It’s summer here in Lake George, NY and in the North East, USA. From an Ayurvedic point of view, that means it’s Pitta Season! The elements of fire and water are predominant in creating a steamy environment that can leave us hot tempered and irritable.
Ayurveda is the sister science to yoga and the oldest medicinal system in the world. According to Ayurveda, everything in the Universe, including each of us, is made up of the 5 elements: Earth, Air, Ether (Space), Fire and Water. Varying amounts of these elements is what makes each of us unique in terms of personality and physical characteristics. The elements that are highest in our composition determines our Dosha.
There are three Doshas: Vata Dosha is Air & Space; Pitta Dosha is Fire & Water; and Kapha Dosha is Earth & Water. Pitta Dosha types have fire & water elements that are most predominant in the recipe that makes up who we are. To find out your Dosha go to http://doshaquiz.chopra.com and take the quiz.
There’s a simple, key principle in Ayurveda that you need to understand in order to make intelligent choices to help maintain a balanced Dosha: Like increases like, while opposites will pacify an imbalance. Remember this mantra!
If Pitta is your prominent Dosha, then be on high alert during the summer season. This is like increasing like, when fire and water are highest in the environment as well as within us. Regardless of your Dosha, everyone can benefit from an Ayurvedic practice to help keep cool when Pitta runs high. In your emotional state, you’ll know your Pitta is high if you easily lose your temper, are sharp with your words, crave competition, act confrontationally and become controlling. In the physical body, high Pitta shows up in skin rashes, acne, excess stomach acidity, peptic ulcers, high blood pressure, heartburn, excessive body heat and sweating.
The Sanskrit word “ahara” means food but more accurately it refers to anything we take in through the five senses. That’s important to remember when we start to think about balancing ourselves in relation to the five elements. People, places and things we take in should embody the elements of the Earth, Space & Air in order to balance steamy hot Pitta dosha. Let’s look at the ways to cool our jets without having to literally jump in a lake (although that’s not a bad idea to chill out fast)…
Activities for Pitta Season
Enjoy the outdoors as much as possible and take time off to decompress. Find shade where you can enjoy the fresh air and connect to the earth without overheating from the sun. Use the early morning, late afternoon and evening hours for light outdoor activities such as swimming, walking, our enjoying sporting activities. Evening walks under the cooling moon are especially beneficial to a Pitta aggravated mind and body.
Limit sun exposure especially during the hottest part of the day, from 10am to 2pm. Avoid over-scheduling and working long hours. Work pressures and stressful situations are even more unbalancing during a summer heat wave when our emotional state is already compromised.
If you’re into essential oils and aroma therapy try sweet, cooling oils such as Rose, Fennel and Sandalwood. You can also combine these with smaller amounts of soothing oils such as Ylang Ylang and Frankincense and/or some uplifting oils such as Lemon or Peppermint. The combinations are designed to keep you calm, yet focused and alert.
If you like to take baths, try 4 drops each of Sandalwood and Ylang Ylang in the tub on hot days.
Diet for Pitta Season
Favor foods that taste sweet, bitter and astringent. It is these tastes that will pacify Pitta. Fruits like melons, cherries, and grapes are cooling. Vegetables like asparagus, cucumber, broccoli, cauliflower & zucchini will pacify Pitta too. Eat the foods that your local environment yields in the summer months… a reminder of the intuitive intelligence of Mother Nature. One of my favorite Pitta pacifying treats is rose petal spread on toast.
Use cooling seasonings such as coriander, cilantro, cardamom, saffron and mint! Add them to summer salads, mocktails and cocktails! Alcohol is pitta aggravating, however you can reduce some of its effects if you’re smart about it. Make your drinks favoring sweet, bitter and astringent tastes. Here’s a Pitta pacifying cooling summer drink recipe that you can add your favorite gin or vodka, or leave virgin:
- 1 cucumber
- 1 tsp honey
- half of a lemon
- 3 tbsp coconut water
- 1 mint sprig
- Peel the skin of cucumber and grate it
- Blend the grated cucumber and mint leaves in a mixer and strain
- Pour this juice in a tall glass
- Squeeze in the lemon juice, add coconut water, honey, and stir
- Chill it briefly in the refrigerator.
But be careful with iced and frozen drinks. If a drink is too cold, it will dampen the digestive fire (or Agni) and compromise digestion. So limit iced beverages, and avoid them altogether during meals.
Stay away from hot and spicy foods, and foods with salty or sour tastes, such as yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk or sour oranges, grapefruit or pineapple. Avoid vegetables with heating properties including tomatoes, hot peppers, radishes, beets, onions, garlic and spinach. These will aggravate Pitta.
Pranayama for Pitta Season
- Belly breathing techniques (cooling); begin w/ 5-10 rounds
- Nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing)
- Chandra Bhedana (left nostril breathing)
- Shitali (curl tongue, breath in through the mouth out through the nose)
Yoga Asanas for Pitta Season
- Key words for practice: Cooling, Relaxing, Surrendering, Forgiving, Gentle, Diffusive
- Moon Salutation (with a step back)
- Seated Poses in general Drishti (soft gaze at ground)
- Standing Poses (Standing hip openers, Tree, Triangle. Half-moon, Extended Side Angle)
- Gentle Inversions (Shoulder stand, legs up the wall)
- Moderate back bends (Bow Pose, Cobra)
- Wide Leg forward folds (Prasaritta Padottonasana)
- All seated forward folds (Upavista Konasana, Tortoise, Tarasana, Paschimottonasana)
- Twists like Ardha Matsyendrasana and Marichyasana
- Savasana (at least 8 min!)
Meditation for Pitta Season
- Soothing meditations in nature or by water
- Meditation that stimulates and promotes peace of mind
- Practicing loving kindness and doing a meditation that opens the heart chakra
- Meditation with eyes closed or a soft gaze
I hope this keeps you cool, calm and collected this summer. One of the things that I love about Ayurveda is that there are no absolute rules. It is a system that allows the practitioner the freedom to make intelligent choices, using their intuition as well as knowledge of the elements to move in a direction that brings them to a place of balance. It is brilliant in its acknowledgement of individual diversity. I tell my students all the time that if you know what you’re doing… you can do whatever you want as long as you’re smart about it. A large component of the yoga I practice and share (iflow Yoga) is Ayurveda. The two are sister sciences and in my opinion should never be separated, each informing the other. Be well and share the Ayurvidya. And if all that doesn’t work… well, then “just jump in a lake!”