It’s official: we’re getting into the dog days of summer. And as the sun grows stronger and temperatures climb, our doshas can feel out of whack.
What are doshas, you ask? According to ancient Ayurvedic medicine, the body is ruled by three major energies – kapha, pitta, and vata – and we are healthiest when we can balance the three within our bodies. (In case you're wondering why Ayurveda has anything to do with yoga: Ayurveda and yoga are two closely-related branches of ancient Indian teaching. So Ayurveda is an incredible tool to fuel our yoga practice as well as our life.)
Ayurvedic medicine teaches that summer is dominated by pitta energy. Pitta energy is known to be fiery, spontaneous, sharp, creative, and driven. But when it becomes aggravated in your body, it can manifest as anger, impulsiveness, jealousy, or impatience. You might also notice it if you feel dehydrated, sweaty, or irritable. (Sounds kind of like me on the highway during rush hour.)
Luckily, there are so many ways to balance the pitta in our bodies before it turns into road rage. Stay cool as a cucumber with these Ayurvedic tricks for all aspects of your life:
Remember how Sun Salutations are named after…well, the sun? That’s because when we link vigorous, flowing movements to our breath in yoga class, we create intense internal heat. We’re truly channeling the same energy as the sun. But Ayurveda is all about balance, meaning that in summer, we should be embracing the opposite of the sun – the cooling, soothing moon.
A moon salutation, known by the Sanskrit chandra namaskara, is a flow in some ways opposite to a sun salutation. Each pose is still coordinated to your breathing, but you're not trying to heat and invigorate your body. Instead, embrace graceful and spontaneous movement in order to cool and quiet the body. Try the moon salutation sequence listed here.
Remember to move slower than you might in sun salutations, breathe deeply, and invite any kind of delicious, uninhibited movement into the sequence. You can also experiment with replacing your typical intense inversions with a soothing legs-up-the-wall pose. Embrace as many forward folds as you like, too – they calm the nervous system, offering the body a sense of balance and peace. Invite a sense of fun and play onto the mat, not subtle competition with the person on the mat next to you. (Remember, competitiveness is a pitta trait, and it too can be aggravated by summer!)
And if you hate the thought of not getting to work up a great sweat in yoga class, remember that lunar energy is a great complement to solar energy – not a replacement. You don’t have to sacrifice your favorite intense yoga class. Simply take a few minutes after your regular class is over to serenely close your practice with a cooling flow.
Because pitta energy is thought to be hot, oily, light, sharp, and acidic, you can balance its energy with cool, dry, dense, naturally sweet, and bitter foods. What does that mean, exactly? It means that this is salad season!
For summer, you should base your diet primarily around cooling, whole, fresh fruits and vegetables. Eat them raw or lightly steamed. This shift in diet will decrease internal heat (so you can enjoy the external heat), prevent inflammation, ground the body, and absorb excess liquid and oil. And what does that mean for your daily life? Amazing things: less acne, less bloat, less water retention...basically, way less of the summer ickiness we’d all like to avoid.
Particularly good foods for summer include avocado, cucumber, apples, pears, any kind of melon, moderate amounts of yogurt, plenty of dark leafy greens (like spinach, swiss chard, or kale), and basmati rice. Dress salads simply, with olive oil and a cooling splash of lemon juice or lime – not a heavy premade dressing.
You should also try to avoid hot, spicy foods during steamy summer days. I know, I know – I love chips and salsa more than life itself. But foods like chili peppers, coffee, horseradish, garlic, and heavy meats will just add to the heat in the body and aggravate your belly. Try subbing in fresh guac instead of salsa, drinking iced green tea instead of coffee, and embracing cool garnishes like mint, basil and lime over warming spices like turmeric.
Luckily for you, we’ve already written about five fabulous essential oils to make your summers better than ever! We also recommend that you switch your carrier oil to a cooling one, like coconut, for the summer.
Bonus round: if you find it hard to stay hydrated during the summer, consider adding in cucumbers, limes, coconut, or a drop of cooling essential oil to your water bottle. Peppermint, rose, lemon, and tangerine will put a pep in your step and have you emptying your Hydroflask before you know it. (Just remember to always make sure an oil is therapeutic-grade before you drink it, or you could end up with a bellyache! We at Uprise recommend DoTerra.)
Ujayyi breath during yoga class offers incredible vigor – sometimes I feel like I could start sweating before I even begin sun salutations! Of course, that's exactly what Ayurveda recommends we avoid. Cool down and focus this summer with a different kind of pranayama called sheetali.
Try this: stick your tongue out (like you're about to lick an ice cream cone) and try to curl the sides of the tongue upward. Breathe in through the mouth. Close your mouth and hold the breath, and then slowly exhale through the nose. After repeating it for eight to ten breaths, you should feel your temperature cooling down.
If your tongue doesn’t seem to want to curl up at the edges, try nadi shodhana pranayama on for size. First, close your right nostril with your right thumb. Inhale through the left nostril, hold the breath for a moment, and then exhale completely through the same nostril. Then do the opposite: cover your left nostril, breathe in, hold, and breathe out. Repeat it five or ten times and you should be feeling cool, calm, and collected.
To maintain a general sense of lightness and wellbeing this summer, embrace anything that feels lusciously lunar. Wear cool colors like blues, lavenders, light grays, and whites. Choose light fabrics made from natural fibers over heavy synthetics – think more along the lines of linen and cotton, not polyester and Spandex. (Yoga pants excepted, obviously.) Take long nighttime walks, when the air is cooler and the stars are out. Breathe deeply. Use summer as a time to create space in your life.
You could also consider adding cooling gemstones and metals into your life. Silver, pearl, moonstone, opal, and lapis lazuli are soothing stones that can balance summer’s heat and high energy. Wear them, place them around your home, keep them in your pocket and roll them between your palms when you feel stressed…the possibilities are endless!
The American lifestyle is set up to value pitta qualities like high energy, ambition, endurance, hard work, and ability to function under incredible stress. But long, hot summer days and intense sunshine can add way too much stress to be fun (or healthy).
Ayurveda seeks to change that – at its heart, it’s all about balance. So embrace all that is sweet and cooling this summer: balance hot with cool, work with play, and stress with ease. And hey – any excuse to eat more guac is good with me!
Have you noticed feeling any of that aggravated pitta energy yourself this summer? Or do you have a favorite way to beat the heat? Let us know in the comments below!
Anna Squires studies political science, journalism, and creative writing at Colorado College. There is nothing she enjoys more in a yoga class than laughing so hard she falls out of a pose, especially since then she doesn’t have to hold it anymore. She hails from Atlanta, GA.