Summer in the city can be intense. The heat makes us irritable, impatient, and easily frustrated. We can see this on a macrocosmic level in our culture, as aggression goes up along with the temperatures. Although we cannot always directly change the larger consciousness of our society, we do have access to the ancient healing science of Ayurveda, which offers tools to help us create our own internal cooling system.
Ayurveda comes from two words: “Ayu” which means life and “veda” which means science so Ayurveda quite literally is the science of life. It is based on the premise that we each have a combination of elements that make us up, known as the doshas. The three doshas are: Earth and water, or kapha, fire and water, or pitta, and air and space, or vata. From an ayurvedic perspective, we all have a certain combination of each of these elements, which makes up our prakriti, or constitution. Too much of any of these elements takes us out of balance and into our vikriti, or condition. It makes a certain amount of logic when you think about it: excess earth creates lethargy, depression, and additional mucous in the body. Too much air and space and we are easily distracted, flighty, and ungrounded. Too much fire, we are impatient, judgmental, and over-reactive.
Fire manifests in the body as acid water, located in the stomach and in the digestive organs. Since pitta is responsible for metabolism, too much pitta can create acid indigestion, reflux, and diarrhea. It can also cause high blood pressure, acne and inflammation of the joints. And just like a burning wire, excess pitta can shorten our fuse, leading to aggression in both our personal and professional relationships, as well as in the community at large. It’s no surprise that crime rate and violence increase during the summer, particularly as a result of heat waves.
Despite this, many yoga classes continue to offer a practice that is heat building, sweat-inducing and pitta-aggravating in the height of summer because that is what we "think" we need. As a culture, we tend to take the “no pain, no gain” approach onto our yoga mats. If savasana isn’t experienced in a pool of sweat it somehow means we didn’t do enough. Don’t get me wrong - I enjoy a good sweat but that does not mean I need to go to extremes when the temperature takes me there already. The experience of yoga cannot be measured by the amount you perspire but by the depth of awareness you have to the moment. That awareness is what we take back with us to our friends, our spouses, our children, and our co-workers. If you leave class feeling more aggravated than you did when you arrived, is it really yoga?
Here’s a few tips on how to shift your yoga practice to create more equanimity both on the mat and off. These are tips that are available to anyone at any time.
- Avoid practicing surya namaskar in excess. Rather practice moon salutes and modify the vinyasas.
- Add a restorative pose to your practice or to your day. Legs up the wall is cooling, calming for the nervous system, lowers the heart rate, and slows down the breath.
- Practice sitali breath: curl the end of your tongue up to the roof of your mouth. If you can’t do that then simply open your mouth as if you are giving a fake smile. Breathe in through the tongue or the teeth. Pause at the top of the inhalation and then exhale our through the nostrils. Try this about 6 times and notice the effects. It helps cure heartburn, acid indigestion, and creates an inner ac unit in your body!
- Avoid spicy or acidic foods like peppers and tomatoes and eat cooling ones such as coconut, cucumber, and melon.
- Massage coconut oil into your skin after showering: it will cool your joints and ease the mind.
- Avoid excessive alcoholic beverages if your pitta is up. Although it might feel cooling at the time, it will only fan the fire in the end.
Or better yet - join me for a workshop on balancing the Pitta Dosha at ISHTA Yoga on July 21st. Stay chill, my friends! ❄️