Are you feeling it yet, that slightly oppressive constricting sensation that either leaves you dry as a cork or dripping like a fresh steak on the grill? Once you’ve experienced it, you understand just how intense the desire to reduce the heat and breathe freely can be. But heat is more than uncomfortable; it can be downright unhealthy. Excessive heat can dehydrate the body, raise the blood pressure and cook the brain, making people do dopey and unsafe things. Long-term exposure to heat can create chronic inflammation in the body, which can lead to all kinds of serious health conditions.
So what can you do to protect yourself from overheating this Summer? Ayurveda, which is essentially the art and science of balancing the qualities around us, offers a wealth of recommendations. Here’s how it all works. Pitta is made up of two elements, fire and a little bit of water. The greater the Pitta, the greater the quality of heat. Obviously, the hot, summer months increase the Pitta energy, which is why Summer is known as the Pitta season. Ayurvedic principles teach that like qualities increase and opposite qualities decrease. Therefore, it stands to reason that cooling foods, colors and aromas are more healing for people during the Summer.
Here are some of the best cooling options according to Ayurveda and modern science:
- Bitter Greens – Green veggies, green smoothies, aloe vera juice, avocadoes, even green teas can help make you feel cooler and lighter when the heat is pervasive. This is because the Bitter taste is comprised of air and ether, the two coldest and lightest elements in Ayiurveda. Green foods are known to support heart health.
- Cooling Beverages – Herbal teas, like burdock root, chamomile, dandelion, fennel, licorice and mint teas are best. In general, they are comprised of the elements of earth and air; this makes them moderately cool and slightly heavy, which is a little more supportive for Vatas in the Summertime. Consider this recipe from Epicurious.com for Fresh Mint Julep Tea. There’s a reason they drink Mint Julep in the South in the Summer! Coconut Milk or Coconut Water are Sweet and, therefore, slightly cool; while not the same as blood plasma and definitely not recommended as a replacement for it, coconut water is the liquid that is the most similar to the fluid inside of our cells, so the body tends to respond well to it. Lastly, drinking more room temperature water, particularly if you are active and sweat a lot, is a great way to keep your cool when it’s hot outside.
- Cooling Colors & Aromas – When the mercury rises, it might be time to leave dark colors like black in the drawer. Go with natural, breathable cottons and a brimmed hat whenever possible. If you’re going to be out in the sun for a lengthy period of time, make sure your arms and legs are covered. As far as colors go, blues, greens and white naturally make you feel cooler. Pastels will also make you feel lighter when it’s hot and humid out. Cooling aromas can help too. Consider spritzing yourself with rose water or essential oils, like orange, jasmine, lavender, peppermint, lemongrass and eucalyptus,. Aromas are one of the quickest ways to reduce tension and heated emotions, which can be exacerbated by a hot climate.
- Environmental Adaptation – Managing your surroundings is crucial in hot weather. Stay in the shade whenever possible. I typically recommend getting at least 15 minutes of morning sun on your skin sans suntan lotion daily. If you are out longer than that, particularly in the middle of the day between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm when Pitta is at its peak, it makes sense to protect your skin. Wear appropriate clothing (see #3 above) and sunscreen if you want to get some color or sunblock with titanium oxide and zinc if you truly want to block the rays. 30 is the best SPF for make-up or sunscreen/sunblock.
- Reduce Exercise and Activity – If you’re heavy into exercise, do it early or late in the day when Pitta is weaker. Pitta personalities tend to like a good challenge and might be tempted to push the envelope by exercising mid-day; this is worse for Pittas than any other dosha type. Walking along streams in the woods or gentle bicycle rides through nature in early morning or late evening are preferred. Even your yoga practice should be modified to accommodate hotter temperatures. Hot yoga is out; while Kaphas might benefit from this practice when it is cold outside, it can be dangerous and increase heated emotions in the hot Summer. Slower asanas and positions that open legs and arms to release body heat are advised. Pranayama breathing techniques should emphasize lunar breathing and shitali breathing to help the body (and the emotions) cool down naturally. Instead of heating Sun Salutations, try some Moon Salutations. Swimming in cool water and fishing on the lake are two of the
best Summer activities. And don’t be afraid to slow down and do less in the middle of a sunny day. Yes, just sit and relax. It’s OK….really!
- Cooling Experiences – Other activities that help relax our bodies and cool us down include listening to soft, relaxing music, stargazing in the evening, cool showers and baths and soaking hot, tired feet in cool water. It’s a good idea to give a little extra tender loving care to Pitta-sensitive tissues like the eyes and the skin. I highly recommend using an eye cup to soak your eyes with a 50/50 mix of rose water and distilled water or a triphala/licorice mix. The eyes can take a beating in the heat; soothing this delicate tissue with cool and moisturizing liquids that are safe for the eyes can help improve your vision for the long haul. Cooling aloe vera gel is great for soothing a sunburn if you forgot to wear your sunblock (see #4 above). Sunflower oil is the best summertime massage oil for the skin as it is cooler than other popular options. Speaking of cooling experiences, what about air conditioning? In yogic practice, it is believed that it is better to allow the body to adapt to weather conditions rather than forcing it to adjust to often radical changes in temperature when you leave an air conditioned car or home for the hot outdoors. We definitely want our bodies to practice sweating and adjusting naturally whenever possible. However, children, the elderly and people with respiratory problems will benefit from the cooling air flow of fans and air conditioners when it is really hot outside. And if you live in a tropical climate, it is advisable to sleep with a fan or air conditioner. Sleeping in 60-67 degrees has proven to be healthier for most people. One caution here…Vatas and the elderly should not have air blowing directly on them, as they find this very vitiating, which can greatly disrupt their sleep.
So there you have it. Global warming or not, as humans we are designed to adapt to our surroundings. In the Summer, we do this by balancing the heat with cooling tastes, colors, smells, activities, environmental stimuli and experiences. So be sure to change up your routine this Summer to include at least three of the tips you learned here to help you better navigate the extremes of this beautiful, lazy season. Stay flexible. Stay calm. And stay cool.
The sole purpose of this article is to provide information about the tradition of Ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have an acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or email Karen Callahan at firstname.lastname@example.org.