Ayurvedic Secrets To Staying Cool During Sweaty Summer Commutes
Ayurveda is an time-tested healing modality that seeks to stave off disease by maintaining balance in the body. It operates on the idea that there are three doshas, or health types, that need to be present in equal measure for optimal well-being.
Amid one particularly harrowing hot and sticky commute earlier this summer, which ended with me sitting in an air-conditioned office profusely sweaty and uncomfortable, I started to wonder if ayurveda could help me find some relief. How can the dosha system inform our cool-down strategies? How can we tip the scales back to a balanced place when our bodies are super hot? Are New Yorkers resigned to showing up to work sweat-stained in the summer? These are all questions I put to some of mindbodygreen's trusted ayurveda experts, and their answers were like an immediate fan to the face.
6 ways to use ayurveda to stay cool when you're running around this summer.
The main thing to remember is that summer is the season of the pitta dosha—which is hot, fiery, and intense (sounds about right!). "When you add in the morning commute, pitta can go into overdrive," says Kiera Nachman, founder of Nao Ayurveda. "Think heat, frustration, stress, anger, intensity, inflammation, rashes." The key is to balance out some of that pitta energy with cooling vata energy, without extinguishing all of your fire since you'll need it to fuel things like digestion. Here's how it's done:
1. Swap your hot coffee for a cooling drink.
Author and ayurvedic nutritionist Sahara Rose swears by a combination of cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds in her water during the summer months. "This combination improves digestion without overheating the system, as cooling coriander and fennel seeds counterbalance cumin's heating properties," she says, adding, "If you feel like you need your daily coffee to go to the bathroom, this tea will gently detox your system without the harsh, acidic, and pitta-aggravating effects of coffee (which will most definitely leave you hot and bothered!)." Swap your hot coffee out for a thermos of her herbal concoction one day this week, and see if it makes a difference.
2. Keep rosewater on hand.
A spritz of rosewater a day keeps the summer anxiety away, according to Ananta Ripa Ajmera, an ayurvedic health practitioner. "Rose has a clarifying effect on skin, and it helps to soothe heat-related redness. And it's a great complexion enhancer!" She recommends spraying it on the face whenever you're feeling hot, overstimulated, or overworked. Nachman also likes to soak two cotton balls in rosewater and place them over closed eyes for five minutes before heading out for the day. (According to ayurveda, a lot of pitta energy gathers in the eyes.) You can either DIY your own rose mist blend or pick up one for cheap.
3. Add a grounding breathwork practice to your morning routine.
Many people swear by starting the morning with a meditation or breathwork to get into the right mindset for the day. And that's great! But you may want to revisit yours in the summer months to make sure it's not doing more harm than good. "Try to stay away from fast pranayama breathing, and do deep box breathing or root chakra meditations instead," cautions Paige Bourassa, MSTOM, L.Ac., RHN, an NYC-based acupuncturist who also has training in ayurveda.
Nachman and ayurvedic specialist Viji Natarajan recommend a breath called Sheetali or Sitali instead. Simply curl your tongue so it's in the shape of a straw, inhale through the mouth, and exhale through the nose, repeating the cycle eight to 10 times, to lower your body's temperature before or during a commute. "Sitali, literally means cooling," says Natarajan. "It has been shown to reduce fevers, fatigue, and stress in the body as well as increase moisture and calm both hunger and thirst." Other slow, cooling practices for the morning include yin yoga and stepping out onto the ground barefoot.
4. Make coconut oil your new best friend.
Many of the experts I spoke to suggested doing self-massages with coconut oil before or after a morning shower. Traditionally known as abhyanga, self-massage can help nourish the body and soothe inflammation and redness. Once you're done with yours, Natarajan recommends topping off the skin with a drop of sandalwood oil. "Sandalwood essential oil has the properties of being cooling and reducing heat in both the mind and body. In fact, sandalwood paste is often put on one's forehead in India!" she says.
5. Don't blast the AC.
Contrary to popular belief, air-conditioning units might not be the summertime saviors we once thought they were. "Our bodies are meant to adapt to the climates we are in. Going from 90-degree weather to 60-degree confuses the body, making it less efficient at its job," says Rose. Instead, she recommends using a fan to cool off when possible.
6. Reconsider your diet staples.
Shrankhla Holecek, MBA, founder of Uma ayurvedic oils, says that hot, spicy, and pungent foods have no place in a summertime diet. Instead, she reaches for sweet, juicy, water-rich fruits like pineapple and watermelon. Ajmera also uses cooling seeds like fennel, cumin, and mango powder (also known as amchur powder) in the summertime to replace intense, heat-trapping flavors like black pepper, ginger, and garlic. Bourassa tops off the list of cooling foods with ingredients like leafy greens, cilantro, mint, and dill.