According to Ayurveda, the ancient science of natural health, the core principle to living well is to stay in balance. So when things heat up outside, the key to perfect health is to find ways to cool down – mentally, emotionally and physically. This affects everything we do including what we eat, when we exercise, and how we relax.
In Ayurveda there are three governing agents that are the basis of everything in the universe, known as doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Every aspect of nature is a combination of these three – including the seasons.
Summertime is Pitta season and Pitta affects metabolism, digestion and all heat in the mind, body and environment. When Pitta becomes aggravated and overheated we get out of balance. This affects our emotions (eg anger and impatience), our body (eg sweaty, ruddy, sensitive skin) and our behaviors (eg a drive to perfectionism).
Here are 7 tips to keep you cool:
1. Avoid foods that heat you up
When the body is already hot the last thing you need is to rev it up with spicy food. Go easy on the curries, chillis, hot peppers and salsas. Sour foods like yogurt, cheese and sour cream all add too much heat in Pitta season. Also limit excessively salty foods – they will leave you dehydrated and aggravate your skin. Small amounts of ginger, black pepper and cumin are ok but say no to cayenne. Stay away from tomatoes, garlic, onion, beets and spinach when you can. Alcohol has a heating effect on the body as well.
2. Favor foods that cool you down
Sweet, bitter, astringent foods are the ones to go for. Good examples are milk (drink it warm), butter and ghee. Olive, sunflower and coconut oils are great for balancing Pitta. Sweet, ripe fruits like avocados, cherries, plums, grapes, pineapples, peaches and mangoes are perfect. Cilantro and mint are excellent and a little cinnamon is fine. Asparagus, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, zucchini and green beans are all good.
3. Avoid ice cold drinks
“What – no ice in my drink?? Isn’t that the ultimate balancer for all the heat?” Actually, no. While we need to keep cool, it is even more important to keep your digestion strong. Your digestive system is like a fire that is responsible for converting food into energy. When the flames of your digestive fire are burning in a balanced way, you are able to assimilate all the good bits you need from your food whilst eliminating the not-so-good bits. However when you drink that iced-water with lunch, you are effectively putting out the flames of your digestive fire. So lay off the ice and go for room temperature. It will be assimilated into your body much faster and you will feel rehydrated more quickly.
4. Eat at the right time
An important part of balancing Pitta and keeping cool is to eat your main meal in the middle of the day when your digestive fire is strongest. Skipping meals is also a sure fire way (excuse the pun) to upset Pitta – notice how cranky you feel when you miss lunch.
5. Exercise with a splash
If you are working out, do it at the time of the day when nature is most cool. Early morning is best. Second best is early evening. Going for a run in the middle of the day when the sun is at its strongest is going to aggravate Pitta. Light exercise is recommended such as yoga, tai chi, walking and best of all, swimming.
6. Make time to play
Balance the intensity of the heat with less intensity in your work. Build in time for play. When Pitta is out of balance we tend to be driven, demanding, impatient and we overdo it. That in turn creates more imbalance. So ease back and make some time for fun.
7. Turn down the temperature of the mind
As is the mind, so is the body. The most powerful way to settle down the mind is to build in some regular time for meditation each day. However there are many other ways to turn down the dial on that busy, frazzled mind. Listen to some beautiful music, take a walk in nature or practice some conscious breathing to soothe your soul.