By Lauren Massalas, Ayurvedic Health Counselor
With so many evanescent health perspectives out there, I’m comforted by Ayurveda’s time tested wisdom. Like yoga, Ayurveda originates from the Vedas, classical texts from ancient India. It is the oldest continuously practiced healthcare system in the world.
In short, Ayurveda is based on the 5 elements in nature, and that each of us is a mini universe, or a microcosm of the macrocosm. The 5 elements couple to form the 3 doshas: vata (air+space), pitta (fire+water), and kapha (earth+water), which govern movement, transformation and structure in the body, respectively. Every person is made up of these 3 doshas in varying amounts, which make us completely unique, kind of like DNA. Doshas have the tendency to get out of balance and are influenced by diet, lifestyle and seasonal environment. Ayurveda is essentially the art of keeping these doshas in balance through individualized diet and lifestyle, while shifting with the seasons.
Doshas also correspond to seasons. Vata (cold air) rules fall and winter, kapha (mud) in the spring and pitta (fire) in summer. Since I can’t speak to every person’s individual constitution, this will be a general Ayurvedic approach to summer. Remember it’s possible not every suggestion will apply to you, but rather highlight ways to balance the extremes of the season.
What Pitta Can Do For You
Pitta (“PIT-ta”) is a combination of fire and water, and its function is transformation and metabolism. Its qualities, like that of fire and water are sharp, hot, subtle, light, spreading, and slightly oily/liquid (think bile and digestive enzymes). Pitta’s main sites in the body are in the small intestine, stomach, eyes, brain, skin, heart and liver. It’s interesting to hear new research of the gut brain connection. Pitta is in charge of chemical metabolism and assimilation of nutrients, transforming impressions into knowledge, and processing emotions. Since pitta rules the skin and eyes, balanced pitta radiates glowing skin and a luster to the eyes. This radiance or luminosity is what the yogis called “tejas.”
Signs of Pitta Imbalance
But more is not better here. Excess fire is destructive. Like increases like: when you start stacking hot weather, hot, spicy or sharp foods, in a person with a pitta dominant constitution, you have an imbalanced pitta situation on your hands. Which can look like this: critical, judgmental, perfectionism, impatience, and can lead to skin problems like acne and rashes, red eyes, burning sensation in the GI tract, to name a few. Have you experienced any of these symptoms before? Anyone you know?
We’re not about that life. We all want that tejas. Here’s how:
Summer Sense Care:
Ayurveda starts with “dinacharya”, or daily routine. Since pitta digests the outside world, sense care increases right perception. Observe which of your senses could use some extra lovin'.
Moon gaze for hot eyes. Reduce screen time. Take a walk without your phone. Take periodic computer breaks. Look at something naturally beautiful. The Esplanade is my medicine :)
The ears take in gossip, violent news, aggressive lyrics, and loud construction. Weave in meditation, silence, beautiful music or chill beats, singing, or sounds of nature.
Here’s the ultimate act of self care: for radiant skin and relief of joint and muscle pain, rub coconut oil all over your body in a loving, luxurious way. This is a must for runners! Make sure to shower after, soap off the “pits and bits,” and gently pat yourself dry with a towel.
Note: be careful of a slippery tub and clean off oil.
“Lunch is the new dinner.” Put lunch on a pedestal, for at least 10 minutes without working or checking your phone. Make lunch your biggest meal. Snacks interrupt digestion, so reduce snacking with the exception of fruit and water between meals.
I love the “plant baby” trend I see on instagram. Decorate with houseplants or fresh flowers. For essential oils, chose grounding, sweet or earthy scents like rose, eucalyptus and sandalwood.
Yin, flow and restore, gentle...anything grounding, cooling and slow. For vinyasa, give yourself permission to skip chaturanga when you need. Savor twists which rinse the liver, and anything that airs out the armpits. If you tend to be hard on yourself, set your intention on self love and give yourself a break.
Avoid vigorous exercise between 10am-2pm, the pitta time of day when the sun is strongest. Running at noon will burn through your luminosity, leaving your temper, skin and internal environment hot. Save vigorous exercise for early in the morning or cooler evenings.
My teacher Larissa Carlson, former dean of Ayurveda at Kripalu, says silence and stillness is the #1 way to cultivate tejas. There is a subtype of pitta called “sadhaka pitta,” which sits both in the heart and in the brain and digests impressions and emotions. Many of us wake to social media and emails, starting the day with anxiety, and end the day with social media or TV. By turning inward you give sadhaka pitta a chance to do “in house cleaning” which boosts mental clarity, creativity and contentment.
Tip: keep your phone out of the bedroom and/or invest in a real alarm clock. Meditate or breathe before looking at your phone. If this seems intimidating, take a meditation class with Wilhelm Engelbrecht. If all else fails, take a savasana on your floor.
Pranayama breathing techniques:
Look for these two cooling, calming breath techniques in the studio:
Shitali breath: from the Sanskrit “shita” which means cold. Make a hot dog shape with your tongue, inhale to pull in cool air and exhale through your nose.
Nadi shodhana, aka alternate nostril breathing, means “channel purification.” Press your right nostril and inhale through the left, then plug the left and exhale right, inhale right, plug right and exhale left. You can also do “hands free nadi shodhana” just by visualizing the side to side pattern.
FOMO versus JOMO:
Instead of the “fear of missing out” and overbooking, try JOMO, the “joy of missing out.” Take some nights off and strive for sleep by 10pm. 10pm-2am is the pitta time of night, where the liver detoxifies when you’re asleep. When you fight the urge to sleep you get a second wind.
Pitta is sharp, pungent and hot, so your food should contain the opposite qualities. Sweet, bitter and astringent tastes cool pitta.
Top Pitta Pacifying Foods to Enjoy this Summer:
Ghee, which increases digestion and also cools the body
Coconut anything (coconut water, coconut milk, coconut oil)
Fresh cilantro or ground coriander
Local ripe sweet fruits: strawberries, blueberries, peaches, grapes
Grains: rice, barley, quinoa
Greens: spinach, kale, chard, collards
Natural sweeteners like dates and maple syrup
Legumes like chickpeas, black beans and tofu
*You can already imagine a great meal here: pick a grain as your base, with steamed kale and zucchini, chickpeas, chopped cilantro, and topped with ghee or coconut oil.
Top Foods that Lead to Pitta Imbalance (avoid or reduce) and what to replace with:
Salsa > guacamole with avocado, lime, cilantro and pink salt
Fried food > baked or steamed
Red meat > white meat or salmon
Sharp cheese > soft cheese or vegan cheese from almonds, coconuts, sunflower or pumpkin seeds
Coffee > slowly reduce coffee and drink it before noon, or switch to green tea
Alcohol > Ayurveda recommends reducing alcohol which is extremely sharp, dehydrating and depleting to all body tissues. As a substitute, Dr. Claudia Welch drinks cherry juice out of a fancy glass. That being said, Dr. Robert Svoboda says an occasional beer (or rosé) takes the edge off pitta.
Excessive kombucha and fermented foods > Reduce the portion, share with a friend
Yogurt > Chia seeds soaked in coconut milk
Hot peppers or hot sauce > Spices: fennel, cardamom, turmeric, saffron, basil, parsley, mint
Table salt > Himalayan pink salt, in moderation
Iced drinks (freeze your gut) > Room temperature drinks, herbal water, or pressed juices without ice
As you look over these suggestions, pick out one or two that speak to you and you can implement easily. Even observing how your body reacts to certain foods and lifestyle practices can be eye opening. Notice if you develop any pitta imbalance symptoms this summer. If so, refer back to this guide. If Ayurveda intrigues you and you’re curious about your own unique constitution, please reach out! firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor. All suggestions are within the context of general Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle principles. It is always strongly recommended that you consult with a personal health care provider prior to applying any of the education provided herein.