Hot & Bothered? Try These Five Ayurvedic Cooling Tips.

Via on Jun 20, 2012
Flickr: Lenny Montana

It’s summertime and—contrary to the popular Gershwin tune—the living ain’t always so easy.

How to stay cool when the mercury begins to skyrocket? Air conditioning? A swimming pool? An igloo in the basement? A one-way ticket to Siberia?

According to the Indian science of Ayurveda, summer is characterized by an abundance of pitta—hot, dry and sharp characteristics. When the pitta dosha becomes inflamed from hectic lifestyles, we can feel angry, irritable or just plain tuckered out, in search of a nap or an icy, sugary margarita.

And we’re not even talking about humidity. (By the way, there’s a special place in hell, kind of like West Texas, reserved for those who explain that “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.”)

Staying healthy and well in summer, according to Ayurveda, involves a more “yin” approach to life—soft, relaxed, responsive. This contrasts markedly with much of American culture’s “yang,” ego-driven mentality.

Translation: we’ve just got to take it down a notch.

Here are some Ayurvedic tips to keep it cool.

1. Avoid the sun during the hottest hours of the day—The quote “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid day sun,” (attributed to Rudyard Kipling circa the British Empire) referenced the puzzlement many Indians felt upon seeing the British gallivanting at the noon hour, when the rest of the world was hiding from the heat.

So, silly, we know you can handle it, but give yourself a break and, whenever possible, schedule things for the early morning or early evening when temperatures are cooler.

If you must be outside, protect the skin from sunburn and dryness with loose, light-fitting clothing, hats and sunblock. Neem oil has been suggested. For the love of all things good and holy, do not bake your dermis in the sun. The rotisserie chicken look is so not in.

2. Engage in some yin yoga or cooling pranayama—Late June is not the time to adopt a vigorous Bikram practice or begin training for a marathon at lunchtime.

We all have that neighbor who takes some sort of masochistic pleasure in jogging whilst wearing a Speedo during the hottest day of the year.

Don’t be that guy.

A yin yoga practice will release tension and anger from key joints of the body. Think hip openers, heart openers or shoulder openers. Visualize cool and calm entering the body with each inhale, fire leaving on the exhale.

Replace heat-building sun salutations with cooler moon salutations. If you find the heat makes you tetchy, critical of loved ones or a menace in rush hour traffic, you might try mindfulness meditation or a guided body scan. Traditional writings suggest yoga practice in the early morning or early evening on a porch or terrace.

3.  Make fresh salad for dinner or a fruit smoothie for breakfast—The pitta dosha favors cooling, water-based foods like watermelon, cucumber and fresh berries to calm the digestive fire. A fresh green salad dressed with lemon juice is calming and cooling. Toss a fresh fruit and milk smoothie into the blender. Throw in some raspberries and a pinch of cardamom—Ayurvedic housecleaning at its finest.

Eschew oily, spicy and heavy foods and heavily caffeinated, dehydrating beverages. (Yes, buffalo wings and extra sausage pizza are on special Thursday night. Yes, that caramel Frappuccino may seem like a perfect pick-me up. You will be strong, my friend.)

The same goes for alcohol. If you must attend two dollar draft night at the local pub, by all means dilute it with some water or fruit juice.

4.  Don’t forget to enjoy nature!—Summertime is beautiful. The lush greenery of the season possesses a vibrational frequency calming and grounding to even the most hard-driving pitta.

5. Try a siesta—There’s a reason so many people around the world enjoy this practice—it’s awesome! A bit of shut-eye can bring some get-up-and-go to a body which seems to have got up and went.

Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

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About Marthe Weyandt

Marthe Weyandt is a Pittsburgh-based yoga instructor and freelance writer. She enjoys traveling and spending time in the great outdoors. She is currently learning to play guitar, albeit badly and at frequencies only dogs can hear. She believes in the power of the word, creatively and lovingly rendered, to create positive change in the world. She has a Bachelor’s in English and Religion from Dickinson College and a Master’s in International Affairs from Columbia University. She spent two years as an English instructor with the United States Peace Corps in Madagascar. Check out some of her other work here.

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7 Responses to “Hot & Bothered? Try These Five Ayurvedic Cooling Tips.”

  1. Some of the advice given in this article is not indicated in the Ayurvedic tradition. First of all, spring is a time when it is best not to overtreat pitta unless you have chronically exacerbated pitta. We are in a transitional time when the increasing fire element is helping to digest or slough off excess kapha dosha that may have accumulated over the winter. Hence the "spring cleanse." We do want to effectively moderate the effects of the fire season, but the poor food combining advised here is not a good method.

    The suggested combination of green salads and milk-based smoothies is strongly counter-indicated in Ayurveda.

    Green salads are not calming. They are indeed cooling if not taken with sour dressings or fruits, especially super-heating tomatoes, but they can also provoke vata in some people, and for chronically excess pitta, this can be a problem. If we have chronically exacerbated pitta, our digestion is already working overtime. Eating raw foods causes the digestive fire to kick into an even higher gear and the gunas of raw food provoke vata. We can then get into a situation of "vata pushing pitta." Wind pushes fire causing a hot and dry depleting condition with vata disorganization of movements, emotions and thoughts. In this situation, cooked vegetables, or even wilted salads would be more appropriate.

    In a basically healthy person, occasional green salads are fine, but they aren't a necessarily a treatment for high pitta.

    Combining fruits with other foods is, in general, is not advised in classical Ayurveda. The combination of bananas, generally found in smoothies, and milk is singled it as one of the worst combinations as it encourages the unhealthy buildup of ama. Also avoid milk and sour fruits. Certainly a milk smoothie and a salad with a vinegar-based dressing would be considered an Ayurvedic nightmare.

    One of the foundational ideas in Ayurveda is "for whom and when." We have to learn about our unique constitution and also how to adjust our activities day by day. Ayurveda is a magnificent tradition for self-care, but we have to spend quite a bit of time educating ourselves and learning to observe both ourselves and nature at large. Reliable information about basic eating guidelines can be found on the website of the Ayurvedic Institute. You can download PDFs with eating lists for different doshas and a food combining guide. However no such lists are nuanced enough to guide you through every situation.

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