We welcomed summer with the passing of the Solstice, but as the summer really heats up, the rising temperatures may not always feel so welcoming. Luckily, Ayurveda, Yoga’s sister science, offers a few simple tips for beating the heat and staying cool this season.
Central to the philosophy of Ayurveda is that we are made of three vital energies or doshas. These doshas, classified as pitta (fire), vata (air), and kapha (earth), can become imbalanced by lifestyle habits, unhealthy eating, stress, overwork, or the seasons. In terms of seasonal influence, summer heat and sun can cause an increase or imbalance of pitta, or the fire element.
Causes and Signs of Pitta Imbalance
In general, pitta may accumulate as a result of prolonged stress or erratic lifestyle habits. Other causes include seasonal factors such as excess heat and sunlight; salty, greasy or spicy foods; and the use of televisions, phones, and computers.
Areas affected by access pitta include the skin, metabolism, small intestine, eyes, liver and hair. Symptoms of imbalance include skin disorders such as eczema; premature hair loss; digestive problems such as diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome; heartburn; profuse sweating or hot flashes; bad breath; sleep disorders, especially insomnias; hormonal deficiencies; excessive hunger; blotchy or yellowish skin; inflammatory conditions; and weak liver or poorly functioning detoxification processes.
Traditional Ayurvedic Therapies
Panchakarma, or the five actions, is a cleansing and rejuvenation program traditionally used in Ayurveda to harmonize the body, mind, and spirit. Virechana, or purgation therapy, is a Panchakarma therapy that is often used to eliminate pitta accumulation in the small intestine. It usually consists of taking a purgative substance or gentle laxative to eliminate pitta by cleansing the blood, liver, spleen, small intestine, and sweat glands. Herbs commonly used for Virechana include senna leaf, aloe vera, dandelion, psyllium seed, and shatavari (Asparagus racemosus). Other herbs commonly used in Panchakarma therapies include turmeric, yellow dock, and cleavers (Galium aparine). Conditions that respond well to such herbs include eczema, acne, fevers, hemorrhoids, and genital herpes. As home remedies and by Ayurvedic prescription, Brahmi, Bhringaraj, and Gudachi are also commonly used to remove excess pitta from the body.
Abhyanga massage or whole body massage is a therapy used in Ayurveda, but is also a wonderful addition to your yogic self-care routine. The massage consists of rubbing the appropriate oil, such as one for your Ayurvedic constitution or one that will counteract any imbalance you have, over the entire body. This is done with a combination of strokes, such as kneading, tapping, rubbing, and squeezing, that usually lead or stroke towards the heart. Massage your chest, breasts, abdomen, and joints with circular, clockwise strokes. In summer, choose cooling oils such as coconut, sandalwood, sunflower, almond, or pumpkin seed oil. After your oil massage, step into a steam sauna or a hot shower so that the pores open and the oils can be absorbed deep into your tissues for maximum therapeutic benefit.
Gem therapy is sometimes used in Ayurveda as a way to increase or reduce the affect of particular doshas. Interestingly, the use of gems as therapy is most effective for reducing pitta, so wearing gems in summer is an easy and beautiful way to stay cool. Pearls, mother-of-pearls, and moonstone are most often used to treat pitta imbalances and inflammatory conditions. The energies of the gems can also be transmitted by soaking them in water overnight to create an essence of the stone that is then sipped.
Summer Eating and Other Tips
Drinking cold water and eating foods that do not aggravate pitta is most helpful to keep pitta in check during the summer months. Food should be mostly warm to cool rather than very hot. Cold, soft foods such as fruits and vegetables will cool the body. Avoid too much heat-producing or spicy food. Instead, favor the sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes such as rice, coconut, Brussels sprouts, and asparagus. Apples, buckwheat, and quinoa are especially astringent, and artichokes, cucumber, and dandelion greens are classified as bitters. Use tomatoes, lemon, and pungent spice more sparingly. Try cooking with basil, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, dill, dulse, fennel, fresh ginger, and mint leaves instead of pungent or hot spices. Honey tends to be warming, so you might try stevia, a natural sweetener, instead. Replace sour lemon with bitter lime in your meals and drinks. Begin and end meals with sweet tasting foods. Alcohol and coffee should be avoided or reduced.
Wear perfumes and fragrances that have a pleasant, cooling smell. Pastes of herbs such as camphor, sandalwood, and vetiver can be applied to the skin. Avoid extremely hot baths and showers. Visit places, such as parks, that have fountains, ponds, and other water elements. Avoid overactivity, finish work on time, and avoid stressful deadlines. Regular meditation, yoga, and relaxing into the Universal Flow will be of great benefit. One of the best remedies for pitta is to deeply surrender. Remember, whatever you do, pitta needs cooling and moderation. We hope you stay cool and enjoy your summer!
Love, Light, & Aliveness!
Oat bran muffin with Earth Balance or wheat granola
Mint tea with stevia or maple syrup
Ayurvedic herbs like Brahmi, Bhringaraj, and Guduchi
Chapati (similar to roti)
Basmati or saffron rice with vegetables
Bitter melon or green beans, small salad with oil dressing
Squash, moong dal khichdi (rice and split yellow beans), or fried kidney beans
Fresh lime for beans
Mint or coriander chutney
Mint tea or other tea
Coconut or oatmeal cookies
Seasonal fruit, sweet apple, or pear
Cool almond or soy milk with rosewater
Hot almond milk or spiced milk with turmeric (best 30 min before bed)
Potato vegetable curry
Mixed vegetable or lentil soup
Tofu scramble eggless omelette with squash and zucchini
Roasted, ground sunflower seeds to sprinkle on soup
Fresh lime for soup or tea
Mint tea or digestive tea (ex. Ginger)