Now that the cool, wet Kapha days of spring are behind us, it is time to adjust to the increasing heat in our environment. The hot, sunny, and dry days of summer mean that that same heating influence is increasing in our physiology. Ayurveda refers to this as Pitta. Pitta is hot, sharp, sour, pungent, and penetrating. It is a fundamental principle of Ayurveda that like increases like. To balance Pitta, we need to opt for choices that are cooling, sweet and relaxing.
Because the hot weather of summer increases Pitta within the body, we need to begin to favor foods that pacify (decrease) Pitta. Include more foods with sweet, bitter and astringent tastes. Include the fresh, sweet fruits and vegetable that grow in this season. Foods such as cucumbers, sweet fruits, and melons are considered very cooling. Dairy can help balance the heat of Pitta. This includes milk, butter, and ghee.
Opt for fewer foods with pungent, sour and salty tastes. Sour, fermented products such as yogurt, cheese, sour cream, and vinegar should be used sparingly as sour tastes aggravate Pitta. Eat fewer tomatoes and hot spices. Rice (especially white basmati rice), barley, wheat and oats are the best grains to reduce Pitta. Eat less corn, rye, millet, and brown rice.
Now is the time to switch over to cooling herbs such as coriander, cilantro, fennel, cardamom, and saffron. Hard liquor, red wine, and red meat are heating — best to minimize those during the summer.
As the heat increases outside our body, our physical system tries to maintain balance by lowering our internal fire. As a result, our metabolism becomes lower, and our ability to digest food diminishes. While it may seem natural at this time to indulge in colorful salads and plates of uncooked vegetables, unless your digestive capability is exceptionally strong, your body may not be able to absorb nutrients from raw foods. Ayurveda recommends cooked foods to strengthen one’s digestive power and optimize nutrient absorption. Ripe fruits are considered to be “cooked by the sun” and are fine to eat. Avoid sour tasting fruits, however, as they will increase Pitta.
Ayurveda recommends never eating iced or cold food and drinks. While it can be tempting to grab a drink from the refrigerator or enjoy some ice cream on a hot summer day, these foods will pretty much “put out” our already diminished digestive fire. If you must, indulge in ice cream in the late afternoon, after your lunch has been thoroughly digested.
Stay away from carbonated drinks, as they also can slow down digestion.
To keep Pitta dosha from becoming aggravated, do not skip meals or wait until you are extremely hungry before you eat. In the summer months it is good to follow good eating habits: Breakfast is important. Cooked apples or pears are a light yet nourishing way to start the day. If you need a heartier breakfast, think about cooked cereal, like cooked oatmeal with apples.
Eat your main meal at noon, when your digestive fires are at their peak. While yogurt is not recommended in the summer, yogurt in the form of lassi can actually help boost digestion. It is best to have it at lunch, at the end of your meal.
Pitta is drying by nature. It is important to drink 4 – 6 cups of water daily, as well as enjoying other cooling beverages.
Those who enjoy daily Ayurvedic massage may want to switch from sesame oil to a cooler oils such as coconut oil or olive oil, as sesame oil has a naturally heating quality.
Avoid direct exposure to the sun from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Save your exercise for the early morning or late evening. Avoid extreme sports.
Go to bed on time. Because the days are longer in the summer, it is easy to stay up late. Unfortunately, because the sun rises early (along with the birds), we also tend to get up earlier. This lack of sleep can aggravate both Vata and Pitta. In addition, staying up late at night to watch television, or use the computer can aggravate the Pitta located in our eyes. Try to switch off electronic devices early in the evening to give your eyes a rest.
Summer is a wonderful time to enjoy defusing essential oils. Favor aromas that are cooling and sweet. Sandalwood, rose, jasmine, mint, lavender, chamomile rose and geranium are all recommended.
And don’t forget to meditate! Regular meditation will help lower your mental/emotional temperature.
Signs of Pitta Aggravation
The doshas, Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, are primary forces that are responsible for the characteristics of both our mind and our body. Pitta imbalance can manifest emotionally as well as physically. Anger, jealousy, and finding ourselves being increasing critical of others are as much signs of Pitta imbalance as indigestion, rashes, skin irritations, and burning eyes. Other signs of Pitta imbalance include diarrhea, burning sensations, sweating, fever, inflammation and problems with the small intestine and the stomach. Excess Pitta can lead to acidity, ulcers and liver disorders. If you suspect any health problems, seek a qualified practitioner.
Some people find that insomnia can increase during the summer months. Pitta-based insomnia is associated with waking up in the very early hours of the morning and not being able to get back to sleep.
Making changes in our diet and daily routine at the beginning of the season can help us avoid Pitta imbalances and allow us to enjoy a healthful and blissful summer.