Each season affects us in the same way it affects nature around us. While we have no control over the weather, we can adjust our lifestyles and eating habits in order to maintain a harmonious balance between our internal and external environments. We already do so instinctively in the way we dress: imagine yourself strolling on the beach in the midday heat, wearing a ski jacket, wool hat, and mittens!
In Ayurveda, summer heat is associated with the Sanskrit word “Pitta”, the principle of fire and water. The lava of an active volcano has similar qualities: burning, overflowing, oily, and bright. Sunburn, diarrhea, acid reflux, excessive hunger, overabundant sweat, inflammation, and migraines, are some of the classic signs of Pitta imbalance. Some may also note a tendency towards excessive judgment and self-criticism, impatience, irritation, or even anger.
Ayurveda offers us practical tools, based on the principle that opposites decrease each other. Thus, to ease the heat of summer, our lifestyles should aim at cooling us. This is not a one-size fits all approach, as indeed we are unique in our response to the heat. If you love being in the sun while the rest of the world is running for shade, do not read any further! On the other hand, if your already passionate nature is deeply affected by the heat, try some of the following suggestions.
DIET: eating to cool down
In general, favor cooling foods that are neither too spicy, nor too oily. Focus on foods that are sweet (most summer fruits are), bitter (like arugula), and astringent (artichokes and pomegranates), all naturally cooling and soothing. Watch your intake of sour (grapefruit), salty, and pungent (garlic/onion) foods, which are extremely heating. Schedule permitting, take the time to sit and eat slowly.
Vegetables: most seasonal vegetables such as salad greens, arugula, cucumbers, zucchini, and green beans are beneficial. Watch your consumption of tomatoes, all nightshades, garlic, and onion, which are all pungent and heating. Raw food should be consumed at lunch, when digestive fire is at its peak.
Fruits: eat plenty of sweet, juicy fruits like melon, watermelon, peaches and apricots. Bear in mind that they are best digested alone as a light breakfast or as a refreshing snack in the afternoon (see 4 summer recipes in this newsletter). Reduce your consumption of acidic fruits such as pineapple, or any fruit that is not quite ripe. Finally, choose lime over lemon, as it is much less heating.
Herbs and spices: Now is the time to use fresh cooling herbs and spices such as mint, cilantro, coriander, cardamom, and fennel. They refresh, soothe, and promote good digestion. Avoid using excessive amounts of mustard, chilies, and cayenne pepper.
Protein: White meat and fresh water fish are more cooling than red meat, egg yolks, and seafood (except for shrimp), and therefore a better protein choice for non-vegetarians.
Legumes: most are good due to their astringent taste, and summer is the time of the year when we digest them best. Soaking them before cooking makes them even more digestible. Mix mung beans and basmati rice for a complete source of protein and amino acids. If you feel a bit bloated, avoid chickpeas, or add digestive spices such as cumin to your favorite dishes.
Dairy: ghee and raw goat and sheep dairy are soothing and nourishing for Pitta. However, reduce your intake of pasteurized cheese and butter, more difficult to digest. Yogurt is acidic and sour but is beneficial when watered down as a “lassi”, a refreshing cool drink to consume outside of meals –See recipe in the summer newsletter.
Oils and fats: since summer is already “oily” by nature, it is best to use fats and fried foods in moderation. Corn, sesame and peanut oil are too heating and best avoided. Cooling oils and fats such as ghee, coconut, olive, and sunflower oils are a better choice.
Sweets: good news, sweet tastes are soothing and calming to fiery natures! Indulge in a sweet treat occasionally, such as dates, coconut, or anything baked with agave nectar. Stevia, with its slightly bitter flavor, is a good substitute to white refined sugar. Honey, too heating for the season, is best avoided. How about chocolate? As a natural stimulant, it is not your best ally for the summer. If you must have it, choose it dark for its bitter taste and indulge in a square to end a meal.
Grains: Most are beneficial due their sweet taste. Focus on basmati rice, quinoa, spelt, oats, and wheat -unless you are gluten intolerant. Avoid corn, millet, brown rice and buckwheat as they are all heating.
Nuts: most are too oily and heating. Favor sunflower and pumpkin seeds, and peeled and soaked almonds over peanuts, cashews, pistachios, and most salted nuts.
Drinks: drink plenty of water, herbal and mint tea (warm or cold), coconut water, and astringent fruit juices such as pomegranate. Avoid drinks that are either too hot or too cold, as ice stops digestion. Beware of excess caffeine: a pinch of cardamom in your coffee will act as an antidote to its up and down effects. Alcoholic beverages, especially red wine, whiskey, and hard liquor are all heating in nature and best avoided. In moderation, choose beer, rosé, and white wine.
LIFESTYLE: To counteract the sharp intensity of summer, keep things light and fun, and opt for rest, relaxation, and surrender whenever possible.
Exercise: The best time to exercise is in the morning, in order to avoid the heat of the day. Play; do not take things too seriously. Reconnect with nature by walking barefoot in the grass or sand, or take a walk after dinner in the moonlight. Beware of saunas and steam rooms. Instead, take a cool shower, or go for a swim!
Yoga: yoga postures should be done slowly, gently, with a focus on twists, forward bends, and lateral bends. “Savasana”, the surrender posture, is a soothing way to end your practice, and can also be used to rest at the end of a hectic workday. Save hot yoga for the fall if you are a fan!
Pranayama: practice “Shitali”/”shitkari” breath, and/or simple nostril breathing for their cooling and soothing energetic effect.
Massages: massages and self-massages are done slowly with moderate, though firm, pressure. In the morning, treat yourself to a self-massage with coconut oil, for a guaranteed cooling effect. Repeat in the evening, insisting on the soles of your feet. In general, avoid any sesame oil based blends, which are too heating.
Essential oils: Focus on floral essential oils such as jasmine, rose, gardenia, geranium, and sandalwood. A few drops on your pillow at night will help you sleep better. Take time to smell flowers. Their sweet scent is soothing for Pitta.
Clothing: Loose fitting cotton or linen clothes are best. Prefer white, light gray, green and blue to heat-trapping red or orange hues. If you wear jewelry, silver, moonstones, pearls and jade, all have cooling virtues.
Unless your job requires it, avoid midday sun and … overheated kitchens. Cook in the morning if your schedule permits it! A nap after lunch, if you have that luxury, will be highly beneficial.
Finally, take time for yourself. Give yourself permission to do… nothing!
Wishing you a wonderful summer!
Ayurvedic Lifestyle Counselor
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