms, then do each leg starting with your feet. Do not brush your face or breasts, if you have them! Then take a shower or bath. It is a good practice to wash your brush with soap and water every week or so to remove the dead skin cells.