Let’s face it: summer in the city can be intense. The heat makes us irritable, impatient, and easily frustrated. There are many common ways to cool down such as blasting the aircon but that can be a great waste of energy, or weighing in at your nearest self-serve frozen yogurt shop but that can add up on the body and in the bank. The ancient seers of India had their own internal cooling system that comes from the traditional healing science known as Ayurveda.
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 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. Too much of any of these elements takes us out of balance. 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 think that we are always right. Sound familiar? Luckily, there are many ways to keep these imbalances in check. Let’s take a look at some common pitta imbalances so you can check in yourself.
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 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.
Shift your yoga practice
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 are used to. 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 like the rest of them but that does not mean I need to go to extremes when the temperature takes me there already. The experience of yoga is not calibrated by the amount of perspiration you emit but by the depth of connection you have to the moment. That is what we can take back with us to our friends, our spouses, our children, and our co-workers. If you leave class feeling more imbalanced than you were when you arrived, something’s not working. Here’s a few tips on how to shift your yoga practice to create more equanimity both on the mat and off. If you’re new to yoga, fear not! These are tips that are available to anyone at any time.
- Avoid practicing surya namaskar, the sun salutation, in excess. Rather practice moon salutes (I think we should have an asterisk here or link to a moon salute sequence).
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. All of these things help counter a pitta imbalance.
Practice sitali breath: curl the end of your tongue up to the roof of your mouth. If you can’t do that (you’re not flawed: some people anatomically are unable to!) then simply open your mouth as if you are giving a fake smile. Breath 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 internal cooling system. Although it might look funny, this comes in very handy while you’re waiting on the subway platform in intense heat. Give it a try!
Avoid spicy or acidic foods like peppers and tomatoes and eat cooling ones such as coconut, cucumber, and melon.
Last but not least: avoid alcoholic beverages if your pitta is up. It takes all of those imbalances into more imbalance! Although it might feel cooling at the time, it will only fan the fire in the end.
Stay cool and Namaste.