I remember the first time I was officially introduced to the plant Osha. I was living in the mountains of Colorado at the time, studying meditation and yoga asana at a residential ashram and retreat center. One of the yoga teacher trainees at the time was very enthusiastic about the native plants surrounding the center. On a break one day, she tugged me along the trail I had previously only known to lead to the infamous painted Buddha Rocks. She warned me about how Osha grew very similarly to a poisonous hemlock plant, and how their leaves have, on occasion, been confused by foragers. As she taught me to carefully dig up the moist earthy root of an Osha plant, she assured me the best way to distinguish this medicinal plant from its lookalike hemlock was by the scent of the root. Osha roots have a smell that I can only really compare to that of celery…a ripe, almost rotting celery stalk. Earthy and invigorating at the same time. The smell of the root, overtook my senses – with its’ sharp, Vick’s menthol rub-like quality.
Over the next few weeks, I became pretty enthralled with my new plant ally: figuring out ways to harvest it sustainably, process its thick and complicated root parts, and of course, turn it into wonderful plant medicine! I learned about how Native American people had originally observed the black bear’s affinity for Osha…how mountain-dwelling tribes had witnessed the bears eating the root, upon emerging from hibernation in the spring. The root was believed to aid digestive processes and get stagnant and sleepy-from-hibernation systems moving once again. Bears were observed chewing the roots and mashing the juice of them into the fur of their chest and stomach…amazing! Did someone mention Vick’s Vapor rub? We too, like our four-legged friends, can nurture and support the body’s natural processes, as it transitions from one season to the next. We may consciously support our cyclical transformations, and encourage the body-mind to do so with more grace and ease.
As signs of spring are just beginning in my neck of the woods, I cannot help but think about the black bear and all of the things it has taught us about co-existing in our environment. I am grateful for all of the medicine we have inherited simply by observing how plants and food have been used in nature by other creatures, and I pray that we will continue to have this opportunity. Many of us, like the mountain bear, may feel like we are coming out of deep hibernation about now. March is a time of deep thawing, from frozen field to sculpted stream. And while few of us may claim status as a full-blown naturalist or field ecologist, all it may take it one or two simple lay observations of nature to completely reframe our experience of wellness in relation to the season. For example, notice the critters springing back to life? Perhaps its time to get outside and get moving once again, to combat the lingering sluggishness of winter months. See how the rivers melt and begin to flow again? Let this shape your understanding of the great internal thaw, as congestion and stagnancy in the body’s tissues ‘melts’ and begins to circulate in the body. Note the scarcity of heavy, rich foods and the growing abundance of lighter and more bitter tastes presenting in nature – perhaps these are the most conducive to our spring digestion. Allow yourself to make the changes you need to feel your best during this time of renewal.
Because of my work in the food service industry, the question “How are you?” is posed quite often, several times a day, in fact. And since I have never been one to give mindless answers to personal inquiry, this dynamic is conducive to a lot of daily self-reflection. This year, I am noticing how the spring seems to offer the most variation in my day-to-day experience. Today? “Oh, I feel amazing. Really springing back to life!” Yesterday? “Blechh! I felt like a stick in the mud. Congested and lethargic. Is it okay to just crawl back into bed?” March, specifically, is notorious for its dramatic fluctuations in climate and weather patterns, and we would be foolish to think that our bodies and souls are any exception to this phenomenon. That’s right…I’m here to tell you that it’s NOT JUST YOU! We are all a bit more discombobulated with this particular seasonal transition, and upon reflection, it just makes sense. As a co-worker was describing to me yesterday, “it’s like everything feels a bit more chaotic right now…people are all over the place, teeming with this sort of new energy that has yet to settle into form or function.” Imagine all of those beautiful seeds and bulbs, just below the earth’s surface this spring, just beginning to stir and circulate life potential as they prepare to sprout. I think of most things in energetic terms – everything is energy right? So while I am certainly no expert in physics, I find myself romanticizing the vast energy that must build up in a seed before it is able to split open into a life-bearing sprout. Seems as though a certain amount of wild, a certain degree of freedom, is required for this to take place. The chaos, the discomfort, the wildness and the lack of form may just be key ingredients in the of rebirth and renewal of spring. It may be counterproductive to expect our human experience to be any different.
Observe your own thaw, notice the ways the body, the mind, and the soul are responding to this shift and trust that we are all moving into new life together. I encourage you to find ways to keep checking in. Perhaps you don’t have a line of people asking you how you are throughout today…that’s just fine. There are infinite ways to incorporate moment’s of quiet reflection to your day. This is the perfect time of year to give attention to daily routine and to choose moments of consciousness. Sit in quiet observation for 5 minutes upon waking and going to sleep. Establish a daily walking route that allows you to observe your environment and the condition of your physical being – no cell phones or head phones required required. 😉 Try a digestive lie-down ritual after your evening meal, lying on your left side for 10 minutes of quiet contemplation. Notice your shift in appetite, as the body moves from storage to release. Act accordingly. Eat when you are hungry, rest when it is needed, and push through any resistance that may attempt to keep you from fully transitioning this spring.
My wellness reading suggested that my constitutional imbalances would begin softening with the change of season – my Vata energy, aggravated by cold and dry, would happily welcome the increasing temperatures and growing humidity of March. However, as I sought these effects this year, I met frustration and disappointment. Sure, temperatures in the northern Midwest are growing, but slowly and with more dramatic day to nighttime fluctuations. Absolutely, there is more moisture in the air as the earth thaws, but it has left me mostly feeling damp and cold, with little invitation to get outside and get moving to warm up. So, I had to adjust my expectations and begin finding ways to invest in my personal observations. I have a secret to share…There was a two-week period this month, where I literally took a hot bath everyday. It was the only way I felt I could warm myself to the core, and seemed to be the only way I was comfortable enough to get myself moving on my yoga mat or for a short walk in the woods. And while I may regret my attempts to balance upon receiving my next water bill (!), I am definitely proud of myself for stepping away from my intellectual experience of spring long enough to tend to the actual. One of my goals for this month’s blog is not to tell you what you may expect this season, but rather, to encourage you to sharpen your own skills of observation, while also empowering yourself to know your own best remedies. What will serve as your Osha root this spring?
I continue to reference the nature of our imbalances…”Vata energy” this and “Ayurvedic approach” to that. If you are still wondering about your own constitution, or what the heck that even means, there are many great ways to find out more. And while, in my opinion, nothing beats the value of real human connection and dialogue around well-being, you may not have the time or wish to connect to an Ayurvedic doctor or some other holistic practitioner. That is just fine. There are a number of questionnaires you can fill out online to learn more about your “type,” or constitution, as we say in Ayurveda. Familiarity with the language of Ayurveda really helped me begin to experience myself and my environment in a more specific way – with an understanding of energetics, descriptive qualities and the elemental basis of all things. It’s like having a new way to understand my daily experiences, and more importantly, a new way to address my own wellness needs. Tools for empowerment…boom. Could be just what you need to initiate/expand upon the process described above, to do as the bear has taught us. The websites for Banyan Botanicals and Joyful Belly Ayurveda both offer comprehensive guides for getting to know your constitution, which I highly recommend. Links may be found at the bottom of this post.
In conclusion, I would like to leave you all with a suggestion: Know that the season is changing, and so too, are we. Use the lingering energies of winter to embrace quiet observations about how and why the shifts are taking place in your own life, and the growing energy of spring to support the process. Give yourself permission to dance with the rhythms of nature, trusting that this is the most direct way to fulfill our destinies. We have a huge, and at times such as this, overwhelming responsibility to the Earth, and all of its inhabitants. So much healing and change is needed of us right now – just look around you, have conversations with strangers, notice the headlines. I truly believe the only way we can support this greater process is by tending to our individual being first. We must fill up our own cup, if we wish to have anything of use to offer others. After all, the infinite life potential of the coming year is encompassed in the tiniest of spring seeds. Nourish them now.I fully intended to celebrate this month’s Equinox by diving into an important cleansing process that I could share with you all. However, by observing my actual experiences, I became aware that the timing was not quite right – my field remains unfurrowed. March has really been about waking up to what is for me…how about you? Stay tuned for my April post, where I will offer guidance and reflections on a Spring Cleanse, including an opportunity to participate in a gently guided online cleanse, informed by Ayurvedic principles and available to you wherever you might be.
Osha wisdom: JoAnne Dodgson Touching the Sacred