As we move into the Spring Season, there is an essence of new possibilities. It’s time to get out with friends, explore nature, and look to lighten up. As Winter becomes a past tense, we are often still left with lethargy, sluggishness, a sense of bloat, and often extra cravings. What are these cravings? They almost always appear as a need for a certain type of food – rarely on our “good food for me” list, and they often have emotional underpinnings. Perhaps they hint at things we may not want to explore right now; or things we know, but it’s so much easier to just sate that food craving than to address. Cravings can reflect to us a need for a certain nutrient or adjunct that our body is currently low on too; more magnesium, better sleep, more movement, increased hydration, etc.
Cravings are often seen as negative or denoting a weakness, but we could instead view cravings as our body’s communication pathway. For example, a craving to use the bathroom or get good sleep are body communications merely seeking to bring us back to balance. It is more how our mind interprets the craving, moves it through our emotional pathways, and what our current lifestyles and habitual patterning are allowing in the moment. In fact, if left to our wise “body” communicating with us exactly what we need, we would be great. Unfortunately, what stands between that and our reasoning is our “monkey minds,” – playing tricks on our perception, playing into our emotions, wreaking havoc over a body system that is basically perfect in its creation. So, what can we do?
I fully believe that we can get on top of this response. We can bring in our sensory awareness, focus on techniques and ideas to stay grounded, and give ourselves reality checks at different points in our day. We can shift, re-pattern, create new pathways, quell the monkey-mind…become renewed once again. Remember, the body is very intelligent. And, it really does ask for what it needs.
So, what are good ways to approach these much-needed changes? Spring is the time of year to really focus on removing held obstacles – anything from cleaning out our clothes closets, the garage junk, cleansing our bodies and delving deeper into our meditation practices.
When I focus on releasing habits no longer serving me, especially during the Spring time shift, I look to ways to restore my vitality. When I feel more vital and alive, there is a bigger shift that occurs. I’m more in tune with myself, and have less need to satisfy cravings that do not benefit me in the long run. Here are some ideas:
1. *Hydrate – So many people move around in a state of dehydration. Dehydration, which occurs when the body has insufficient water and other fluids to function properly, can have adverse effects on mood and energy. While lack of water can send the message that you are thirsty, the first sign of dehydration is often mild hunger, and food cravings. If you’re cravings have appeared, always start with a glass of water. Wait 10 minutes and see if there is a difference. Other symptoms might include: muscle tightness or spasms, dry skin, bad breath, or headaches.
2. *Value your sleep time – Getting good sleep, and more than 7 hours per night, is found to create a healthier endocrine system, a more balanced blood sugar level, and greater resilience in times of stress. With that in balance, there are fewer cravings for quick sugar highs and stimulants.
3. *Stop Grazing – Snacking between main meals creates a dependence on our system that burns sugars (carbohydrates) as its main fuel source. This can more easily create addictions or cravings for things that provide temporary relief, but come back with a vengeance. This is especially true between the hours of 3pm and 6pm, when our society in general has trained itself for the afternoon sugar and caffeine fix. The Ayurvedic approach would be to eat 3 healthy meals daily, with the mid-day meal being the largest and most complex. The last meal of the day should be early evening so that the body then has a natural fast period until breakfast the next day. This fast is ideally best if it can be between 12 and 16 hours long. Why? The body is then encouraged to burn its own fat stores for greater fuel efficiency. When fat is burned as the primary fuel, it creates a natural calmness and clarity in the mind, better sleep, fewer cravings, and is a known technique to establishing a healthy body weight.
Truly, if only one of these ideas for decreasing cravings were followed, I would recommend it be this one.
4. *Get past your allergens and stimulants – What foods and other substances create allergic responses in our bodies? These can set up a negative feedback loop, where the body continues to crave the same things that can cause it unrest and imbalance. Such allergens might include glutens, sugars, dairy products, and alcohol, for example. You don’t have to break out in hives or go into anaphylactic shock to be allergic to something. Try elimination diets or a cleanse and watch how your body responds as you add things back slowly. Stimulant rich items, such as coffee, alcohol, and other social drugs can create a similar response, and even lead to addictions. The biggest one for most is probably coffee – our society has created whole hierarchies of why you need it. Instead, look to taper off, add green tea instead, a diluted splash of fresh juice to sparking water, and tulsi tea for deeper nervous system balancing.
5. *Take a Nap – Or better yet, learn to cultivate a daily Yoga Nidra Practice. This ancient art of deep relaxation not only helps to shift and nourish your nervous system, but also helps cut down on the nasty stress hormones that wreak havoc on our bodies. Twenty minutes daily can provide a wonderful rejuvenation. The late afternoon doldrums that produce cravings for sweets and caffeine can become a thing of the past if the body/mind is feeling fully refreshed as well.
6. *Eat with the Seasons – Before we became a truly global economy, most of our food was locally grown. It was simpler, you only got certain types of foods at certain times of year. Now, you can find any type of food year-round, and there are many correlations to this global sort of eating pattern and allergens. When we simplify and eat with the seasons, we can begin to balance our body, giving it what it really needs. Remember, we are nature! In the Spring season, what we see in nature is berries, and lots of fresh greens. When Summer starts to shine more fully, we will want more cooling foods, and will see that there are more varieties of fresh veggies and melons ready to be sourced locally. Fall brings us to the time of grounding and preparing for Winter so we will want more root foods as well as nuts. And finally, Winter is more the time for heat producing foods like greater oils/fats and meats.
7. *Learn to Tune In – Tuning in to our own deeper needs can help us to cultivate a greater clarity of what habits, tools, items, foods would be best for us. One excellent tool I have used over the last 15 years has been working with my nasal dominance patterns. Gleaned from the ancient Swara Yoga practices of India, becoming aware of which nostril is more dominant at different times of the day, and correlating that to other things going on, such as hunger cravings has really helped me keep my own body weight and energy levels at a balanced place. Just a little bit on this: left nostril dominance is more a time for relaxing and resting (not eating); right nostril dominance is when we should eat, because we will have greater metabolism.
8. *Seek the Source – Always ask yourself the source of your depletion. If you take time to listen, cultivate quietness – your inner self will answer you. From this place of inquiry, develop steps to change habits and shift responses. It’s better to cut down on what you know doesn’t do well in your body and mind (from food to with whom you’re choosing to hang out). A daily quiet practice is a great place to begin. I like to do early morning meditation outside as the sun is coming up, some people prefer a corner of a room with a simple altar. What matters is that you feel comfortable moving inward.
* I find I have a craving. If I step in asking myself for a reality check, especially in the afternoon when I’m trying to push through a day without a break, I see that my craving for sweets is really my body asking to focus on restoring my deeper energy reserves. Checking in on my hydration levels, I often find that what I really need is some good water to drink. If I go deeper, I know that I really could use a 20-minute Yoga Nidra, or a simple power nap. When I get past my monkey mind and allow true body wisdom to take over, guess what? I’m not as interested in those sweets. So, that’s the basic solution. I could take it deeper of course, looking at why I overbooked in the first place, why I didn’t schedule good rest for myself, why I always seek to take care of everyone else first, or if what I’m really craving is some yummy nourishment, like a massage, a walk with a friend, some downtime with a good book, or deeper intimacy with a loved one. Oh my…looks like I just laid out some of my Springtime needs!
It boils down to listen to your body and be kind to yourself. Make a vow to yourself of rejuvenation as you step into this Spring-time season; take it in steps; the goal is no less than high-level wellness.