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Ayurvedic tips for summer

June 20, 2017

download (4)Everyone needs to take measures to avoid overheating at this time of year, though Pitta predominant types need to take special care in following a Pitta reducing diet and lifestyle throughout the Summer. Pitta is the Ayurvedic dosha made up of fire and water with qualities such as hot, penetrating, oily, sharp, liquid and sour. Its primary function is metabolism and transformation in the body, of both food and information received by the senses.

So how can you tell if your Pitta is off kilter? As our digestive enzymes and bodily hormones are linked with Pitta dosha, diarrhoea and other digestive complaints can result. As the skin and blood can also be affected, heat rash/ prickly heat, other skin problems can also manifest. Other signs include bloodshot eyes and liver complaints. Emotionally, aggravated Pitta can also manifest in excess anger and losing one’s cool- so worth keeping a lid on this dosha!

To stay well this Summer (think cooling, calming and moderation):

  • Adapt your daily routine: Get up early to enjoy the cool mornings, and enjoy walking barefoot on dewy grass if you can.  This is such a soothing thing for Pitta tropes to do. Similarly, enjoy moonlit walks in the cooler evenings.
  • Avoid sun exposure between noon and 3pm, especially if you are a Pitta type with freckles, moles and paler skin (it ages your skin, increases cancer risk and is highly aggravating to Pitta!) If I am out and about at this time, I take a bottle of organic rose water from the fridge to keep me feeling serene. A quick spritz works wonders!
  • Practice a daily massage with cooling coconut oil to nourish and clear heat from the skin (normally solid in the UK but liquid in the Summer heat, suggesting this is the best time to use this oil in the UK climate, rather than in Winter when it’s set solid). No need to heat the oil, and wash off with a cool shower afterwards, avoiding hot baths and showers, saunas, steam rooms, BBQs and pizza ovens at all costs.
  • Wear cooling calming colours such as white, green and blue. These reflect heat as opposed to orange, red and yellow. Make sure you cover up, especially if you have Pitta predominant fair skin with freckles and moles.
  • Practice cooling meditation, yoga nidra and pranayama: Meditation and chanting Om is good in especially good in Summer. Also try visualising watery scenes such as beautiful lake or the sea as part of your meditation. Shitali (or Sheetali) Pranayama is an effective practice to clear heat from the body. Roll your tongue into a tube and inhale air through the tongue, exhaling through the nose. If you can’t roll your tongue (it’s a genetic thing so you can’t learn!) simply close the teeth together and inhale through the mouth through the gaps in the teeth. Practice 10-15 rounds each morning, or whenever you feel hot and bothered. It also helps quench the thirst if you are unable to drink for a while (though drink as soon as you can and always carry water with you in Summer to keep hydrated).
  • And cooling yoga: Get your yoga teacher to show you the cooling moon salute series (Chandranamaskar) cooling practice versus the warming sun salutes more normally practices.  Pitta can accumulate in the digestive system, especially the main sites of pitta at the small intestine and liver. Abdominal twists and forward bends can help clear this. Other good postures for calming Pitta are Camel, Cobra, Cow, Boat, Goat and Bridge Poses. As Pitta can also accumulate in the eyes, do gentle eye exercises to remove excess heat. Pitta types should avoid inversions such as headstand and shoulder stand in Summer.
  • Summer Ayurvedic diet: Favour Pitta reducing cooling foods. The Ayurvedic tastes of sweet, bitter and astringent all reduce Pitta, as these are found in light and easy to digest foods such as organic milk, mint and coriander herbal teas, and sweet fruits in season such as pears, apricots, grapes, plums, watermelon and sweet berries (not citrus fruits which aggravate Pitta). Cold soups, such as cucumber soup, and salads are also good (but avoid salads at supper time when lightly cooked foods are best eg: basmati rice with sautéed sprouted mung beans and a green leafy vegetable). Avoid dark meats (replace with white meat once a week), tomato, garlic, onions, salty, spicy and sour tastes. Saffron is a very good spice to use in Summer cooking as it calms Pitta. Minimise alcohol & caffeine as these are both heating and aggravate Pitta. A little white wine or spritzer is OK but avoid heavy spirits and red wine. Increase fluids, especially water but avoid iced drinks which aggravate the digestion. Try mixing fresh lime juice with water and a little agave syrup for a delicious and quick still lemonade (eg: 1tsp agave or natural sugar + 1 tsp lime juice and a pinch of salt in a pint of room temperature water to sip throughout the day). Coconut water is very cooling and healthy. Favour cooling herbal teas with peppermint, licorice, fennel and roses. Lassis (diluted yoghurt drink) are also very cooling and soothing.
  • At bed-time rub the soles of your feet with cooling coconut oil to bring all the heat down to your feet. You can also put coconut oil in your hair for a lovely conditioning treat (have you ever wondered why Indians have such lovely hair!) Do wear an old pair of socks or hat though. Add a few drops of lavender or sandalwood to your pillow. Hopefully you will be in bed before 11pm, as Pitta peaks between 10pm and 2am. Unlike in Winter, when sexual intimacy can help warm you up, keep sex to a minimum as it can leave you drained in the Summer heat. Early morning is the best time or evening before 10pm, after which Pitta dosha dominates.
  • Finally, make sure to do some emotion management if needed- watch for Pitta emotions such as criticism, irritation and anger. If these arise, a good trick is to hold cool water in the mouth for as long as is needed! Dr Lad also recommends ghee nasya as very effective in managing anger and hostility. Dip your little finger in a jar of ghee and lubricate the inside of the nostrils with a small amount. Then gently inhale the ghee upwards which sends a calming message to the brain. He writes “You will become quite tranquil; anger and hostility will dissolve like a cloud in the sky.”

Click here for an earlier post on cooling summer plants.

gone-to-goa-040Sunbathing advice

Stick to the usual advice of avoiding the sun between 10am and 3pm. If you spend too long in the sun, you will get burnt, especially if you have sensitive Pitta predominant skin. Dr Lad also discusses how use of chemical personal care products both internally and externally can all weaken the skin, making it prone to sunburn. To reduce risk, follow a Pitta pacifying programme eg: no spicy food, alcohol, saunas.

Ayurveda also suggests the following:

  • Before going into the sun, apply a neem oil solution as neem is a good sun blocker. NB: Don’t use concentrated neem oil on the skin but dilute a few drops with another oil, such as sesame or coconut oil. Neem has the added benefit of being an effective insect repellent.
  • Drink coconut water to stay rehydrated. Several delicious varieties are now available in shops if you can’t get fresh green coconuts.
  • If you do burn, apply soothing aloe vera gel or juice to the area. Grow your own plant for this purpose- it’s also very handy for kitchen burns. A gauze pad dipped in cool milk is also very soothing, also fresh cream is good.
  • For a cooling Summer facial click here!

“During the Summer, the sun evaporates the moisture of the earth and therefore induces hot, dry and sharp qualities in the atmosphere, resulting in Pitta aggravation. In Summer sweet, cold, liquid and fatty food and drinks are beneficial. One should avoid or minimise excessive exercise and sex, alcohol, and diets which are salty, sour and pungent, or hot. In Summer time one should enjoy forests, gardens, flowers and cool water. During the night one should sleep on the open airy roof of the house, which is cooled by the rays of the moon.” (Charaka Samhita).