Here in our small corner of the world, summer is in full swing. I don’t know about you, but this feels one of the warmest we’ve had in some time! While there is plenty to celebrate in summer, long balmy days, trips to the beach, etc., it is possible to have too much of a good thing which can lead to a heat imbalance.
According to the ancient science of Ayurveda, summer’s qualities include heat, light, sharpness and intensity, all of which are qualities of Pitta, one of the three doshas (Vata and Kapha being the other two).
Excess heat and the sharp intensity at this time of year can make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep, cause irritability, skin inflammation and indigestion to name a few. Depending on your personal constitution, you may notice this to a greater or lesser degree, but we will all benefit from at least a few considerations to ensure we aren’t negatively affected by the heating and drying qualities of summer.
Ayurveda teaches us that like increases like therefore, maintaining balance in the heat of summer requires that we introduce the opposite qualities of calming & cooling, into our diet, exercise and lifestyle habits. Following are some general guidelines for maintaining balance throughout the hot summer months, but if you feel that you are experiencing some extreme side effects from the heat, do visit your health professional.
Regardless of personal constitution, most people will benefit from eating a lighter diet during the summer months. Eat predominantly fresh fruits, green leafy vegetables and salads. Melons, particularly watermelon, cucumber, mint, coconut, summer squash, fennel, fresh coriander, and aloe vera all have cooling qualities. Mother nature knows what is good for us, eat fruit & veg that are in season and preferably grown locally. It is better to avoid hot, spicy foods which can overstimulate the system and create heat.
It is most important to keep hydrated. While it is almost instinctive for us to reach for an icy cold drink to cool us down, Ayurveda recommends that we consume cold drinks at room temperature rather than straight from the fridge.
I’ve talked before about the benefits of applying warm sesame seed oil to the skin, and this is good to continue year round. However, if you are feeling the heat, try using coconut oil instead. It is light, cooling and keeps the skin looking radiant. Bathing the feet before going to bed is soothing and cooling and can help promote a good night’s sleep, especially if you add a few drops of essential oil to the water – lavender, sandalwood, and rose are all ideal choices.
When it comes to your yoga practice, it’s good to drop the intensity to between 50 & 75% of your norm, depending on how you feel. A calm, slow moving practice that incorporates ‘relaxed effort’ will have a more cooling effect than fast, intense movement or extended stays in postures and yep, I’m gonna say it – best not to practice in an artificially heated environment. Softening the gaze induces a sense of serenity that counterbalances the sharp intensity of summer and comfortably extending your exhalation also has a calming, cooling effect.
Even if you don’t meditate at the end of your practice, try to sit for at least 5 minutes with your breath. If you like to incorporate pranayama, sitali pranayama is more beneficial during the summer heat than forceful breathing techniques such as kapalabhati or bhastrika.
Gentle walks in nature in the morning and early evening are very grounding and calming. Swimming and taking regular cool showers and baths are good ways to cool body temperature.
Those are just a few of many recommendations that Ayurveda has to help us stay fresh, calm and balanced throughout the hot days of summer. Try them out and feel the difference.