Summer is usually a time of improved health: we have more daylight hours and we can spend more time outside. Each season carries with it certain positive qualities and certain challenges to our system. As with all Ayurvedic principles you just have to observe nature and notice the change in the qualities of the atmosphere, the weather, the light and the temperature so that you can ‘know’ what is right for you to do. Just watching nature can be a practice of awareness and meditation.
Summer is a time when the element of Fire is increased: there is more warmth, dryness and lightness. Hence summer is naturally a time of calming and reducing pitta.
Summer qualities: Light, warm, dry, penetrating, sharp, transformative, subtle, ascending, expansive.
Fire anatomy: Pitta can build up in the digestive system, liver, eyes, skin and heart at this time of year.
Fire physiology: Sight, digestion, appetite, metabolism, assimilation and body temperature are all affected by the increased warmth of summer.
Psychic Fire: Manipura chakra – situated behind the navel at the solar plexus and related to ambition, gain, wealth, achievement, goals, drive, direction, power, thought and counter-thought – this can be stimulated by the natural increase in the solar energy and fire element.
Fire flavour: Pitta is increased by pungent, sour and salty tastes so too much of these flavours in the summer may aggravate people prone to pitta inflammations.
Yogic summer: It is a perfect time to apply the wise teaching of Swami Satyananda Saraswati by practicing and increasing discernment (viveka) and non-attachment (vairagya). By becoming more discerning, we are choosing what is best for us and not just following the perpetual likes and dislikes of our mind. By following the path of non-attachment we can grow to be free from the pleasures and pain of our experiences and move towards living in the present moment.
Ayurveda also prescribes that one of the main causes of illness is inappropriate attachment of our senses to their sense objects. For example, I like ice cream so I eat some, I want some more as I can remember that delicious sweet creamy flavour and so I have some more (ad infinitum in front of the TV!) and hey presto the next day my nose feels congested. Used wisely you can absorb the full pleasure and nourishment that it can offer. If it is abused it will harm you, if it is eaten with discernment and non-attachment then it can bring you much joy!
Suggested summer routine:
- Start your day by brushing your teeth with some cooling tooth powder – a dash of neem and peppermint on your brush will help clear pitta from the mouth.
- A light massage with room temperature coconut oil will nourish the skin and clear any heat. Wash this off with luke warm water.
- Try and walk with bare feet on a cool dewy lawn for a calming and peaceful start to your day.
- Start your yoga practice with some cooling Sheetali pranayama – this is an especially calming and soothing breathing practice where you roll your tongue into a tube and then breathe the air in through this tube and out through your nostrils. You can just feel the cool air chilling you out!
- Pitta can accumulate in the digestive system and especially the liver and small intestine. Do some abdominal stretches and twists which will help clear pitta from your belly. Try Trikonasna (triangle series), Bhujangasana (cobra), Matsyanasna (fish), Matsyendrasana (twist), Ushtrasana (camel) to massage pitta out of the intestines. As pitta can also accumulate in the eyes, via the liver, try doing a range of eye exercises to relax the eyes and increase circulation that can carry away any excess heat.
- It is important to not do too many inverted poses as these bring heat up to your head if you are already a bit of a pitta prone person.
- After yoga anoint yourself with some fragrant sandalwood or rose oil. Place a drop on your third eye, throat and navel to keep these centres of awareness cool, calm and collected.
- Your diet in the summer should consist of sweet, bitter, astringent flavours and be light and easy to digest.
- Breakfast: Eat liquid nourishing breakfasts such as almond milk. Grind some soaked and peeled almonds, mix into some warm milk (cow or rice), add saffron and some sweetener if you like (not honey).
- Lunch: Eating at around noon when the sun is at its zenith is best. Try kicharee as a cooling nutritive and easy to digest meal. Add a teaspoon of ghee or hemp seed oil at the end with some grated fresh coconut and coriander. Eat it with cucumber raita as a delicious condiment. Some green salad is ok at lunchtime as well. (Email me if you would like a kicharee recipe!)
- For supper have a light meal of basmati rice, sprouted mung beans and green leafy vegetables.
- In the summer it is best to avoid all dark meats such as beef, lamb and pork as well as citrus fruits, tomato, garlic, onion, salt and sour dairy products as these all increase pitta.
- It may be useful to take Aloe vera juice (50ml/day) throughout the summer to clear pitta from the digestive system. Take it first thing in the morning with a dash of water.
- Try drinking cool herbal teas such as peppermint, licorice, fennel and roses!
- Watch out for pitta emotions arising such as criticism, being judgmental, irritation and anger. Through awareness we empower ourselves to respond consciously.
- Before going to bed, especially if it has been a hot day, rub the soles of your feet with coconut or castor oil to bring all the heat down to your feet.
- Wash your face in organic rose water and spray it in your bedroom. Fill your house and bedroom with fragrant roses and jasmine in the summer.
- It is important to get to bed before 11pm as pitta peaks at around 12 midnight. If you sleep on your right side then ida nadi in the left nostril is activated and guarantees you a blissful nights rest.
- As with all your yogic practice, the only rule is that there are no rules! Adjust your daily lifestyle and practice to the changes in the weather and to how you are feeling. You are the best judge of the balance of your doshas. Learn to appreciate how the changes in how you are feeling relate to how the doshas change in you.
Wendy Young is a qualified yoga teacher and Holistic Ayurvedic practitioner, has studied in India, Thailand and the United Kingdom. firstname.lastname@example.org