Make It an Ayurvedic Summer: Holistic Tips for Staying Cool, Calm, and Collected
by Jonathan Ambar
Feeling overheated this summer? Ayurveda can help you keep your cool. The 5,000-year-old “science of life” is based on practical principles that help you maintain balance in accordance with the pulse of the season. Right now, that translates into grounded ways to keep the heat at bay—think of it as nature’s air-conditioning.
The summer months tend to affect pitta, one of the three main doshas, or constitutions, that we are comprised of (the other two are kapha and vata). Excess pitta can flare up in the summer: irritability, skin inflammation, and acid indigestion are all signs that your pitta is out of balance.
One of the most important tips to adhere to during the summer: stay hydrated. Sure, that iced latte might seem tempting as the temperatures hit the high notes, but according to the Ayurvedic perspective, it’s not refreshing to the system. “Caffeine is very stimulating and dehydrating,” says Hilary Garivaltis, Dean of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda. “It’s a good idea to stay away from that. Instead, go for herbal teas and coconut water.” If you do want to cool your drink with ice, Hilary recommends that you wait until the ice melts before enjoying your beverage, and room-temperature water is best.
The foods you eat also help control the heat. Contrary to popular wisdom, hot, spicy foods are not recommended-they can overstimulate the system. Instead, fresh fruits and vegetables and salads-melons and cucumbers, for example-and herbs such as mint and cilantro will keep you refreshed in the hotter months. Eating more lightly is also encouraged. And although grilling is a popular summer activity, Hilary recommends avoiding or minimizing the consumption of red meat, which also gets pitta in a tizzy. Instead, try grilling vegetables.
Just as coconut water is advised to keep cool, so is the use of coconut oil on the skin. “Coconut oil is light, thin, and cooling on the skin,” says Kripalu Yoga teacher and Ayurvedic Yoga Specialist Larissa Hall Carlson. “It keeps the skin radiant, and it’s effective for sun worshippers.” Another self-care technique to keep cool? Washing your feet before going to bed. “It’s soothing, cooling, and helps stave off the heat that can often contribute to irritability and sleeplessness at night,” explains Larissa. Essential oils such as lavender, sandalwood, and rose are also cooling and can be used to rub your feet, or to add to a bath.
Both Hilary and Larissa says that any form of exercise should be done either in the early morning (preferably) or later in the afternoon, before and after the sun’s rays are at their strongest. If you’re a yoga practitioner, certain poses and pranayama (breathing techniques) are especially effective this time of year. “Straight-legged poses and wide-legged poses are great during the summer,” says Larissa, “because they release the inner thighs and groin, where we tend to store a lot of heat. Anything that separates the legs from the center line is cooling.” These poses include Triangle, Wide-Angle Forward Fold, Bound Angle, Five-Pointed Star, Tree, and Happy Baby. Even if you like to keep things vigorous on the yoga mat during summer, practicing with soft eyes, or even closed eyes, can help induce a sense of serenity that counteracts the intensity of the heat. Larissa also recommends longer Savasanas (Corpse pose).
Forceful pranayama such as bhastrika (Bellows Breath), kapalabhati (Skull-Polishing Breath), and ujjayi (Victorious Breath) tend to overheat the body. Instead, Larissa recommends cooling praanayama such as sheetali—an inhalation through the nose and an exhalation through the mouth with a curled tongue—which helps soothe the nervous system. Sheetali is especially effective because it dries the tongue, which stores heat. When practicing yoga or any other form of physical activity, make sure to wear loose, airy clothing; Larissa recommends quick-dry and dri-weave fabrics. For daily use, Hilary suggests clothing made from cotton or silk in light colors such as white, blue, green, or lavender—lighter colors reflect rather than absorb the sun’s heat.
Of course, avoiding the heat should not deter one from enjoying the gifts of the summer sun. Being out in nature is a great way to get grounded. “Enjoy the season. Being surrounded by green plants is healing-walking on the grass with bare feet can be very grounding, especially if you tend to get too scattered,” says Hilary. Being near water, of course, is also suggested—swimming is a great way to cool the body (as are regular baths and showers).
Ultimately, the most important thing to remember about the summer is to have fun and stay mindful. The days are longer and usually booked with activities. Enjoy all that the season has to offer, but also observe your habits. Notice how you react to the heat, to the energy created and generated by the season. Celebrate it, but make sure to also get enough rest and take time for self-nourishment. Happy summer!
Jonathan Ambar is a yoga teacher and an Editor at Kripalu Center.
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