08/01/2018 Mind-Body Health
As refreshing as the sunshine and warmth of summer can be after a chilly spring, it’s easy to get off-balance. Keep your Pitta in check with these seven Ayurvedic tips to keep you cool and comfortable.
Ah, summer—long days of sunshine, picnics, vacations, gatherings with friends and family, ice cream, and good reads are just some of the things that you get to indulge in during this wonderful season!
In Ayurveda, every season is governed by a unique element and its associated dosha. It’s no surprise that the warm (and sometimes hot or very hot depending on where you live) days of summer are associated with the element of fire and the dosha it’s associated with—Pitta. The symptoms of Pitta (fire and heat) imbalances include:
- Feeling overheated and irritable
- A tendency to get impatient or angry
- Red skin or eye conditions
- Burning indigestion (heartburn, diarrhea)
Balance in Ayurveda rests on the simple yet profound principle that like increases like and opposites decrease each other (or, as Hippocrates wisely put it, “opposites are the cure for opposites”). Using the five sense therapies (taste, smell, sight, hearing, touch) and more, here are some ways you can stay as cool during the dog days of summer.
In order to find balance during the hot summer (Pitta) days, counteract the warm weather by including more of what Ayurveda considers “cooling” foods in your diet, while limiting or avoiding “heating” foods.
Examples of cooling foods to favor in your summer diet include:
- Vegetables: Cucumber, summer squashes (zucchini), celery, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, and all leafy greens (spinach, kale, chard, etc.)
- Grains: Basmati rice (white), quinoa, and oats
- Herbs: Cilantro, mint, and dill
- Fruits: Melons, grapes, berries, and stone fruits such as peaches and pears
Examples of heating foods that you should eat less of or avoid during summer include:
- Hot spices or excessive use of spices
- Fried foods
2. Aromatherapy and Essential Oils
The summer garden bounty includes sweet-smelling flowers like jasmine, rose, and honeysuckle. Bring fresh-cut flowers into your home and office for a whiff of sweetness. Essential oils can help balance Pitta.
Use sweet and relaxing aromas like jasmine, rose, honeysuckle, lavender, chamomile, geranium, and ylang-ylang to stay cool and centered this summer. Rose water is especially cooling. Use rose hydrosol as a refreshing toner or pick me up—spritz on your face, the back of your neck, and onto the soles of your feet to instantly cool down.
Take a soothing aromatherapy bath with a few drops of these essential oils or use them in a diffuser. Or make a spritzer like the one below that you can use throughout the day.
- ½ oz. distilled water
- ½ oz. rose hydrosol
- 6–8 drops jasmine or ylang-ylang essential oil
- 4–6 drops lavender or roman chamomile essential oil
Mix all of the ingredients together in a glass bottle and shake well. Spray as needed.
3. Color/Nature Therapy
What colors work best as an antidote to the heat of the summer? Cooling shades such as blues, pastels, white, and even gold. Bring in these colors through your clothing, accessories, and home décor (think pillows and throws, as well as accessories such as vases and candle holders). Household plants in pleasing hues of green offer a welcome respite to your sometimes-irritated summer eyes.
Colors of nature that are calming and cooling include the blue waters of the ocean, greenish/blue tinged rivers and lakes, as well as the cool green of a forest trail or the countryside. Spending time in nature is a great way to get your daily dose of Pitta-pacifying color therapy. Remember to avoid being out in the direct sun when it is at its strongest, generally from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
Nature: Sounds of nature (ocean waves, the gentle summer breeze, chirping birds, crickets on a lazy summer evening) can be refreshing, soothing, and calming.
Music: Listening to calming and soft music—stringed instruments like harp, dulcimer, and flute can pacify Pitta. Ambient music with a soothing rhythm is also balancing for Pitta.
Chakras with mantras: Specific chakras (energetic centers of transformation) are associated with specific elements. Chanting the bija mantra (seed syllables) for these chakras while focusing on them (i.e., specific location) can bring in the qualities of these elements, along with the physical, emotional, and psychospiritual benefits associated with each chakra.
- The second (sacral) chakra is associated with creativity and sensuality and allows you to flow gracefully like water (the associated element of this chakra). It is energetically located in the lower abdomen/pelvic region. The bija mantra is Vam. Chant this mantra (silently or aloud) with your eyes closed, inwardly focusing on this chakra to bring in the cooling, calming, and flowing qualities of water.
- The fourth (heart) chakra is associated with unconditional love and compassion. It is energetically located in the center of the chest and its associated element is air. Its bija mantra is Yum (as in yummy!). Chant this mantra (silently or aloud) with your eyes closed and focusing on your heart to bring in the cooling qualities of air. This will help to calm and center you when the heat of summer makes you irritable or intense.
Clothing: Wear loose, breathable, light, and natural fabrics like linen, cotton, and hemp to stay cool all summer long.
Skin care: Use natural products that have rose, cucumber, or aloe in them, as well as a cooling moisturizer like coconut oil.
Self-abhyanga (massage): In your self-massage practice, opt for cooler oils like coconut and sunflower during the warm summer months.
6. Pranayama (Breathwork)
While there are a few cooling breathwork practices, a simple and effective pranayama to cool and calm the body and mind is lunar pranayama, also known as chandra bhedana (chandra means “moon,” bhedana means “passing through”). This breathing pattern activates your lunar energy represented by ida nadi (channel of vital energy, or prana) and brings in the cooling aspects associated with moon energy.
You may be familiar with alternate nostril breathing. Lunar pranayama is similar to that, with a slight difference in that the inhalation exclusively happens from the left nostril (bringing in the cooling energy), and the exhalation exclusively happens from the right nostril. Follow these steps for lunar pranayama.
- Sit comfortably with a straight spine. Place your left hand on your knees, palm facing up with the tips of your thumb and index finger touching.
- Bring your right hand into vishnu mudra—fold your middle two fingers into the palm of your hand.
- Use your right thumb to close off your right nostril.
- Inhale slowly and mindfully through your left nostril.
- Now close your left nostril with your ring finger while simultaneously releasing your thumb from the right nostril.
- Exhale completely and with mindfulness through your right nostril.
- Use your thumb to close off your right nostril.
- Inhale through your left nostril.
- Close your left nostril with your ring finger, releasing your thumb from your right nostril and exhaling completely through your right nostril.
- Continue to breathe like this for 1–2 minutes, inhaling only through your left nostril and exhaling only through your right nostril.
- Sit quietly for a few moments after you have finished, bringing your right hand to your right knee, palm facing up, while gently bringing the tips of your thumb and index finger together to touch.
Lunar pranayama is ideally practiced on an empty stomach. Ensure that your inhalation and exhalation are of the same duration (for example, if you inhale for a count of four, then exhale for a count of four).
7. Other Lifestyle Practices
Here are a few more ways to help balance Pitta and keep cool and calm during the summertime.
- Try to get your exercise in the early morning hours (before 10 a.m.).
- Do a gentle/restorative yoga class 1–2 times per week to stay centered and calm.
- Meditate for at least 5–10 minutes, 1–2 times a day.
- Spend time in nature. Here are a few ideas for enjoying the outdoors:
- Spend time on or near water—such as on the beach, the banks of a river, or a lake.
- Hike along nature or forest trails, or in the countryside.
- Go for a gentle stroll under the cool summer night sky
- Walk outside in the cool vibes of the nearly full or full moon
The key to balancing fiery Pitta is keeping everything in moderation. Keep Pitta in check with these cooling and calming protocols, and enjoy the long days of sunshine and blue skies this summer.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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