Summer is the season of long days and intense sunlight. In the Ayurvedic cycle of the year, it is the season of the fiery pitta dosha. Seasonal changes create fluctuations in day length and sunlight that have a profound effect on us. No matter where you live in the Northern Hemisphere, summer’s radiating sun at an intense angle causes an accumulation of the pitta dosha (quality of fire) in both our bodies and minds. An excess of heat absorbed through the eyes and skin can aggravate the liver and interfere with our body’s detoxification processes. When pitta boils over, the emotions of irritation, anger, jealousy, impatience and extreme competitiveness can smolder. Physically, too much pitta can cause a feeling of being overheated, sunburn, redness, rashes and skin problems, high blood pressure and increased inflammation.
Pitta accumulates quickly from 10:00 AM on, so it's best to have a light breakfast early. Its best to eat something for breakfast, otherwise this may easily provoke pitta later in the morning. Oatmeal or cream of wheat with a little ghee are good options. You can also have fruit, but do not mix it with grains. Apples, dates, pears, melons, plums, and prunes are all cooling fruits. Avoid iced cold or hot drinks, since they reduce the permeability of the mucous membrane in the stomach and inhibit digestive enzymes, therefore slowing down the digestion. Iced drinks also contribute to receding gums. Room temperature drinks are a better choice. Eat a light lunch, such as basmati rice and mung dal kitchari with cilantro, grated coconut, and ghee. In summer, dinner should not be late. The best time for dinner is between 6-7PM, and definitely before sunset. If you are not vegetarian, avoid dark meats (beef, pork, lamb) as much as possible, since they are very heating. Sour fruits should also be avoided, as well as citrus fruit, beets, carrots, garlic, onion, chilies and spicy seasonings, tomatoes, sour cream, and salted cheeses.
Pitta-reducing foods to incorporate into a menu include cucumbers, mint, cilantro and coriander, blueberries, grapes, melons, basmati rice, green leafy vegetables like lettuce, kale and collards, mint, dates, coconut and cottage cheese. Make salsa more soothing by adding extra cilantro or diced mango. Add shredded coconut to grains or cereals and cooling cucumber, celery and jicama to summer salads and picnic baskets. Of course, there are other foods that can be eaten in summer, but in general one should have more of the sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes in food, because they pacify pitta.
Foods that are sour, salty or pungent (hot and spicy) increase pitta, while the sweet, bitter and astringent tastes decrease pitta. To cool the fire in the liver, cleansing herbs and foods such as burdock, dandelion greens and cilantro (one of pitta’s best friends) can be added to a meal.
Ayurvedically, summer is the time for ice cream – finally! A naturally, heavy, cold kapha food, ice cream can be difficult to digest in the winter, causing excess mucus. But on a
sunny summer day, it can be a great snack to quench pitta’s flames. Eating ice cream right after a meal, though, can deplete agni, the digestive fire.
To create balance, Ayurveda recommends a multi-faceted approach of working with nature, yoga, food and other daily routines to respond to the delightful, yet intensity of summer. Spend some time in the light of the full moon. The sun and moon are opposing and complementary forces. To invoke the cooling soothing energy of the moon, moon bathing is a traditional Ayurvedic practice to contain the body’s fire. During the mild nights of summer, full moon beach walks, hikes, neighborhood strolls or even sitting outdoors under the rays of the moon infuses the body with the moon’s cool kapha nature. Your yoga practice can be adjusted to calming pitta. Asanas that are grounding and cooling include those practiced on the floor or earth, including seated or lying-down twists, locust, low variations of cobra and bridge. Out of the inversions, shoulderstand is the most cooling and pitta-soothing. To calm pitta, keep the neck and shoulders relaxed and be careful not to hold the pose too long.