Ayurvedic Approach to Spring Cleaning – Home, Body, Mind
You can almost taste it. You can certainly smell it. From that first rainfall on a mildly chilly day in late winter, there’s that quality in the air — is it the scent of softening soil? A change in the wind? The beginning stages of new life — buds and grasses and flowers — still invisible beneath the earth, but nonetheless preparing for their emergence?
Whatever the origins of that mysterious quality, springtime is unmistakable, and universally welcomed. Nearly every culture celebrates the approach of spring, and many of those celebrations incorporate “spiritual cleaning” as well as rigorous housecleaning rituals. The general idea is that thoroughly cleaning one’s home rids it of any bad luck of the past year, and prepares it to be filled with good luck from the coming year. Here’s a look at some of the spring traditions around the world:
The holiday known as “Nowruz,” which means “new day,” falls on the first day of spring and is celebrated in Iran, Iraq, Georgia, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. In Iran, Nowruz is celebrated over the course of 13 days and includes extensive housecleaning, purchasing new clothing, and paying visits to family and friends. On the thirteenth day of the festival, celebrants picnic outside with their families to symbolically renunciate the bad luck traditionally associated with the number 13. The term for their housecleaning ritual is Khaneh-Tekani, which translates to "shaking house," and their deep-cleaning goes far beyond what most of us would consider doing; everything gets cleaned: curtains, furniture, bedding, silverware; the garden gets cleaned of its winter debris, while some people even paint the whole house!
“Holi” is celebrated among largely Hindu populations in South Asia. In this “Festival of Color,” people throw colored powders and water at each other. While secular participation is also widespread, the holiday originates in Hindu myth — bonfires lit the day before the colorful festival symbolically represent the great faith that sustained Prahlad, a follower of Lord Vishnu, when he was seized and burnt by Holika, a demoness.
Every March 1st in Bulgaria, they celebrate the coming of spring with "Baba Marta" (Grandmother March), a symbolic woman whose smiling arrival heralds the end of winter. According to folklore, it’s believed that the final snow of the season is really Baba Marta shaking out her feather bed during her own spring cleaning. On March 1st, and during the days that follow, people give each other red-and-white tokens in the form of strips, ornaments or a pair of small woolen dolls, called Martenitsas, which they wear, usually around their wrists, until the first buds of spring emerge or the first spring birds start chirping, at which point the Martenitsas are then tied to trees to acknowledge spring.
In preparation for Chinese New Year, the most important day on the Chinese Lunisolar calendar, people give their homes a thorough cleaning. Following the Cantonese saying, “Wash away the dirt on NinYaBaat,” (the 28th day of the 12th month — though the cleaning isn’t restricted to only that day), people rigorously sweep dust and dirt from their homes, symbolically sweeping away bad luck. They fix anything that may be broken, and they tidy their doors and entryways. Then upon the first few days of the New Year, cleaning supplies are tucked away to avoid any accidental “sweeping away” of newly-arrived good fortune.
Certainly your spring cleaning practice(s) need not be so involved, but the universality of spring cleaning speaks to how beneficial it is. It improves not only physical surroundings, but can boost energy levels, mood and outlook.
Here are a few things we all can do to get the most out of this time of the year...
Cleanliness is Next to...
This tip starts with a personal anecdote. I’ve heard people say that creative folks flourish in messy environments. While that may hold true for some, it’s generally accepted that a clean and orderly space begets an orderly life. I have experience in both settings: I can do creative work while surrounded by chaos (or perhaps despite being surrounded by chaos), but I do my best work — my mind is clearer and I can better focus on the task at hand — when there’s a level of order in my surroundings. I started my “spring cleaning” last November (okay, maybe it was a bit early) by decluttering. But instead of the “recommended” method of going through my home and getting rid of anything I hadn’t used, seen or touched in the last 6-12 months, I identified the items in my home that I wanted to keep, and I let the rest go. (My friends got first pick of everything I was giving away, and I took the remainder to Goodwill.) This simple change in perspective helped immensely, and I easily tripled the amount of stuff I gave away (with zero regrets!). Now I’m surrounded by only things I really love. I recommend adopting a similar decluttering style, or a style that works for you — listen to your heart, as it’s the best way to honor yourself, your home and your possessions.
Infusing your environment with natural aromas is a wonderful and inexpensive way to spice up your home. Invest in an electric diffuser and some aromatherapeutic oils for the home. Either our Kapha Aroma Oil or our Sniffle Free Aroma Oil is perfect for the beginning of spring, with their stimulating and energizing qualities.
Adequate sleep is always important, but it’s especially important when we are trying to maintain balance around the change of the seasons. If you climb into bed by 10:00 p.m. and awaken before 6:00 a.m., or at sunrise, whichever is later, your sleep will be deep and restful. Our Blissful Sleep and Worry Free herbals (Vata-balancing) help you fall asleep faster and enjoy deeper and more refreshing sleep, and our Deep Rest supports sleeping through the night (Pitta-balancing), and falling back asleep more easily if awakened. Tip: Try to eat your evening meal at least three hours before bedtime, and make sure it’s well-cooked and easy to digest. This lighter meal at dinnertime is one way to set the foundation for a sound night of sleep. When we eat a heavy dinner, or eat too close to bedtime, we are telling our body to do two opposing things: “settle and sleep,” and “stay active and digest.” The result is that we wake up not completely rested and with inefficient digestion.
Start each morning by brushing your teeth, and also scraping your tongue. (Learn more about the practice here.) This helps remove any ama (toxins) buildup from the previous night. Then, before (or after) bathing, massage your skin with warm Organic Sesame Oil (read more about abhyanga), as this helps to lubricate and tone skin, muscles and joints, as well as improving circulation and calming the mind. It’s a great start to the day!
Free the Mind
Try an experiment: for one week, if your work and responsibilities allow, take a (spring) break from all electronic communication and social media. (I can almost see the horrified grimaces, but hear me out.) A technology fast can bring about peace and mental clarity heretofore unknown to the majority of people nowadays. It’s easy to get caught up in the stress, negativity and pressure of our jobs, emails, Facebook, news stories, etc., and like the parable of the boiling frog, it’s difficult for many people to even realize how adversely they’re affected by “information overload” until and unless they remove themselves from it. Start small if starting big just seems too horrific… try one or two hours every evening before bed without being wired. Tip: Trouble falling asleep? Try watching a sunset in silence. While we’re at it, adding Transcendental Meditation® to our lives brings that peace and mental clarity to a whole new level. If Transcendental Meditation is not an option, or you are already practicing another technique, try renewing your commitment to some time of inner silence each day.
Take It Outside
Springtime is the ideal time to get out and enjoy the world. Spending time outside, and especially reconnecting with nature, after months of being cooped up in our heated homes and offices boosts energy, optimism and creativity. If you stay sedentary and continue eating the heavier foods of winter, you could be headed for the kinds of Kapha imbalances prevalent in spring — allergen reactions and other respiratory issues, sluggishness, dullness of mind and weight gain. Cardio activities including walking, hiking, cycling and swimming help the body emerge out of the dormancy of winter. Consider Triphala — our Organic Digest Tone (Triphala Plus) helps as a daily detox of the colon (removal of ama is a huge part of overall health, including joint health); Joint Soothe II to aid occasional aches and stiffness; and Osteo Relief to help support healthy joints and bone tissue. Fatigue Free and Organic Premium Amla Berry can assist in lifting the veil of lethargy and promote vitality and vigor.
Eat According to the Season
To avoid typical spring discomforts, it’s recommended to change to a light, easily-digestible diet during Kapha season (spring). Opt for food that strengthens digestive power: light, easy-to-digest organic rices such as jasmine or basmati rice; chapatis; light soups; fresh salads (as a side dish); and vegetables such as radishes, courgette (the zucchini family), fennel, bok choy or cauliflower.
For something different, try cooking 50/50 light rice with a sticky (sweet) rice. Ripe fruit, sweet fruit juices, and grains such as millet and barley are all water-soluble and promote purification and elimination of ama (toxic buildup) from the body. When it comes to spicing dishes, on the other hand, more is just fine. Hot, warming spices, such as ginger, coriander, cumin, turmeric, pepper or the spice mixture Organic Kapha Churna stimulate digestion. Taking Organic Genitrac, Elim-Tox (or Elim-Tox-O for Pitta) and Herbal Cleanse together makes a powerfully effective whole-body detox! Additionally, take Radiant Skin for healthy, glowing skin, and Organic Digest Tone (Triphala Plus) to cleanse and tone the digestive system. Bio-Immune supports natural immunity, helps detoxify the blood and liver, promotes cellular regeneration, and is balancing to all three of the doshas. For more information about the doshas (Vata, Pitta and Kapha) and their characteristics when in and out of balance, see this quick-reference chart.
Springtime has qualities unlike any other time of the year: renewal, growth, awakening. This season inspires us to start fresh, and by following some or all of these tips, we can put our healthiest, happiest, most vibrant selves forward. Look out, world — nothing can stop us now!
The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.