By JiJi Russell
Alongside the yoga tradition lies the wonderful world of Ayurveda. Translated as the “science of life,” Ayurveda, which was gleaned from ancient texts of India, lays out a personalized system of health, based on one’s individual body constitution, personality traits, personal preferences, and other characteristics. For those looking to approach diet and lifestyle from a holistic and energetic standpoint, Ayurveda offers a fascinating realm of self-discovery.
Summer time, according to Ayurveda, is the “pitta” time, which correlates with the sun and fire. As a system of balance, Ayurveda aims to bring in what is absent or lacking in order to strike equilibrium. Thus, the summer time heat and activity levels demand cooling foods, water, and quiet respite. Certain foods and activities suit us better than others during the warm season.
If your own nature tends to be “hot and fiery” on top of the hot season, you would certainly benefit from inviting more coolness and balance within. If you are “cooler” in your constitution and nature, then you might relish the idea of soaking up some heat. No matter where your own constitution lies, here is some general guidance aimed at keeping the “pitta” energy of summer in balance.
Tame the Fire
Ayurveda recognizes six basic “tastes” for food—the rough equivalent to modern-day food groups. The most balancing flavors for cooling our bodies during hot days are bitter, sweet, and astringent, while the most aggravating taste is pungent, otherwise known as spicy.
Within this system, the bitter taste correlates with the elements of air and ether. Foods in this taste category are light, cooling, and dry in nature. The bitter taste is thought to possess powerful detoxifying agents, and has antibiotic, anti-parasitic, and antiseptic qualities.
Examples of bitter foods include green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and green cabbage; herbs and spices like turmeric, fenugreek, and dandelion root; coffee and less-sweet varieties of fruits.
Sweet foods constitute water and earth elements. Milk, most grains, sweet fruits, and certain cooked vegetables (carrots, potatoes, beets) are considered sweet. These foods increase bulk and moisture in the body.
Astringent foods create a puckering on the tongue, or a dry, chalky feeling. The contracting qualities of these foods can help absorb water, tighten tissues, dry fat, heal skin wounds, and offer antibiotic and antibacterial qualities.
Examples of astringent foods include legumes, lentils, cranberries, pomegranates, pears, dried fruits, broccoli, cauliflower, artichoke, asparagus, and turnip, rye, buckwheat, and quinoa.
Play it Cool
Some cultures have a tradition of retreating for a long mid-day meal and then resting afterward, during the hottest part of the day. If you tend to become overheated in summertime, take this practice on for yourself. Give yourself permission to relax a bit, drink a cool drink, perhaps read or stretch, or simply do nothing for 30 minutes in the middle of your day. You might find it helps you conserve your energy over the longer days of summer.
While summertime offers a wide array of sports and activities to keep us busy and energized, the coolness of water sports lends great balance to our efforts. Swimming and other water activities offer respite from baking-in-the sun field sports. If given the choice, opt for a close proximity to water.
Restorative yoga can also provide a way to tone down the heat and slow down the activity level, just when you need it most. Choose one or two seated or reclining yoga poses you like, and spend five minutes doing each one. Slow your effort and your breath down, and see how your mind and energy level might benefit.
Cool It Now
Food Picks for Beating the Heat
1) Watermelon (sweet): There’s a reason that a super-hydrating, sweet food comes into season just when the temperature rises. The vitamin B in watermelon helps us to maintain our energy over a longer period of daylight; while the water and electrolytes cool and hydrate us.
2) Blueberries (sweet): These North American natives offer many valuable antioxidents and anti-inflammatory compounds. They deliver the sweet taste, with a low glycemic index, meaning that they do not spike blood sugar levels.
3) Lettuces of all kinds (bitter): We all know we need to eat more greens because of their nutrient density and positive impact on digestive and cardio vascular health alone.
4) Celery (bitter/astringent): It can go just about anywhere: salads, stir fries, smoothies, a snack on the go. The crunch provides snacking satisfaction, while the veggie promotes digestive tract health and delivers lots of antioxidants and vitamin K.
5) Cucumbers (astringent): The saying “cool as a cucumber” might hold water. These veggies offer a blank slate for adding spices, oils, and other flavors. They contain many antioxidants and cancer-fighting compounds, and provide a surprisingly refreshing addition to summer smoothies.
6) Quinoa (astringent): Use this as a starting point for a summer pilaf. Chop up your favorite raw or lightly cooked veggies, toss in some spices and seeds, and take this protein-packed salad on the go. Great fiber, folate, manganese, and other goodies inside.
JiJi Russell, a yoga instructor and integrative nutrition health coach, manages the corporate wellness program for American Public University System in Charles Town, W.Va. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.