Staying Cool with Ayurveda & Yoga
In summer, you can likely ascribe the cause of imbalances such as skin eruptions, irritability, short-temperedness, and an overly critical and/or judgmental disposition, to excess heat.
The body is made up of the five great elements, known as the Pancha Maha Bhutas. They are from subtlest to grossest-space—ether, air, fire, water, and earth.
Ayurveda applies the simple concept of ‘like increases like’ to describe what happens when more of those elements come into the body by way of what we are exposed to in our diets, environments, and lifestyles. Therefore, makes sense that the heat of summer can set the stage for vitiations to occur from an over-abundance of the fire element. Being subjected to the hotter summer temperatures can easily create a build-up of heat inside the body.
While some people can’t wait for summer and love to linger outdoors, others languish in the heat and run for the relief of an air-conditioned abode. Why do some of us have less tolerance for the heat of summer than others? Because the amount of the five elements differs from person to person and one person can, innately, have more fire element than another.
For instance, you may know someone who easily “gets hot under the collar” or has a very competitive nature. This is due to a pre-dominance of the fire element. So, it makes sense that he or she would be inclined to get over-heated more easily and be more driven or “fiery.” Ayurvedically speaking, this heating energy is referred to as being pitta pre-dominant. (Technically speaking, pitta is composed of fire and water, but mainly fire.)
THE PITTA PROFILE
Pitta’s heat gives it the ability to digest and transform. This refers to the digestion and transformation of nutrients into the body by way of our sense of taste and the digestion and transformation of what our other senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch) experience as well. Pitta is governed by the summer season and has tastes, qualities, organs, and traits accompanied by it.
Recalling the concept of, ‘like increases like,’ it would then make sense that by applying the opposite qualities balance can be restored.
PITTA: THAT WHICH DIGESTS THINGS
Elements: fire & water (mainly fire)
Qualities: hot, sharp, oily, penetrating, mobile, liquid, spreading
Qualities that balance: dry, cool, subtle, slow, steady, dispersing, smooth, soft
Organs: small intestine, liver, gall bladder, spleen, skin
Typical digestion: sharp/strong (can tend toward loose bowel movements)
Balanced traits: perceptive, intelligent, goal-oriented, passionate
Imbalanced traits: irritable, judgmental, aggressive, lacking in compassion-especially for one’s self, short-tempered, overly driven
Tastes: pungent, sour, salty
Tastes that balance: sweet, bitter, astringent
PITTA BALANCING LIFESTYLE
- Practice moderation in all activities, as pitta tends to be intense. Make time for rest, relaxation, meditation, and fun. Chill out, and practice compassion for yourself and others.
- Drink plenty of room temp water, avoid pungent spices, salt, fermented, sour foods, and fried foods, and reduce/avoid caffeine and alcohol. Eat more bitter, astringent, sweet foods.
- Keep cool, avoid saunas, hot baths/showers. Instead, favor swimming in a lake or pool.
- Exercise: walk in nature, do non-competitive activities— swimming, hiking, moderate yoga, tai-chi— take easy to moderate night walks or moon bathe.
- Drink half your ideal body weight in ounces of water. (“ideal” means healthy ideal.) Drink more water if you sweat.
- Avoid cold water, warm or room temperature water is best.
- Do not drink water or other beverages with your meals, just take small sips of water if necessary.
- Drinking a glass of water 15–30 minutes before a meal is good for digestion. It gets the fire going.
Six Things that Decrease as a Result of Dehydration
- Blood volume
- Blood pressure
- Sweat rate
- Cardiac output
- Blood flow to the skin
Four Things that Increase from Dehydration
- Core temperature
- Heart rate
- Perceived exertion
- Use of muscle glycogen
Athletes, pay special attention: as little as 2% of fluid loss will adversely affect circulatory functions and decrease performance levels. Drink up, buttercup!
Sunrise, sunset, menstruation, and the hibernation of animals are examples of circadian rhythms. Our bodies and the universe have internal clocks that are set for different activities to be performed at different times of the day, week, month, and year.
Pitta time is from 10:00 am–2:00 pm and 10:00 pm–2:00 am. This is when the digestive fire (agni) is strongest. Therefore, the biggest meal should be eaten between 10:00 am–2:00 pm. From 10:00 pm–2:00 am, the body is doing its job of detoxifying and fat burning. Avoid eating late to give your body a chance to fully digest your last meal so that it can go on to the task of detoxing and fat burning.
FOODS TO FAVOR FOR PITTA BALANCING
It is fascinating how foods can be friends or foes. Seasonal eating is one of the tenets of healthy eating. Cross-reference your area’s seasonal food list with this list of foods to favor when possible.
Sweet apples, sweet apricots, avocado, sweet berries, sweet cherries, coconut, dates, figs, red and purple grapes, limes in moderation, mango, melons, sweet oranges, papaya in moderation, pears, sweet pineapple, sweet plums, pomegranates, prunes, raisins, watermelon
Artichoke, asparagus, cooked beets, bitter melon, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cooked carrots, raw carrots in moderation, cauliflower, celery, cilantro, cucumber, dandelion greens, fennel, green beans, Jerusalem artichoke, kale, leafy greens, cooked leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, okra, black olives, cooked onions, parsley parsnips, peas, sweet peppers, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, cooked radishes, rutabaga, spaghetti squash, sprouts-not spicy, summer squash, taro root, watercress in moderation, wheat grass sprouts, zucchini
Amaranth, barley, couscous, Durham flour, granola, oat bran, cooked oats, pancakes, pasta, rice(basmati, wild, white), rice cakes, seitan, spelt, tapioca, wheat, wheat bran
Aduki, black, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, kidney, lentils (brown and red), mung, navy, dried peas, pinto, soy beans, split peas, tofu, white beans
Unsalted butter, cheese (soft, unsalted, not aged), cottage cheese, cow’s milk, ghee, goat’s milk, goat’s cheese (soft, unsalted), yogurt (in moderation)
Black pepper, dulse, hijiki, kombu, and tamari (all in moderation); sweet mango chutney; cilantro leaves; sprouts (not spicy)
Almonds (soaked and peeled), coconut
Flax, halva, pumpkin (in moderation), sunflower
Avocado, coconut, flax seed, ghee, olive, sunflower, walnut
Almond milk, aloe vera juice, apple juice, apricot juice, sweet berry juice, carob, sweet cherry juice, grain “coffee,” grape juice, mango juice, mixed vegetable juice, peach nectar, pear juice, pomegranate juice, prune juice, vegetable bouillon; and in moderation, black tea, chai, miso broth, and orange juice
Alfalfa, bancha, barley, blackberry, borage, burdock, catnip, chamomile, chicory, comfrey, dandelion, fennel, fresh ginger (in moderation), hibiscus, hops, jasmine, kukicha, lavender, lemon balm, lemongrass, licorice (no if high blood pressure), marshmallow, nettle, oat straw, passion flower, peppermint, raspberry, red clover, sarsaparilla, spearmint, strawberry, violet, wintergreen, yarrow
Fresh basil, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, fresh ginger, mint, peppermint, saffron, spearmint, turmeric, wintergreen; and in moderation, black pepper, caraway, cardamom, neem leaves, parsley, tarragon, vanilla
A balanced approach to your yoga practice will take into consideration such factors as the time of year, the stage of life you are in, and any current imbalances you may have.
That being said, those who tend to be more pitta pre-disposed typically favor a more vigorous practice. Unfortunately, this will fan the flame and create more heat in the body. A solution to this would be to practice more moderately, but keep it interesting. You can throw in a hand-balancing pose here or there but not too many!
- Practice in a room that is well ventilated and wear cool clothing.
- Slow down and savor your sadhana (practice). Moving too fast sets off the fire alarm.
- Pacify pitta by limiting back-bending postures and do them gently, while focusing on breathing into the sides of the body.
- Favor twists and side-bends as they assist in dispersing and ultimately, releasing heat from the body.
- Forward bends calm, cool, and create space for non-judgmental introspection.
- Maintain a soft, diffusive gaze (drshti), not a sharp or penetrating stare.
- Generally speaking, complete nasal breathing is best. However, you can practice exhaling through the mouth occasionally to release excess heat. *A word about ujjayi pranayama for those who practice it: Ujjayi warms the body. Your ujjayi breathing should be soft, not forced.
Save time for connecting to the cooling benefits of lunar breathing.
A SUMMER YOGA SEQUENCE TO CALM AND COOL
Start by centering. Sit with eyes closed, in an attentive yet relaxed position. Notice if you have “come to the table” with an agenda. Give yourself permission to let it go and just enjoy your practice!
*Unless otherwise noted, sustain each pose for about five breaths.
Sukhasana (easy pose): With hands in prayer position in front of the heart, gently twist repeatedly from right to left five times. Then, sustain the twist to the right. Release the twist, coming back to center. Pause for a few breaths. Switch the cross of your legs and then, sustain the twist to the left.
Badhakonasana (Butterfly Pose): With hands on thighs, circle your torso slowly to the right 21 times and to the left 21 times.
Vidalasana (Cat/Cow): Practice cat/cow slowly several times, add in circular motions if you like.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog)
Parsva Konasana (Side Angle)
Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide Standing Forward Bend)
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) or Viparita Karani (Legs up the Wall)
Savasana (Corpse pose): You can widen your arms and legs to allow air to circulate more easily.