Do you change your diet in hot, humid weather? What about your sleep? Or how and when you exercise? Summertime, which here in the eastern U.S. means hot, humid weather with lots of sun and light, is also known as “pitta season.” Pitta is one of the three Ayurveda doshas.
Ayurveda is a technology – a skill – that teaches us how to live optimally through creating balance physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually in relation to ourselves and the environment we live in. Ayurveda understands that all things are made of the elements – earth, water, fire, air and space – and that combinations of elements create the doshas. The doshas – vata, pitta, and kapha – are discernable states produced by relationship to the elements, and an expression of the qualities of the elements. Pitta, for example, is made of the elements fire and water, and expresses the qualities of hot, liquid, sharp, light, spreading, and oily.
Cool for the Summer?
Summertime here is hot and humid – the most pitta of all our seasons. The excessive heat and humidity can push us out of balance in a fiery way, and so we need to understand how to pacify pitta to bring us back into balance. Furthermore, people who already have a pitta dominance are more susceptible to pitta imbalance in the summer.
Each of us has aspects of all three doshas in us in differing amounts, and expressed in different ways. For example, I have pitta expression in my body size and facial features, kapha qualities in my sleep, dreams, and emotions, and vata qualities in my taste preferences.
Take this short quiz to determine your constitution of vata, pitta, and kapha. Perhaps more important than your constitution generally, is how you are today, as a result of how you are living and taking care of yourself (called vikruti in Ayurveda). I drink a fair amount of coffee, multi-task, and sometimes don’t sleep enough. These contribute to too much vata in me some days.
This short quiz can also assess your current state. This can help you see ways to live in greater balance.
The Pitta Personality
Pitta shows up as type-A personalities – people who are competitive, intense, driving. Pitta is fiery, hot, driven. For example, Pitta folks love hot yoga and ashtanga. They love challenges and competition. They love to stoke the fire. Stoking the fire too much can lead to burn out, exhaustion, dehydration. This is why balance is important. Ayurveda follows the principle of “like increases like,” so balance is achieved by looking to opposing qualities. To pacify excessive pitta we look to increase the qualities of cool, dark, dry, and soft.
Yoga to Chill Out
July and August weather stokes the fire of pitta, so everyone needs to pacify pitta at least a little bit during the summer months. Those who already are more pitta or live a pitta lifestyle will find more balance and ease by learning how to pacify those fires.
The most important pitta-pacifying yoga you can practice starts with your approach to your practice and each pose. As pitta is driven, competitive, hot and goal-oriented, adopt a curious, explorative mindset to your practice. Do not seek to achieve any pose. Instead, find your edge, then back off 20-25% and to feel a more nurturing, nourishing sensation in the pose. Soften your ujjayi breathing, making it audible only to yourself during your practice. Let go of trying to go deeper or achieve a new pose or new variation of any pose. Instead explore what it takes and what it is like to back off a little, to feel a supportive calming in your body, and to focus your mind on nourishing rather than pushing your body. This might sound a little bit like a yin or restorative yoga class – and both are excellent to practice a few times a week during pitta season.
The main sites in the body for the pitta dosha are in the belly – the small intestine and the liver — so poses that open these areas are pitta-pacifying, while poses that close or contract these areas can aggravate pitta. Pitta-pacifying poses include backbends, while pitta aggravating poses include many forward bends because they can increase heat in the middle of the body. Forward bends are also calming, so do not avoid them all together, just limit them.
Side bending poses and open twists are also helpful in releasing excessive pitta energy in the solar plexus area. While standing poses are generally heating, trikonasa as a side bend is also pitta-pacifying.
Cooling breath, as in the pranayama practice of shitali, is also helpful in decreasing heat and pitta. Guided meditation and yoga nidra are also good practices to help cool the fires of pitta during pitta season.
Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when it is at its strongest, and avoid working out during the hottest times of the day. If you can, exercise in a cool room without direct sunlight – early morning or late afternoon swimming is great for pacifying pitta. Drink plenty of cool (but not ice cold) water. Pitta-pacifying tastes are sweet, bitter and astringent. Sweet fruits – melons, peaches, cherries, and the like – and cooling vegetables – leafy greens, cucumbers, fresh salads are good choices to bring balance during pitta season. Avoid hot, spicy foods. Moonlight is particularly calming for pitta imbalances, so a leisurely night-time stroll when the moon is out can be nourishing during pitta season.