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The summertime climate is hot and sunny. From the perspective of Ayurveda this presents the potential for aggravation of that dosha responsible for digestion, metabolism, and transformation–pitta. Remember that the qualities of pitta are hot, sharp, sour, moving, light, and slightly oily. When these qualities are lively in the food and climate, etc. then they tend to build or accumulate in the physiology. Often this accumulation is experienced as increased body heat or sour taste in the mouth, but also emotionally when we feel irritable or angry or impatient. In order to prevent imbalances in the physiology due to these influences we will make some specific recommendations following an extended quote on this subject from one of the revered ancient authorities, Sushruta (as translated by Bhishagratna)—
Physical exercise, toil, hot and excessively drying articles of food, as well as those abundant in heat-producing tastes (pungent, acid, saline) should be avoided in the summer. Large tanks, lakes, and rivers as well as charming gardens and cold rooms should be resorted to. Cold rooms should be resorted to, and the finest (refreshing) sandal pastes and garlands of flowers of lotuses and lilies, soft breeze from palm-leaf fans and necklaces (of precious stones and pearls) as well as light clothes should be used in summer. Sweet-scented and cooling panakas and manthas (soup-like preparations) with abundance of sugar should be used. Sweet, liquid and cool food mixed with clarified butter, and boiled milk sweetened with sugar, etc, (should be) taken at nighttime. One should at that time lie on a bed strewn over with full-blown and fresh flowers in some palatial building with his body besmeared with sandal pastes and refreshed by cooling breeze.
This is certainly everyone’s idea of the Garden of Eden existence. And who can afford the pearls, the palatial building, and the attendant to fan you all night long? And where is all that water coming from? So the idea of the quote is to seek out things and places which are cooling in their effect. Sweets, ghee, sandalwood, milk, pearls, and lotus flowers, and water are cooling to the physiology. Doing less physical activity during the summer is what many would call a “no brainer.” So let’s look at some specifics.
Sleep is rest–the time the physiology takes to reset, restore, rebuild, and clean. When sleep is adversely affected then the first process to be disturbed is digestion–that all-important function at the root of all health, according to Ayurveda. When digestion is disturbed then ama or toxins are produced and these serve to disrupt normal physiology. Therefore, we want to maintain those conditions which promote sleep. Ayurveda thus recommends a cool sleeping environment. If air conditioning or fans are available then consider them useful for good health for this reason.
The heat from the climate tends to promote bodily sweat–that natural process which serves to cool the body. It is important, therefore to drink plenty of fluids. Ice cold beverages are not indicated, however, as they tend to adversely affect digestion. Those persons who favor carbonated beverages may suffer additionally from the sugar and carbon dioxide in them. Sugar tends to excite vata dosha and to promote artificial hunger and thirst. The carbon dioxide under pressure is said to form carbonic acid and this accelerates digestion in the stomach—possibly leading to hyperacidity and burning sensation in the body. Further, the carbon dioxide promotes dryness and there is evidence that the incidence of kidney stones and other calculi are related to this influence in the body. The Southeast is considered the “kidney stone belt” of the U.S. and this probably relates to the high consumption of carbonated beverages in this area.
There is another caution about fluids–drinking lots of fluids tends to put out the digestive fire (digestive capacity/ intensity decreases). Therefore, we should be careful to try to avoid fluids in large quantities in the period one hour before to one hour after meals. It would be beneficial in our climate to include digestion-promoting spices in our foods because of this influence, e.g.: ginger, cumin, coriander, etc. Chewing fennel seed is also useful for this purpose as it is said to help balance digestion. Conversely, insufficient fluid intake is responsible for many symptoms of aging (declining functioning).
When we crave sweet beverages, etc. our body is primarily asking for something cooling–sweet is primarily cooling to the physiology, according to Ayurveda. Naturally sweet fruit juices are especially good including grape, peach, mango, etc. Remember that the frozen and canned products are less desirable–they have less prana (vitality) and they may be made from fruit not picked at the “just ripe” time, thus having some sour taste (sour increases body heat). Fennel also is cooling to the body when metabolized and provides the influence the body/mind wants without the baggage of sugar, for example.
The bright sun can be beneficial for “cooking” and transforming ama present in the body—it produces a feeling of lightness in the body but some precautions are indicated. The bright sun is a fire element and pitta is affected directly–especially the organ of sight. Therefore, we should be mindful to help disperse and prevent the build up of excess heat in the eyes. With this in mind we may consider sunglasses as an adjunct BUT it would be better to perform daily sunning exercises which promote tolerance to bright light. This exercise is done by closing the eyelids and “looking” directly at the sun. This should be done daily for about 5-10 minutes. Remember that the use of sun glasses is symptomatic treatment and does not fundamentally strengthen or protect the eyes. Rose water drops in the eyes during the day or castor oil drops at night before bed may be helpful. Applying cool compress to the eyes is beneficial also.
In regard to the organ of the skin the sun's rays produce free-radicals, which may result in dry, leathery skin and even skin cancer. Using an anti-oxidant daily, such as sesame oil would be beneficial. For those who want to know if sesame oil is a good tanning oil–the answer is “No.” Sesame oil is heat producing in the physiology, which promotes burning–not tanning. Coconut oil is preferred because it is cooling, which slows the sun's burning effects. For those people who object to sesame oil's heating effect try adding sandalwood, coconut, or sunflower oil to your sesame oil.
Daily exercise is an important Ayurvedic guideline. For best results it should be done early in the day–before 10 am. This time is cooler than later hours, which means less opportunity for pitta aggravation due to heat. Sushruta warns that since the summer is the depleting time of the year less exercise should be taken in the summer than in the winter, for example. Also, there is a common use of Walkman radio/cassette devices while exercising. This is strictly contraindicated according to Ayurveda because mind-body coordination \ communication is precluded. The point of exercise is to release stress–awareness of stored stress is necessary for its release and to prevent over-exercise leading to injury. Engage in those activities which you enjoy for themselves and don't use the music as a diversion or crutch because the activity is boring. It is strongly recommended that everyone listen to and follow Dr. Douillard's Invincible Athlete Program guidelines –never exercise more than 50% of capacity.
A final recommendation–we urge everyone to perform a daily inspection of one's tongue. Look for discoloration–a coating of ama–which will disclose the condition digestion and of the digestive tract. If one sees such a coating then consider including digestive spices in your meals (cumin, fresh ginger, black pepper) or/and hot water with meals or during the day. A yellow coating is indicative of a pitta with ama imbalance. This is often accompanied by anger, impatience, judgment, criticism, and increased bodily heat. If you haven't had an Ayurvedic Consultation recently then this would be a good indication to have one. Remember, the essence of health is prevention and digestion is the root of all health.
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