Living according to the seasons: An Ayurvedic Summer
In the last three articles I have been introducing different aspects of Ayurveda and how the wisdom of Ayurveda can benefit your yoga practice. Over the next few issues of Spectrum I want to look at how each season can influence your health and how you can adjust your practice to be appropriate for each season. Well its summer now, so stretch out and enjoy the sunshine!
Summer is usually a time of improved health; the sun is out, we have more daylight hours, we can spend more time outside. In our climate it is a healthy time of year for most of us. In fact each season carries with it certain positive attributes and certain challenges to our system. As with all Ayurvedic principles you just have to observe nature and start to 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 as you move from dharana (concentration) to dhyanam (pure meditation).
The qualities of summer
Summer is a time when the element of Fire is increased; there is more warmth, dryness and lightness. These are qualities that increase pitta and can also increase vata. We often associate summer with such problems as hayfever, prickly heat and other skin inflammations . These all have some itchy, hot pitta symptoms that come to the surface with the rising heat. 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, heart at this time of year
Fire physiology: Sight, digestion, appetite, metabolism, assimilation, warmth, thermal conduction are all affected by the increased warmth of summer.
Psychic Fire: Manipura chakra: situated behind the navel at the solar plexus. 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, salty and so too much of these flavours in the summer may aggravate people prone to pitta inflammations.
A yogic summer
It is a perfect time to apply the wise teaching of Swami Satyananda Saraswati and increase your viveka and vairagya. These refer to your discrimination and non-attachment respectively. By discriminating we are choosing what is best for us and not just following the perpetual attractions and revulsions 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. Now I have nothing against ice cream but it must be used wisely so that you absorb the full pleasure and nourishment that it can offer. If it is abused it will harm you, if it is used with viveka and vairagya then it can bring you much joy!
• 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 and calming Sheetali pranayama- this is an especially calming and soothing practice where you roll your tongue into a tube and then draw the air in through this tube and out through your nostrils. You can just feel the cool air chilling you out!
• As we have seen pitta can accumulate in the digestive system and especially the liver and small intestine. Do some abdominal stretch, twist and massage exercises for helping to clear pitta 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 meal; Kicharee recipe:
1/3 cup organic mung dal, 2/3 organic basmati rice (or other grain) simmered in 3-4 cups of water (a ratio of 1:3 or 1:4).
Add 1/4 tsp each of organic turmeric, fresh ginger, roasted cumin and coriander. Add peppermint leaves and fresh coriander as cooling digestive herbs.
Add seasonal organic vegetables: Asparagus, green leafy vegetables, and summer squash for an all round healing, healthy and digestive fire enkindling meal. The rules are to cook it on a very low heat in a covered saucepan and DO NOT stir it after all the ingredients are added (or you end up with a mush!).
• Add a teaspoon of ghee or hemp seed oil at the end with some grated fresh coconut. Eat it with cucumber raita as a delicious condiment. Some green salad is ok at lunchtime as well.
• For supper have a light meal of basmati rice, sprouted mung beans and green leafy vegetables. Do not eat salad at night as it will aggravte vata.
• 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 Organic Aloe vera juice (50ml/day) throughout the summer to clear pitta from the digestive system. Take it first thing in the morning.
• A good way of flushing pitta out of the body is via the bowel; Ayurveda recommends Amla or Amla formula as a mild laxative. Triphala can be a little heating and so it is best to move over to Amla in pitta constitutions.
• When you are thirst try drinking cool herbal eas of peppermint, licorice, fennel and roses. Another delicious delicacy is to collect a glass of fresh rose petals and cover them in sugar overnight (in the moonlight ?!). In the morning you will have a delicious rose syrup elixir to mix in your almond milk or just dilute with water, simply divine!
• It is very important to watch out for pitta emotions arising such as criticism, being judgmental, irritation and anger. If you feel a bit ‘hot under your collar’ a good trick is to hold a glass of water in your mouth as the water cools your pitta and keeps you quiet!
• Before you go 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. It is important to 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 and 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 dosha change in you.