Clean Up Your Springtime Routine

The warmer (and in some places wetter) days of spring are upon us, and chances are you may be feeling the urge to clean up your life a bit. Whether you’re caught up in the craze of konmaring your closet or looking for cleaner foods to eat, the ancient science of Ayurveda provides some insight into why so many of us feel like lightening up in the springtime.

From the Ayurvedic perspective, spring is the season of kapha, an energetic quality associated with the elements of earth + water (think: mud). Typical descriptors of kapha include dense, heavy and slow, but the one that I prefer (that came to me via my dear friend Dr. Siva Mohan) is accumulation.

Spring is the time that we actively work to counteract physical manifestations of various accumulations in the body (which may present as excess mucous, slow digestion, bloating or a few extra pounds), and in the same way, we may feel the urge to clean up other facets of our lives as well.

My personal routine includes a weeklong food-based Ayurvedic cleanse (you can join in as well!) and a commitment to do more vigorous exercises this time of year. I’m also a big believer in a daily neti pot, which is great year-round, but particularly beneficial in the spring for anyone suffering from allergies.

I asked a few wellness-expert friends for their top recommendations for cleaning up their self-care routines in the springtime and I’m delighted to share their suggestions with you:

1) Get Your Lymph Moving

Ever since I discovered Ayurveda, I’ve been a big fan of sugar and salt scrubs as a way to stimulate the lymphatic system (dry-brushing also works wonders). A daily scrub not only helps to counteract stagnant accumulations in your body’s joints and tissues, but also helps boost your immune response as well. I generally make my own scrubs because many commercial scrubs contain synthetic ingredients, manufactured scents and nasty things like plastic beads, but I’ve been blown away by Beautycounter’s Lustro Sugar Scrub, which was gifted to me by Chantalynn Huynh. It’s simply sugar with natural therapeutic and essential oils, and its amazing lemongrass citrus scent will invigorate your mind as well as your skin. Chantalynn has been educating me (and the world!) about Beautycounter's products and benefits, and I highly recommend this brand to anyone looking to make more conscious skincare/cosmetic choices.


2) Make Kitchari

Kitchari is an easy-to-digest mung bean and rice stew that Ayurveda prescribes for cleansing. Aside from its digestive wonders, it helps to strip toxins from the blood and also is a complete protein, so it leaves you feeling satisfied and energized. It’s the main superstar in my online cleanse, and a regular part of my everyday diet as well. If you want to simplify your shopping and whip up a batch, Dr. Siva Mohan offers a kitchari kit complete with mung beans and spice mix. Just add rice and water and you’re good to go! I also like adding chopped vegetable while cooking for a complete one-pot meal. If you join in my spring cleanse, you'll get to know Siva as one of our guest speakers during the week and also learn some of her best tips for managing kapha season.



3) Drink Tea

One of the simplest (and most delicious) ways to fight accumulation in the body is by using stimulating spices. This chai tea from Left Coast Apothecary was recommended by founder Alexandra Scott as a great kapha-buster. It contains warming spices like cinnamon, and ginger, which help stoke your belly fire, as well as dandelion root, which is an incredibly powerful detoxifying herb. Added to the mix is Trikatu, a blend of three types of pepper, which has been used for centuried in Ayurveda as a way to rid the both of excess ama (accumulation that gathers in the body from undigested food). This blend is a great digestive booster, and is sure to provide noticeable results whether you choose to include it as part of a formal cleanse or not.

What are your favorite ways to manage kapha season? Any special products to recommend? Share in the comments below!

Don't Blame It All on Mercury...


It’s that time again. If you hang out in circles of friends like mine, everyone is talking about Mercury retrograde. If you haven’t heard about it in the last few days, chances are you will, as its current cycle is in effect until July 2.

My simple understanding of the phenomenon is that during this time, a reduction in speed of the planet Mercury’s typical orbit around the sun leads it to appear to travel backwards relative to its normal course. All planets go through this apparent motion, during which their spheres of influence are thought to be affected. Because Mercury rules communication and coordination, it is believed that its retrograde period leads to ensuing havoc here on our planet, and we are advised to take precautions like being extra clear in communications (and postponing any deep or weighty conversations), delaying the start of new projects or signing contracts, and avoiding major travel. In our digital age, issues with our devices and channels of communication – computers, phones, Internet service providers, etc. – also get attributed to Mercury’s movement.

Once a concept mostly relegated to discussions amongst astrologers, it’s been my experience that awareness of Mercury retrograde has blossomed over the last decade with the rise of social media. It has even garnered coverage in mainstream news outlets, complete with advice for surviving this seemingly harrowing time.

In my own experience, what Mercury retrograde has meant is a near constant stream of friends (and random strangers, like the guy in the line at Whole Foods this morning) attributing various difficulties in their lives to this planetary occurrence.  Basically, it seems that for a lot of people, anything that goes wrong during the three- week retrograde cycle gets blamed on Mercury.

I like to believe that we live in one giant inter-connected web of energy spanning the entire universe, so although I may not understand all the mechanics of retrograde movement, I do believe that the influence of a planet can have effects that ripple outward in all directions. However, my experience of watching Mercury become a scapegoat for car breakdowns, fiery breakups and e-mail malfunctions often bothers me, as we seem to use this astrological event to avoid looking at the circumstances of our lives, and our own contributions to the types of mishaps that become more prevalent when Mercury steps on its brakes. We are only two days in to Mercury’s current retrograde cycle, and already I’ve seen at least three friends blame it for various troubles via my Facebook feed this morning.

In Ayurveda (the Indian science of life and healing), a guiding principle is the notion that “like increases like,” meaning that if an element is present in an environment, adding more of that element leads to a greater preponderance of that element. Too much “likeness” is the cause of imbalances and disease in the body and mind. I think this concept can be applied to all aspects of our lives, particularly in regards to how we hold space for harmony and chaos.

My experience has shown me that when chaos is present, more chaos typically ensues. We all know people who are drama queens (or kings) who embody this truth. It is my personal belief that many of the people who find their lives in shambles because of Mercury retrograde already were experiencing some degree of chaos in regards to communication and coordination prior to the beginning of the retrograde period. And too often, rather than looking at the root cause, such people direct venom and anger to Mercury for a day or two, maybe even weeks, without ever stopping to look at the conditions present prior to Mercury going retrograde that might have led to that particular disruption.

If you’re someone who is prone to blaming Mercury for all that goes wrong during retrograde, perhaps before sharing your next vitriolic Facebook post demonizing the planet, you can take a moment to pause and examine the deeper causes of whatever event has transpired. How have you been personally responsible for what happened? What could you have done differently?

I believe that through this process of deep looking, we can often find ways that we have been out of integrity in our communications, perhaps not speaking our mind openly or obscuring the truth to achieve various agendas, as well as ways we may have neglected to maintain impeccable coordination in our affairs with others.

I’m not asking you to discount the effect that Mercury may have in whatever has happened. But, I would encourage you to see how you fit into the equation, and more importantly, to identify steps you can take to avoid future mishaps, whether Mercury is moving slowly or not.


Embracing the Bitter

In addition to being a strong believer in food as medicine, I also believe food can be a powerfully effective teacher. Food has the power not only to teach us about our own bodies, but to help us confront other blocks we may be facing on the mental or emotional level. Ayurveda (the Indian healing system) teaches us that a balanced diet includes foods that fit into six flavor profiles - sweet, salty, sour, pungent (spicy), astringent (drying) and bitter. In Western cultures, we generally tend to neglect the latter more than any other, yet the lessons it can teach us are powerful in my experience. Just as we tend to shy away from bitter foods, many of us struggle to digest bitter emotions and experiences, pushing them aside and letting them remained unresolved. In the same way that undigested food (known as ama in Ayurevda) is toxic for the body, undigested emotions have the power to wreak havoc on the psyche.

Walk into any "schwag mart" (my term for a neighborhood mini-market, i.e., what a New Yorker would call a bodega) and I dare you to find anything bitter amidst the candy, chips and sodas filling its aisles and coolers. The wizards of the processed food industry know that bitter foods don't light up the brain in the addictive ways sugar and salt do, so finding bitter foods can be a challenge unless one is committed to a mainly whole foods, plant-based diet.

In my own journey, I've come to recognize my previous aversions to bitter foods, and have actually come to love and embrace bitter flavors and recognize my body's cravings for them. In addition to adding complexity and new dimensions to recipes I create, bitter foods have amazing healing benefits, most notably as liver cleansers and blood detoxifiers. When I notice intense cravings for bitter foods, I stop and look at what else is going on in my life, and generally such cravings are accompanied by over-consumption of foods that tend to set me off balance or stress. My body's SOS call is a good reminder to take a couple days to detox and restore balance. When my cravings are especially intense, I quell them instantly with a shot of fresh bitter melon juice, mixed with aloe vera and turmeric (warning: not for the faint of heart).

To embrace the bitter is not to turn our backs on life's sweetness, but rather to recognize that life comes in many flavors, as do the fruits of the earth. Without bitterness, we would have a much less robust appreciation of sweetness, in the same ways that some of life's bitter wake-up calls lead us to a deeper appreciation for the sources of happiness in our lives. In Judaism, horseradish is used in the Passover seder to remind us of the bitterness faced by our ancestors, as part of a larger feast that also includes sweet charoset (a sweet apple concoction). The seder meal reminds us that bitterness and sweetness complement one another and naturally ebb and flow in the course of our life experience. To expect life to always be sweet is to deny the fullness of human experience.

Looking to amp up your intake and appreciation of bitter foods? Check out a few of my favorites:

1) Arugula: Also known as Rocket, this mighty green packs a bitter punch. I love it in salads (topped with a slightly sweet dressing to accentuate the bitter notes). I'm also a huge fan of making pesto with arugula. If you grow your own arugula, take note that each progressive harvest from the same plant will get more bitter as time passes. By the third picking, your liver will be pulsing with ecstasy.






(My latest batch of vegan Arugula Artichoke Heart pesto)


2) Dandelion: Another powerful bitter green, dandelion can be enjoyed in salads, teas, juices  or warm dishes. In many places, you can find it growing plentifully in the wild (or even in urban jungles).



3) Radicchio: Used medicinally as a blood tonic since the days of the early Romans, this member of the chicory family adds a bitter punch to salads, as well as awesome red color.



4) Bitter melon: Ever notice bumpy mutant cucumbers at the farmer's market or your favorite Asian grocer? That's a bitter melon, and the name is appropriate, seeing it's considered to be the most bitter fruit given to us by nature. There are several varieties - those with roots in China are typically larger and slightly bumpy, while bitter melons from India are smaller and covered in green warts.


Cut them in half, blanche in water (optional, to remove excess bitterness), and then saute lightly with your favorite spices for a simple preparation. To learn more about this fabulous food, check out The National Bitter Melon Council, an organization that promotes awareness of this funny-looking fruit, while also building awareness around the importance of welcoming bitter foods and sensations into our lives. From the Council's website:


"This world cannot be understood through sweetness alone, i.e. embracing of only all that is pleasing and easy on the (mental, emotional, physical) palette. In most understandings, bitterness is valued as a negative, repellent flavor and emotion, but fear and avoidance of bitterness lead to blandness and flatness in flavor and experience. Therefore, we assert that bitterness should be valued, period—as negative, positive, and everything in between. And we affirm our inextricable humanity and the interdependence of that humanity on the taste and experience of bitterness."

What bitter foods do you love? Tell us in the comments!