Simple Ayurvedic Suggestions to Cool the Body and Mind
As Billie Holiday sang, “it’s summertime and the living is easy”. This is unless you happen to experience migraine headaches and with greater frequency during this season. In Ayurveda, the seasons relate to the three doshas – the three mind-body types called vata, pitta, and kapha. Summer is referred to as pitta season. The pitta dosha is associated with the fire element and its qualities are hot, penetrating, bright, and moist. Common summer weather conditions such as intense sunlight, heat, and high humidity are common migraine triggers.
Observe nature during summer and one can see pitta in action and how it affects the body, mind, and senses. For example, hot weather increases temperatures in buildings, cars, and bodies. These hotter conditions elevate the heart rate and can create heat stress, which can cause feelings of impatience and irritability. Intense, penetrating and bright sunlight causes sunburns and photosensitivity in the eyes, as well as dehydration in flower gardens and the body. Higher humidity can increase perspiration, leading to feelings of physical exhaustion and mental fatigue. These summertime effects of excess heat stress the body and mind, creating an imbalance which may cause an increase in migraines.
By being aware of the effects of summer weather and then applying simple Ayurvedic self care suggestions, excess heat in the body and mind can be reduced. When the seasons change, people switch their home climate control systems from the furnace to the air conditioner – from a system of heating to cooling. Likewise, simple changes to diet and lifestyle helps maintain coolness in the body and mind. By “turning off” heating systems/practices like intense exercise, sunbathing, and eating spicy foods, excess pitta is cooled and common pitta migraine triggers can be turned off.
In Ayurveda these kinds of seasonal changes are called a “Ritucharya”, which means a seasonal routine. Ayurvedic practitioners prescribed a summer routine in the ancient Ayurvedic text, the “Charaka Samhita”. The Charaka was written about 2000 years ago and its information remains relevant for maintaining health today.
“During the summer…the intake of sweet, cold, liquid and unctuous diets and drinks is prescribed…During the day time one should sleep in an air cooled apartment…One should avoid or minimize excessive exercise…One should be comfortably seated on a chair enjoying fans…One should enjoy forests, gardens, cool water and flowers.”
(Vol 1, Ch VI, v27-32)
Whether one enjoys fans, cool mint tea, or dips in a pool, it is important to make summer lifestyle adjustments to maintain balance of pitta in the body and mind. When the weather is hotter, the body as well as the mental and emotional state, is stressed by excess heat. A pitta imbalance of stagnant heat in the body and mind is linked to migraines. Common causes of migraines, such as sunburns, heat rash, and stressful feelings of impatience and irritability occur more during summer. So, a cooling regimen reduces excess pitta in the body and mind.
Basic Guidelines for Staying Cool This Summer
- Favor a pitta pacifying diet. Enjoy cooling foods like cucumber, peas, carrots, cilantro, watermelon, blueberries, and coconut. (Note: Ayurveda recommends eating melon alone.) Avoid or use in moderation: citrus fruits, spicy foods, fried foods, excess sweets, and fermented foods such as olive and pickles.
- Like a flower garden which needs more water during summer, keep the body hydrated. Favor cool drinks like coconut water or limeade. Avoid or use minimal amounts of ice, as excess ice can slow metabolism.
- Practice cooling lunar breath in morning and during the heat of the day. There is a direct relationship between the temperature of the body and emotional state of the mind. Any disturbance in one affects the other. Instructions for lunar breath: Close right nostril with right thumb and inhale through left nostril. Close left nostril with right index finger and exhale through right nostril. Repeat for 12 rounds in a slow steady manner.
- Cool off by seeking the shade of some simple meditation. Sit quietly for 10-20 minutes and just watch the breath. Imagine releasing excess heat on the exhalation and drinking in cool spring water on the inhalation.
- When walking or working in sunshine, keep head and eyes protected from the sun’s hot intense rays. Wear a wide brimmed hat to keep the head cool. Sunglasses will help prevent redness, irritation, and burning sensations in the eyes. Minimize computer and Smartphone use to help maintain coolness in eyes.
- Avoid excess and intense exercise, especially during the pitta times of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.These activities drain too much moisture from the body and inhibit the body’s natural cooling abilities.
- Slow down. Walk slower. Drive slower. Talk slower. Eat slower. Create time each day to rest. Just like too much wind on a campfire causes the fire to rage, excess activity will imbalance the fire element (pitta) and create excess heat in the body and mind.
- At night, rub coconut oil on soles of the feet and top and temporal part of the head. Put towel on pillow and socks on feet to protect bedding.
- During the day spritz face and scalp with food grade rose water.
Simple self care can help one stay cool when the weather turns hot, thus balancing pitta in the body. All it takes is a little change when the seasons change. Small modifications in diet and lifestyle restore a natural state of balance in the body, mind, and emotions. When one is in balance, summer living is easy. Reducing excess heat can lessen the frequency of migraines, which leaves more room for play this summertime.
“It’s summertime summertime sum sum summertime…
So come on and change your ways.
Well we’ll go swimmin’ every day.
No time to work just time to play.”
by Sherm Feller and Tom Jameson