Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.
Come the culmination of winter, we naturally feel the proverbial ants in our pants to open the windows, clear the air and energy, put away puffy jackets to replace with lighter gear that takes up less physical [and probably emotional] space, to freshen up and reboot our bodies and minds.
This natural and circular rhythm throughout the year, I am learning, is what the ancient healing practices of Ayurveda are all about.
I have been self-studying Ayurveda through my yoga and nutrition trainings, continually intrigued and amazed by its practicality and magical – albeit very real – wisdom. When I came across the Ayurvedic-infused Divya’s Kitchen in East Village, featuring clean seasonal food that made my heart jump for joy, I knew I needed to experience it firsthand. What I had yet to discover was just how much connecting to this place would impact my current healing journey.
My foodie friend Sappho joined me for dinner on a cold pre-spring evening, immediately soothed by the calm and welcoming environment, and the food we ate was brilliantly prepared. Each dish was thoughtful and light, yet vibrantly flavorful and nourishing. We left absolutely glowing, each of us with a homemade einkorn biscuit to-go [they mill all of their own flour in the kitchen]; I have since been back with another friend and plan to go for brunch soon.
I had the pleasure of meeting Divya at her recent cookbook launch in NYC for What To Eat For How You Feel: The New Ayurvedic Kitchen, and was even more inspired after listening to her studious path of yoga, meditation, Ayurveda, and ultimately cooking. The ways in which she incorporates these mindfulness practices into the kitchen is exactly what I hope to embody and offer in my own personal life and business services.
I am obviously quite drawn not only to Divya as a person, but also to her NYC restaurant, cooking school Bhagavat Life, and overall Ayurvedic lifestyle habits. And so after the book launch talk, I made a beeline to her to inquire about Ayurvedic counseling services, which she miraculously still offers – sparingly – alongside running a gorgeous restaurant and cooking school.
Divya’s overall warmth and glowing attitude made me even more committed to working with her on some physical discomforts I had been trying to remedy for the past couple of years that had recently resurfaced with a vengeance. My determination to feel better must have led me to the event that evening, and a consultation was arranged for a few weeks later.
After taking my pulse, Divya asked me spot-on questions about what I was experiencing. She discussed how my digestive condition related to the three doshas of vata, pitta and kapha, and made things clear that once seemed complicated. I was given information that helped me further understand what was aggravating my symptoms, thanks to Ayurvedic knowledge of how certain foods affect the body and mind, and we talked about how it related to my own body.
Although I already knew this to be true, I saw more clearly in our session how Ayurveda bridges the gap between the medical/scientific and the energetic/metaphysical, which in turn addresses lifestyle habits from food to relationships to self-care and beyond, in ways that cater to individual needs.
My biggest takeaway from that experience, and something Divya and I discussed during our session, is the uniqueness of every single body on this planet. Even though we are connected at a Soul level, our physical makeups require specific things at varying times in our lives.
Right now, for example, even though ’tis the season for cleansing, it is unwise for me to detox because my liver is not prepared to support the intensity of some of those powerful foods and practices. Even if I am eating the cleanest I have ever eaten in my life to-date, some of the healthy foods I consume a lot of – which are in fact quite healing for many people – are not of service to my digestive system at this time.
For me, my personal physical spring cleaning is not flushing out but instead rebooting my digestive fire in order to improve the absorption of nutrients. I had to recognize that some of the detoxing things I did on a daily basis were not supporting my body personally, like warm water with lemon every morning or avoiding groupings/types of trigger foods. The food regimen is much more detailed and personalized based on my body’s needs – and also includes things like baths, practicing certain asana postures regularly, and taking a good look at how I feel about myself.
Although Ayurveda goes far beyond food, what we eat is obviously a huge contributing factor to how we heal and feel. Divya and I talked a bit about the current trend of wellness and the rise of superfoods and agreed that, although wonderful in many ways, it does not mean that every superfood works for every body. Especially if we are working with recurring or newfound ailments, it is imperative for us to get to know ourselves and our bodies, our physical and mental beings, as honestly as possible.
And to be honest I am not completely psyched about having to give up chocolate for a little while [more on that, among other things, in another post], but I am absolutely thrilled to have found someone to guide me in such a clear direction of healing through foods and practices that are nourishing specifically for my body at this time.
On that note – our bodies shift alongside of each season, meaning the food we eat during these periods of time will affect our bodies in different ways. Divya, who clearly has a compassionate heart, was kind enough to share some invaluable insight from her book in regards to how to prepare the body for spring.
I hope you enjoy learning from the short passage below as much as I did, and I encourage all of us to choose a few things to consider for our own lifestyle.
How will you begin to observe and prepare your body for the new season, and what does spring cleaning mean to you?
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Excerpt from What To Eat For How You Feel: The New Ayurvedic Kitchen – 100 Seasonal Recipes by Chef Divya Alter of Divya’s Kitchen / photograph by William and Susan Brinson
Spring is a time for new beginnings and for releasing the stored energy we built in winter. It is a time for planting the seeds of health for the coming year.
Living in the northeast United States as I do, I always feel such relief at the end of a long winter. Finally the snow melts away, the air freshens up with the fragrance of moist soil, and trees and shrubs come back to life. With the warming temperatures, our bodies also begin to open up. Excessive mucus melts and rushes out of our system, and this is one reason why many of us experience colds and congestion in spring.
We balanced winter’s cold and dryness with heavy, moist, sweet, fatty foods rich in protein. In spring we enter a new cycle with nature, where moisture and heaviness dominate the environment; therefore, we need to change our diet or our physiology will turn sluggish.
What happens to our digestion in spring? Due to the increased humidity in the atmosphere, we may experience a switch from Fiery or Airy to slow (Earthy) digestion, which means that an increased moisture in the stomach will lower our digestive fire and slow down our metabolism. Your appetite may go down and you may feel heavier and more tired than usual. That is why you need to gradually and comfortably adjust your diet to the balancing suggestions below. If you don’t, perpetual slow digestion may lead to excess mucus, coughs, clammy skin, weight gain, and lethargy.
Spring weather temperatures usually stay in the range of 50°F and 80°F during the day. This is the best season for annual detoxification and cleansing because our microcirculatory channels naturally soften and expand, making the release of toxins much easier. Please keep in mind that before you indulge yourself in cleansing (and it must be the right practice for you!), you need to prepare your body, and especially your liver, by adjusting your diet and perhaps adding a few self-care treatments to your regimen. There is nothing more damaging to your system than a premature, harsh, or improper detox. In [this chapter in the book] I have interspersed recipes that can be used during a gentle and safe cleansing protocol.
Balance with foods from the spring harvest: peas, leafy greens, dandelion, asparagus, radish, burdock root. We also need the dryness and astringency of lentils and small beans and the pungency of ginger, chiles, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, ajwain, and cardamom. In general, favor warm foods that are dry, light, and warm of pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes. Apples, pears, pomegranate, artichokes, radicchio, broccoli rabe, cruciferous vegetables, and sprouts are all good spring foods. The drying properties of barley, quinoa, buckwheat, rye, millet, buckwheat noodles (soba), and corn make them perfect grains for spring. And get moving to enhance your metabolism—walk, exercise, hike, and dance more!
Stay away from foods that are heavy, oily, and cold and reduce the sweet, salty, and sour tastes in your menus. In this season you really want to cut down on sweets, nuts, wheat, brown rice, meat, dairy, avocados, coconuts, bananas, oranges, tomatoes, cucumbers, and sweet potatoes, because they may cause excessive congestion. (Although zucchini and lauki squash are watery summer vegetables, they support the cleansing of the liver; for that reason, I use them in small amounts in some of the recipes.) Raw honey is the best sweetener in this season (but avoid it if you have Fiery digestion). In general, on your plate you need less grains, more vegetables, and moderate amount of light protein (preferably for lunch, not dinner). It is also good to reduce salt, which makes the body retain moisture. Avoid leftovers (especially refrigerated starchy foods), as their lower digestibility increases the possibility of congestion and weight gain. Refrain from napping during the day or sleeping after sunrise.
Photo: uttitha hasta padangustasana in Dumbo, Brooklyn, taken by Renee Choi.