In our joy over the first buds of new growth, it's easy to forget that even the long-awaited new season has its challenges.
The coming of spring, even when hidden under a blanket of snow, puts extra strains on our body and psyche. Traditional medical systems like those of China and India's Ayurveda have a long history of paying special attention to the strain of seasonal change.
According to these perspectives, spring's strong, cold winds can push disease into the body. In Western terms, that translates into increased susceptibility to colds and flu.
The vernal transition is not only potentially difficult for our immunity, but it can also wreak havoc with depressed folks. Research suggests that suicide rates spike in the spring, paradoxically just as the light is returning. The speculation is that for people who feel hopeless, spring's energies of renewal are too much to bear. If you or a friend feels this way, now's the time to get all the support you can.
Remedies, besides sleeping enough and eating well, include "change of season soup," available at some health food stores and Chinese herb shops. I decided to try it and found the elixir, made by simmering herbs like astragalus and others, both tasty and revitalizing.
Another remedy I've borrowed from Ayurvedic medicine is rubbing the soles of my feet with oil, like sesame, before going to sleep. As promised, doing this really does calm down "windy," agitated feelings in my body and helps me stay warm.
what the experts say
"In Chinese medicine, our bodies are the microcosm reflecting the macrocosm. We have to be aware of the elements in nature because our bodies mimic them. Spring is a shift from hibernation into new life. We need to start off slow, to consider our bodies as coming out of hibernation. We need warming drinks and foods like oatmeal. Illnesses can be carried into the body via the wind. Wind affects us much as it affects the trees: we might get shakes or pain that move quickly from one area to another. Wind gates are where wind enters most readily: the base of the skull and base of the neck, so we cover those areas up.'
MARK RUSH, acupuncturist, certified shiatsu therapist
"When spring comes, it makes your body cold. Wind can make the circulation poor and contract the muscles. To keep your body warm inside you have to eat foods that will increase your fire. Boil your milk and add 1 teaspoon grated ginger per cup. Leafy greens, rice, green beans and yogurt increase vata (the cooling air element). Papaya gives a warming effect. Cloves, cardamom and even garlic and ginger are good this time of year. Avoid cold drinks and juices."
RAMESH MODI, Ayurvedic practitioner
"People can feel sad for what they've lost in the winter. Some will feel a little alienated from sunny weather if their mood isn't really up. The exciting thing about change of season is that we're headed toward the time for detoxifying, cleansing foods -- dandelion greens, asparagus, mesclun salad mix. If people eat those in season, that's great, because spring is the weak time for the liver (and these foods support that organ). The adrenals are more susceptible at change of season. A relaxation practice like yoga or meditation is good, as well as eating foods rich in vitamin C and getting enough rest.'
JEN GREEN, naturopath
"Change of season soup is an immune enhancer. The normal person, in the spring or fall can do one cup twice a day for 10 to 12 days. People who have hay fever or allergies should start now. Anyone who has systemic yeast, allergies, Epstein Barr, lung problems or is going through chemotherapy, radiation treatments or suppressed immunity can use this. The only times you would not drink this soup are when you are in the acute stages of fighting a fever or a flu. After the cold you can take the tonic to strengthen yourself."
EMILY CHENG KOH, traditional Chinese medicine practitioner
"The spring cleanse is more a marketing tool than a medical tool. Look at your body's needs, not the seasons. My favourite spring cleanse tea is equal parts rosemary and sassafras, a teaspoon per cup, steeped for 15 minutes. Take a cup or two a day. This should not be taken by people with thin blood, who are anemic, bruise easily or have nosebleeds.'
ROGER LEWIS, chartered herbalist
"Some literature shows a suicide upswing in spring. Depression can peak or recur now and also in fall. It's felt to have something to do with the seasonal change and the length of daylight. If somebody appears consistently very down for weeks, has changes in patterns of sleeping and eating and may even express thoughts of wanting to die, loved ones should take that seriously.'
PAUL LINKS, MD, Arthur Summer Rotenberg Chair in Suicide Studies, department of psychiatry, U of T