Thousands of years ago, beneath the full moon on hot summer nights in India, Ayurvedic vaidyas, or healers, collected dewdrops from blue and white lotuses and stored them for medicinal purposes. According to the scriptures, if you place a drop of this precious substance on your tongue, it will cool your entire body. This “moon sweat” pacifies the pitta dosha, the subtle energy that controls metabolism and can cause you to overheat when it’s hot outside.
If you’re feeling dehydrated, sweaty, or irritable, you probably have excess pitta. Other telltale signs include skin inflammation, acidic stomach, burning sensations in the body, red eyes, and a flaring temper. But when your pitta is in balance, life is good: you experience unmatched energy and drive, mental clarity, joyfulness, vitality, and strength. Here are some tips for balancing pitta in the summer’s heat:
The Principle of Opposites
Much of ayurveda’s wisdom is based on the idea that “like increases like.” For example, if a fiery, temperamental businessman eats hot, spicy foods when it’s 90˚ outside, he’ll only get hotter and more irritable. That’s why ayurveda treats imbalances with their opposites. A vaidya (ayurvedic healer) would give this man cooling foods like cucumbers to quell his excess fire, tell him to go swimming, and take time to “stop and smell the roses”—literally. This principle is so simple it’s easy to overlook, but once you apply it to your daily life, you’ll be amazed how quickly you can rebalance your body and mind.
Watch what (and when) you eat. Eat breakfast and lunch before the sun gets hot. Our agni, or digestive fire, is low in the summer, so our appetite is weaker than it is in cooler seasons. In fact, it’s lowest during the hottest part of the day. Try to eat breakfast and lunch before 11 a.m. and a light dinner when the sun begins to set.
Stay hydrated. Drink 4 to 6 cups of water daily, along with cooling beverages like fresh coconut water and watermelon juice. Make your own cucumber milk by blending 1/2 cup of peeled cucumbers in 1 cup of milk with a pinch of sugar, then garnish with rose petals. Or make your own electrolyte drink: add 1 teaspoon each of lime juice and sugar, and a pinch of rock salt to a glass of cool water.
Avoid hot, spicy, salty foods. They’ll increase the pitta dosha. Hard liquor, red wine, and red meat are also too heating for the summer.
Eat sweet, bitter, and astringent foods instead. These tastes are pitta-pacifying. The best summer foods are made with milk, yogurt, ghee, cucumber, apples, pears, melon, watermelon, fresh cilantro, asparagus, artichoke, broccoli, and basmati rice. For breakfast, try cream of wheat cooked with milk and a pinch of cardamom and sugar. At lunch or dinner, get your daily dose of leafy greens. Fresh salads with olive oil or Thousand Island dressing are ideal. Dessert? Try tapioca pudding or a cup of sweet yogurt with 1/2 teaspoon sugar or Indian Kheer.
The Sun and the Moon
Sunlight—in moderation—is essential to our health and well-being, and believe it or not, so is moonlight. Here are some tips for maximizing your benefits:
Avoid direct exposure to the sun from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. If you have to spend time outdoors during the heat of the day, wear loose, comfortable clothing made of cotton or silk so skin can breathe. Wear colors that reflect the sunlight, such as white, blue, green, or gray, and cooling jewelry made with sandalwood beads, jade, pearl, amethyst crystals, moonstone, malachite crystals, or silver. And shade your head with a wide-brimmed hat.
Don’t work out in the heat. Water sports like swimming, scuba diving, and water polo are ideal for the summer. But save your exercise for the early morning or late evening.
Soothe a sunburn. Mix equal amounts of powdered sandalwood and turmeric with a little cool water and apply the paste to the sunburn. Or rub your skin with aloe vera gel or coconut oil.
Bask in the moonlight. In the evening, go for a walk on the beach or in the cool green grass. Wear white clothes and white flowers in your hair so you can absorb the moon’s cooling rays, which are soothing to the pitta dosha.
Chill Out with Yoga. Good cooling postures include the fish, camel, boat, cobra, cow, and tree poses. Learn a yogic breathing practice called sitali pranayama. And don’t forget to meditate—it will lower your mental/emotional temperature.
Vasant Lad, BAMS, MASc, is a world-renowned ayurvedic physician and author. He is the founder of the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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By Vasant Lad