Summer: Keeping Pitta Dosha Calm, Cool and Collected
In Ayurveda, Summer is the season of the Pitta dosha. The days are lighter, longer and warmer as more hours of sunlight bring more exposure to the Fire element. Ayurveda invites us to pay attention to the qualities of each season, particularly if it is the season of our constitutional dosha (humour) type. Remembering a more literal translation of the Sanskrit word “dosha” makes sense of this advice. Dosha means fault or defect. This points us to the fact that the doshas are unstable and likely to go out of balance. And so, an essential part of health maintenance from an Ayurveda perspective is to constantly pay attention on the one hand to what aggravates or elevates our doshas, and on the other hand to what pacifies them. This we should be aware of in our lifestyle and food choices, the climates we are exposing ourselves to, and activities we participate in (including our professional and exercise activities). Awareness of our lifestyle and food becomes particularly pertinent when we are in the season of our constitutional type as each season has a governing dosha. Also, when we are in a climate which has the same qualities as our constitutional type, we need to be especially careful. For example, a cold and dry climate will potentially put those cold and dry qualities up within us in a way that will aggravate a Vata type, whereas a warm and humid climate will help to build the same within us, reducing those cold and dry qualities which can be dominant in Vata dosha types and thereby causing a Vata constitution to experience a greater sense of well-being. Conversely, put a Pitta type in a hot and humid climate and they are likely to experience these qualities increasing within themselves in a way that brings discomfort. A handshake when Pitta is elevated might reveal a hot and sweaty palm in a humid climate! Pitta types may, in fact, find themselves longing to visit cooler, drier climatic regions. We are all affected by the nature of each season but we will experience the effects of seasons and climate differently, according to our prakriti (natal constitution), or possibly our vikriti (disorder/disease).
The qualities of Pitta dosha are said to be\;
hot, sharp, light, spreading, oily, liquid.
Therefore, as “like increases like” and opposites reduce, to keep Pitta dosha pacified in the summer season reducing our exposure to these qualities, whilst increasing our exposure to the opposite qualities can be a great support to body and mind, particularly for Pitta types. The opposite qualities are:
cold, slow, heavy/grounding, stabilising.
Increasing our exposure to these qualities particularly during the summer season can help to antidote the effects of the season. However, be cautious and know that it is important to pay attention primarily to your own prakriti. For example, Kapha types are already cold and Vata types are said to be cool, so both Kapha and Vata types may still want to keep exposure to cooling substances reduced even during the summer months. Amongst the three doshas, Pitta dosha can manage best of all the increase in raw foods that we tend to eat as salads in the summer months. Vata dosha and Kapha dosha might find them more difficult to digest and also too cooling. Although, Ayurveda would suggest that all three doshas keep salads and raw foods to a minimum. Pitta dosha can digest them best and can eat them first, before warm foods. However, it is better for Kapha and Vata to eat warm foods first to nourish their less penetrating digestive fires and then to eat a small amount of salad only.
It’s also important to remember that Ayurveda advises actually that “cooling” rather than “cold” substances are taken, even in the case of Pitta dosha. Ice cold foods and drinks are not recommended for any dosha as they reduce the agni, digestive fire. Our agni needs to be kindled not reduced so that our systems can effectively process all that we ingest. Cold does not mean we should ingest frozen products or foods straight out of the fridge. It refers instead to the energetic effect of a substance, which can be heating or cooling. We have all experienced these energetic effects of foods, though we might not have thought of them this way. Obvious examples are chillis and mint. Chillis are pungent and heating, mint is cooling. How many of us enjoy a cooling mint raita alongside a super-hot curry? It is a matter of internal energetic effect rather than temperature. This summer, instead of drinking iced cold water, try sipping boiled water at a tepid temperature throughout the day to stay hydrated. And, I have heard actually that water that has been boiled has a molecular structure that is more hydrating than water that has not been boiled.
Particularly if you have a health condition, it’s always preferable to get individual guidance from a qualified Ayurveda practitioner before making any changes to your diet and daily routine. Ayurveda totally values your individual metabolism and works most effectively when that is assessed and addressed under the direction of an Ayurveda professional who can take all factors into account which might be impinging on your health and well-being. However, my hope in writing here is that you might get an inkling of the incredible intelligence and yet pure common sense, “back-to-basics”, very do-able fundamentals of the Ayurveda way of life and that that might entice you to bring some of Ayurveda’s wisdom into your own life. “Ayur-veda” translates as “Knowledge of Life. Ayurveda serves to reawaken us to the understanding of how Life works, how the nature that we are a part of works, both within us and around us. With this understanding, we know how to live in a way that brings us greater health and happiness.
In this summer season, why not try out a little Ayurveda living? Adapt your lifestyle, activities and food choices, at least in part, to accommodate the nature of the season? If you don’t have a Pitta type prakriti/vikriti, you could adapt to just some of the recommendations given below and see what happens. If you have a strongly Pitta prakriti/vikriti, you could make a commitment for a limited period of time to the Pitta-pacifying adjustments listed below….and see what happens. If are experiencing heat-related conditions (inflammatory ailments, headaches, conditions with burning sensations), please do seek professional Ayurvedic guidance. It’s a time-tested tradition with proven results.
Below is a selection of Ayurveda tips for keeping Pitta dosha happy and for positively aligning yourself with the nature of the Summer season. Please do let me know how you get on with them, or do write to me with your Ayurveda health questions. Wishing you wonderful Summer days!
12 AYURVEDA TIPS FOR SUMMER SEASON:
- Reduce/avoid spicy, pungent foods such as chillis, raw onions and garlic, mustard seeds. Salty, oily and sour or fermented foods should be reduced. This includes yoghurts and cheeses.
- Also reduce/avoid the nightshade family of foods. These contain glycoalkaloids which can have an inflammatory effect on the joints.
- Increase your intake of naturally sweet foods. This is a time of year to partake of more carbs for greater energy to carry us through more active days. Take them in the form of wholegrains which have a naturally sweet taste. Rice, quinoa, barley, oats, spelt are good choices. The sweet taste is cooling and pacifies Pitta dosha according to the teachings of Ayurveda.
- Bitter tastes will also help to pacify Pitta and these include summer season leafy greens, rhubarb and rocket.
- Favour spices and herbs that are not so heating. Coriander, mint, and saffron are good. Fennel and ginger (if it is wet, not the dried powder version) can be a good way to nourish the digestion without creating more heat.
- A good choice of oils are cold pressed olive or sunflower oils.
- Alcohol and coffee have a heating effect on the system whereas a room temperature fresh water with a slice of cucumber or sprig of fresh mint, or mint teas, can have a more soothing cooling effect.
- Exercising outside of the Pitta times of day, 10am – 2pm is advisable.
- Choose activities that are not highly competitive. That drive that enables Pitta to attain so much can also have a heating effect on the body and mind. Cycling and swimming are perfect choices in the summer months.
- Gentle flowing exercise routines such as slow yoga flow sequences are a good style to opt for, challenging enough to be satisfying but also with a focus on relaxing the effort.
- The Yogic breathing practices called Sitali or Sitkari breath (please see my previous Kindred Spirit article for instructions on Sitkari breathing) have a cooling effect on body and mind.
- Resting in savasana on the cooling earth, with a focus on relaxing into the end of effortlessly lengthening exhalations is a wonderful way to ground and calm our system.
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