The sun in the Northern hemisphere sits high in the sky this month, just a few weeks after the Summer Solstice. The early sunrise rapidly warms the atmosphere, and the sun is still shining brightly in early evening at which time it’s often the highest temperature of the day.
Consider the teachings of Ayurveda, yoga’s wellness branch, as summer approaches. Ayurveda utilizes the five elements (Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth) to help manage summer’s heat so we don’t burn out. Fire is transformational and life supporting, but too much throws us off balance, which can lead to irritability, sunburn, hot headedness, and digestive upset. In order to feel cool as a cucumber rather than hot, sweaty and annoyed, follow these simple tips.
Fire is hot, penetrating, and transforming, and ignites powerful change. Think about this change in terms of food; with a bit of heat, something raw and inedible can become a nutritious and enjoyable meal. (I highly recommend Michael Pollan’s food documentary Cooked, on Netflix. The titles of each of the four episodes are Fire, Water Air, and Earth) Adding too much heat, however, will make that same food burned. To balance summer’s fire, add water, air and space, elements that are cool, mobile and expansive.
1. Drink plenty of cool, not cold water. Instead of placing ice cubes in water, add sprigs of fresh mint and cool, sliced cucumbers. This tasty combo will cool you from inside out. You can also add a squeeze of lime, another cooling fruit.
2. Rethink ice entirely. According to Ayurveda, cold, iced drinks, especially with meals, quell the body’s digestion, which depends on heat to transform food so it can be optimally absorbed and assimilated. This may seem counter intuitive, but cold temperatures shock the digestive system; without enough fire, the body must work harder to optimize this essential process. Many of my students have finally gotten rid of their heartburn and other GI disturbances by implementing this simple tip of eliminating iced drinks with meals.
3. Skip the hot spices and peppers, which create too much heat in the digestive tract. In summer, stick with cooling raw vegetables and fruits which naturally have a high water content, especially cucumbers and melons.
4. Eat three meals a day, rather than frequently snacking. Consider that every time you eat, the digestive system must go to work. This requires the body to generate more heat. Before I began following the Ayurvedic tradition of eating three real meals a day with little or no snacking, I would feel overheated, and not just in the summer. Once I stopped grazing all day, there was a surprising benefit: I began to feel less hot. It’s also important to make more space between eating dinner and going to sleep; you’ll be able to digest on a deeper level, and feel cooler overall.
5. Bring on the greens. Focus on eating and juicing plenty of leafy greens including spinach, kale, Swiss Chard, parsley, cilantro, bok choy and wild greens like dandelion, nettles, lambs quarters and purslane. Leafy greens have cooling properties, which help the body stay balanced. When in doubt, stick with what’s available at the local farmer’s market. Nature always provides what’s needed for the seasonal weather to help our body prepare for what’s ahead.
It’s easy to discover your dosha, or Ayurvedic constitution via this online quiz. But it’s also possible to think about what season you prefer, and if you’d rather be skiing in the snow or swimming at the beach. Do you love to stay at home, or to travel? These are all clues to what elements are predominant in our life, and how we can stay in balance.
A version of this post originally appeared on Yoga Smoga’s Rangoli platform.