Ayurveda for the Summer: What You Need to Know About Pitta Season
My normally down-to-earth, calming husband walked in the door yesterday after a couple of hours in 90-degree, humid heat, wrestling with the lawnmower to cut the grass in the boil with a flushed face, red dragon-eyes and a look at exuded, “Don’t mess with me.”
Naturally, I went right past the obvious signals and walked right into a fight over something ridiculous, paint color to be precise.
Meanwhile, my sister texted me pleading for an Ayurvedic remedy for a lightening strike of heartburn. Like a switch, it seems like in our party of the world at least, Pitta season has fallen upon us like the turn of a light switch, and with it, you may find yourself, or those who surround you see a bit more fiery than usual. And for good reason…
In Ayurveda, often called “the science of life” and a sister art to yoga, Pitta dosha represents the meeting of two of the five elements: fire as mediated by water. For the summer season, the other elements, earth, air and space (or ether) take a backseat to fire for many individuals with higher amounts of the element in their natural constitutions.
Your constitution (also called dosha or Prakriti) is determined at the moment of conception, according to Ayurveda, and pervades throughout a lifetime. Ayurveda views our bodies, minds and spirits and a microcosm for the universe as a whole; just as the elements compose our external world, they also account for our individual human make-ups.
Accordingly, as summer ratchets up the heat index, as it does the fire element, in the universe, and in our individual bodies. We all have some amount of the fire element, however, usually one or two elements predominate, and if fire is on the top of your list (or your loved ones’), you make notice a few uncomfortable shifts in the summer season.
Signs of high Pitta in the body: skin rashes, acne, premature graying/balding, heartburn, acid stomach, diarrhea.
Signs of high Pitta in the mind: irritability (particularly after being exposed to heat or Pitta-provoking circumstances), competitiveness, egoism, envy, quick-to-anger.
So you see a sign or two of high Pitta in yourself or a loved one? What to do?
Well, first recognize high Pitta is sometimes prized as virtuous in American culture, so it can be hard to ferret out as an imbalance in the first place. Work tons of overtime? Great! Rewarded by your boss. Push yourself to your limits physically? Great! Rewarded by cultural perception as hard worker. Take every challenging variation your teacher offers in your hot yoga class? Great! Rewarded as feeling like a rockin’ yogi!
None of the above behaviors are inherently negative. Just a few examples to show how easy it is in American culture to mix up “working hard” with the fire element run amuck. If our practice, yoga asana, meditation, or otherwise is to be bringing us closer to balance, to union with the Divine, sometimes recognizing when your fire is too high can equal a hit to the ego. That’s the rocks on the path to the Self.
So now that you’ve set your ego to the side and recognized that you may need to quell those rising flames, what to do? Here are a few practical remedies you can do right away to set you on course for a cooler summer (at least for the mind and body).
1. Check in with your diet. Are you taking in foods that are whole, seasonal and fresh? To quell Pitta, emphasize the sweet (think: white basmati rice, most fruits and whole milk, not Snickers), bitter and astringent tastes. Try to avoid leftovers, using your microwave, spicy, pungent, salty and sour foods.
2. Evaluate your yoga practice. Consider “working” at 75 percent for the duration of the summer season. Emphasize twists, forward bending and less vigorous vinyasas and arm balances for the season. Notice: are you subtly competing with the person on the mat next to you? This is a good indicator that your practice, and your mind’s approach to it is aggravating your Pitta. Attempt to emphasize play, lightness and (gasp!) fun in your yoga practice so that your movement is not directed toward a goal, but rather involved in the process.
3. Cool off. Take a tablespoon of aloe vera gel (not juice) as a Pitta tonic every day to quell your fire. Do abhyanga with coconut oil once a week (or more). To really quell fanning flames, consider coating your scalp (hair included) with coconut oil, wrapping it in a towel or even plastic wrap for a particularly sexy site (and yes, I’ve done this myself!) for bed. When you wake up, wash it out with shampoo and not only will your hair feel great, but you should notice less burning in the mind and body as well.