Fortunately, I was born into a traditional Ayurvedic family in India, which taught me how to counteract the blazing summers in India with practices that I still follow today and now teach to others. With Ayurveda’s help, I do not need to react with discomfort to the escalating heat and dryness of summer; instead, I respond to it proactively by being prepared with diet and lifestyle modifications to meet the raging summer heat head on.
What is happening to our bodily energies in the summer?
According to Ayurveda, we are each born with a particular prakriti, or physiological constitution, which consists in varying proportions of the three doshas: Pitta, Vata, and Kapha. When one or more of these doshas becomes out of balance, our health and wellbeing begin to diminish, and disease can follow. The traditions of Ayurveda work to bring our bodies back into balance.
If you are unfamiliar with the technical concept of doshas in Ayurveda, look at it this way: in the summer, sunrays become more potent with each day and sap moisture from everything. Invariably, the earth’s soil, vegetation, animals—and yes, our bodies too—come under the spell of the sun. We gradually become heated up (Pitta increases), dried out, depleted, and easily exhausted (Vata increases), ultimately losing precious moisture and strength (Kapha decreases).
What can we do to offset health challenges in Ayurveda?
Ayurveda advises following a summer regimen (called Grishma ritucharya in Sanskrit), which includes recommendations for external protection, inner replenishment, rejuvenation, and restoration through specific dietary and lifestyle choices.
Generally, Ayurveda suggests an increased intake of moist, sweet, cooling, and slightly fatty and fragrant foods (like rice cooked with ghee, milk, sugar, and fragrant spices like cardamom). All food should be allowed to cool down before consuming.
Stick with wheat, oats, rice, and sweet fresh corn.
Green and yellow mung are the easiest to digest of all the lentils; perfect for this time when our digestive fires have naturally cooled down.
Ghee, cow milk, sweet butter, and yogurt lassi with sugar are helpful for increasing Kapha during summer. Ghee is especially important as it is essential in helping to counteract the harsh effects of summer sun and wind on the body.
Enjoy sweet summer fruits, such as mangoes, pomegranates, dates, coconuts, nectarines, plums, raisins, limes, honeydew and cantaloupe. Do not eat fruits if they are sour or unripe.
Cooling and mild summer vegetables like cucumbers, beets, carrots, summer squash, opo squash, green beans, white onions, mint, okra, snake gourd, yam, wax gourd, cauliflower should be consumed.
Some fish, such as rohu (grass carp), is okay. Or enjoy minimally spiced soup of chicken or goat meat.
Be sure to include these cooling spices: cumin, fennel, coriander (seeds, leaves, or powder), mint, cardamom, and turmeric. Use saindhav namak (rock salt) only.
Summer diets should avoid dry, heavy, greasy, overly-spiced meals (like barbeque chips or typical Indian restaurant fare, such as the popular Butter Chicken). Ayurveda also recommends staying away from the following foods because of their tendency to increase Vata and Pitta: papaya, pineapple, tomatoes, eggplant, garlic, peanuts, pickles, chilies, peppers, red onions, alcohol, and red meat.
Natural drinks, such as fruit juices and coconut water, are best for summer. Avoid aerated drinks and wine.
Soak 2 tablespoons of semi-crushed coriander seeds in one gallon of water. Expose all night to the moon (put near a window, if required). The cooling effects of the coriander and the moon will be imparted to the water. Drink this water throughout the next day.
Massage with cooling oils
Ayurveda recommends massaging the body daily with sesame or coconut oil to lubricate and replenish dry skin. You can also lightly cook petals of a lotus, rose, marigold, or water lily in coconut oil for additional cooling benefit.
Take a small nap if possible
In no other season is a nap recommended, but daytime sleep helps to replenish lost moisture and bodily strength in the summer. Ayurveda suggests napping in a semi-reclined position or lying down on the left side; wait at least an hour after eating and nap no more than 30 minutes.
Sleep under the night sky
Take advantage of the cooling effect of the moon in summer. Ayurveda suggests sleeping in the open (if possible), perhaps even bare-skinned, or minimally clothed with light cotton garments to absorb the moon’s cooling rays, loaded with love!
While exercising is great, in summer, you need to back off a bit, because any kind of motion generates heat and air, which exacerbate Pitta and Vata. Avoid heavy-duty exertion or activities, such as biking under open mid-day sun. Yoga asana practice that incorporates cooling, relaxing poses and pranayamas (breathing exercises), such as shitali and bhramari, which cool the body and mind, are best.
Sex should also be moderated this season. Perhaps every other week, and especially not immediately after a meal. The goal is to conserve natural body fluids and avoid over-heating.
A self-love ritual
Ayurveda’s self-care wisdom becomes a potent way to love ourselves and to step into a more conscious relationship with nature. By following Ayurveda’s recommendations, we begin to flow more and fight less with the changing seasons, the heat, and the fiery summer sun.
Photo Cred: Amila Tennakoon