“You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.” ~ Pablo Neruda
Match the promise of spring with the energy to enjoy it!
Spring, Spring, Spring! It’s all so exhilarating, but how to get that body-mind-spirit complex into action?
Here with some thoughts on the attitude, the understanding, the foods and the “Morning Five.”
As we have all heard, April is the cruelest month, but here we are in March, anticipating the joys, warmth, and beauty of spring. The complex truth is that as the snow blahs begin to melt away, what we get is some wet, rainy, downright slushy conditions inside the body and out—what we call ’Kapha’ season in Ayurveda-land when allergies and colds can peak.
I often feel overwhelmed by a combination of the heaviness outside and the mucus building inside. I find that the birds-tweeting-in-the-trees promise of it all can feel overwhelming, even strangely depressing. The body-mind complex not quite up to the task of all that joyful forward-looking.
What to do? Clear and tone the digestive system and, well, you’ve gotta move!
Eat for the Season: Ask yourself what grows this season and what will get the slush moving out. This means eat more pungent (spicy), bitter, astringent/light, dry, warm things and avoid sweet, sour, salty, heavy, cold, oily foods. Especially go for bitter roots and leafy greens (like the now ubiquitous kale), liver cleansing dandelion sautéed or dandelion teas, grapefruits (yes they are in season!), papaya. Keep it light and warm. Sip hot water throughout the day.
Brush that Body: Do that morning ritual of body brushing and self massage to stimulate the lymph and circulation. Now is the time to find the deep pleasures of a beautifully crafted body brush. Follow it up with a body balm or a nourishing body oil for.
Morning Five: Do these five energizing calisthenics to get your day going, your mind sharp and your body out of winter mode. I have been doing them in place of my old friends, the 12 sun salutations, and loving it!*
1) Forward Folds
Why: Forward folds are perfect first thing in the morning. Extend your chest and upper back backwards when you stand up, and stretch out the lower back and hamstrings when bending forward. Much of your day will be forward-flexed (driving, sitting at your desk, cooking, etc.), so it is important to stretch your body in the opposite direction where you are tightest to encourage balance.
How: From standing, with your legs shoulder width apart (or wider if it is more comfortable for you), bring your arms up and around backwards reaching towards the sky looking up with your neck, then bring them around and down bending at the hips, bringing your belly to the tops of your thighs. You may bend your knees as much as you need to try to keep your belly as close to your thighs as possible, protecting your lower back. Take a deep breath up and exhale with each forward fold, focusing on your movement. Do this anywhere between five and 10 times.
For passive folds, release the hands to the ground, grab for opposite elbows, shake the head softly yes and gently no, and sway your hips softly to each side.
Note: If you find that you feel stiff when first beginning this movement, try using the wall first. Place your hands on the wall around hip height with your feet about three to four feet apart and far enough from the wall so your arms are straight. Point your toes straight ahead, and press your palms firmly into the wall, widening your upper back. You may progress by walking your hands down the wall closer to the floor.
Why: Bridging is great for strengthening and activating your lower back extensors. These are smaller muscles including the multifidi, which are under-active in a large spread of the population. This is a major cause of common lower back pain. By activating these muscles every day, your everyday body mechanics will begin to improve.
How: Start lying on the floor with your knees bent and feet about hip width apart. Then, bridge up by pushing your heels into the ground and exhaling, thinking about bringing your belly button in to your spine. Hold this position for three to five seconds, and lower slowly as you breathe in. Do these slowly and controlled for 15 repetitions.
Why: Dips are a great exercise to do for toning your triceps (the back of your arms) and parts of your back and shoulders. These are all muscles that are important for general daily activities.
How: You can use the edge of your bed for this exercise. Start seated on your bed with your feet on the floor, hands facing forward on the edges of the bed (about thumbs width away from your body), and elbows pointing behind you. Push up with your hands to lift your bottom, and bend your elbows to lower your body downwards, coming to the front of the bed. Be sure to keep your body as close to the bed as you can. Do anywhere from 10-20 repetitions. You may progress by moving to a lower surface such as a chair, and moving your feet further away from the bed, ultimately straightening out your legs.
4) Wide squats with X-reach
Why: Doing slow and controlled deep squats with a wide stance is a great way to loosen up the tight muscles in your hips while getting your blood flowing. Combine with an X-reach upwards, and you are simultaneously stretching out your tighter upper body muscles by pulling your shoulders back and squeezing your shoulder blades together behind you. Again, this stretch helps create balance by offsetting the forward flexed tendencies of the human body mechanics.
How: Start with a wide stance with your feet about double shoulder width apart, with your feet pointing outwards towards 10 o’clock and two o’clock, with your hands together in front of your chest. Slowly squat down as low as you can. Try to get your elbows close to your inner knees while keeping your back straight. Feel the stretch in your inner thighs and hamstrings, pause for one second, and then stand up while reaching your arms up towards the sky in an X-pattern. Repeat this exercise 20 times.
5) Pushups using the wall or bed
Why: Wall pushups target the chest, shoulders and triceps muscles. They are a great choice for strengthening these important muscles without putting any stress on your spine.
How: With your hands about shoulder width apart and at chest level, place your hands on the wall, and step your feet away from the wall just until your heels lift from the floor. By rising up onto your toes, you’re creating a straight line throughout your torso and legs. Bend your elbows and lower your chest towards the wall. As you do the exercise, think about squeezing your belly button into your spine so your hips don’t sag in towards the wall. Inhale as you move towards the wall, and exhale when you push away. Repeat 15 times.
Spring? Where is Spring?
*Kimberly Marie created this perfectly simple Morning Five to get us going daily and particularly in the Spring when we need to get the blood and lymph moving.
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