Summer is the time of year when pitta dosha predominates both in the body and in the outer world. For vata and kapha predominant folks, this is a great blessing; they’re going to feel warm and cozy at last! But if we have pitta predominant in our nature, any excess of inner heat can become reactive, can settle into the tissues, and wreak havoc with our metabolism. When it accumulates in the summer season, it can then lead to dryness when the autumn winds kick in.
So how do we recognize excess heat or pitta in our system? Here are a few of the signs: fever, inflammation (such as sunburn or painful joints), indigestion (including constipation and diarrhea), skin rashes, sores or ulcers, bad breath & body odor, excessive sweating, and hyperacidity in the GI tract. As you first begin to notice feeling too warm, that is the best time to take action (after peeling off excess layers of clothing, of course).
The weather plays its part in creating excess pitta in the system, to be sure. But other causes can come into play as well – a pitta-provoking diet, for example, or too much sun exposure, and even emotional distress from a challenging relationship.
Food Tips for Keeping your Cool
To antidote pitta, we choose both cooling and reducing methods. First, here are some dietary suggestions to keep our internal heat in check:
• Plenty of cool, fresh water will help flush out excess heat and toxins. Aloe vera – 2 T in your first water of the day – can help keep you cool well into the afternoon.
• Green juice is such a great refresher to soothe the inner fire. Green juice can include any dark leafy greens and herbs, as well as watery summer squash. Blend quickly with water and season with ginger, turmeric, coriander, or any favorite spices. It’s easy to digest, encourages detoxification and provides absorbable vitamins, minerals and enzymes. Many people like to dilute the drink with more water, or you can enjoy it as a quick, short shot!
• Choose sweet, juicy fruits like melons, plums, nectarines & peaches.
• Include bitter, astringents vegetables like summer squash, dark leafy greens (collards, kale) and asparagus in your evening stir-fry.
• Limit hot spicy chilis, garlic, salty and fried foods. Alcohol and caffeine are both sharp and hot; reduce or eliminate them.
Cooling Herbs & Spices
• Digestive spices like cumin, coriander, fennel and turmeric are helpful to cool and support the digestive track.
• Neem is one of the most powerful anti-pitta herb in the Ayurvedic pharmacy. It cools a fever, reduces inflammation, and is both anti-viral and anti-bacterial. Neem is used in combination with other herbs that support balanced liver function, such as guduchi and bhumyamalaki.
• Amalaki (one of the 3 ingredients of Triphala) is helpful to cleanse excess pitta from the GI tract. This vitamin-C rich herb helps support regular bowel function as well.
• Take a cool shower, or a dip in the lake, pond or ocean. Or after a warm shower, simply rinse off under a cool spray.
• Slow the pace of life enough to take breaks – meditate, chant, sing or walk along the river for an hour.
• Bring spontaneity into your life. Release yourself from your own expectations; let friends and colleagues off the hook occasionally, too!
• Surround yourself with cooling colors – blue, green, white – in your clothing and environment.
• Plan to exercise in the cool of the morning or evening hours, never in the heat of a summer’s day.
• Try moon-bathing. The moon’s cooling light is a perfect antidote to the heat of the sun.
Staying Cool on the Mat
• Bring softness and compassion to your practice. Include cooling forward bend as well as restorative poses. Spinal twists massage the liver and spleen, where pitta does its work to cleanse and purify. The Moon Salutation series is ideal for keeping pitta in check.
• Shitali (or sitkhari) pranayama is cooling for body, mind and spirit. It can be practiced at any time of the day when cooling winds are desired. Making a pipe with the tongue (or placing the tongue behind the front teeth), inhale slowly through the open mouth; then pause a few seconds before exhaling through both nostrils.
• Lunar Breathing (chandra bhedana) is another simple breathing practice that cools. Blocking the right nostril, inhale through the left; after a full inhalation, exhale through both nostrils (or alternatively, exhale through the right).
• In our meditation practice, bring forth the qualities of patience and compassion, allowing rajasic emotions (like anger and envy) to return to neutral, encouraging sharp judgments to soften, and letting go of any excessive sense of urgency.
And here’s a refreshing treat!
Limeade with Rose Water
¼ cup lime juice
6 cups fresh water
4 T rose water
2 T organic maple syrup (or other sweetener)
Squeeze the lime juice (use fresh, if possible). Strain the pulp; add maple syrup or sweetener of your choice. Serve with a smile!
And the best antidote of all . . . bring sweetness to your heart, and share it with a smile!
Pratibha Queen is a yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner, who attends Salt Spring Center of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. Feel free to email with any questions that arise as you engage in health practices to support your yoga practice: pratibha.que[at]gmail[dot]com.
Green juice image by Wild Tofu.