Summer is here; in the world of Ayurveda, that means an increase in Pitta dosha. Pitta is one of the three doshas, or functional energies, in the Ayurvedic system. Pitta, along with Vataand Kapha, form the three primary energies of transformation, movement and structure. These doshas, when balanced, indicate health of mind, body and spirit for the individual. However, these doshas can go out of balance; when not corrected, it can lead to imbalances that limit the health of the individual. Since Ayurveda is all about living in rhythm and harmony with our environments, it is useful to understand how nature’s cycles impact the balance of our doshas.
Pitta produces heat and is expressed through the sun’s energy in nature. So just as the weather changes and the temperature increases during the summer months, so too does Pitta dosha.
A Brief Overview of the Three Doshas
The Tridoshasystem can be better understood once we are able to understand the five elements or Mahabhutasthat comprise all matter in the universe. They are earth, water, fire, air and ether. Ayurveda, the science of life, recognizes these five elements in everything that surrounds us. Each of the three doshas has a unique combination of these elements.
A common sense understanding of everyday objects can be used as prior knowledge on which to build an understanding of Ayurveda. For instance, we recognize a rock as inert unless acted upon by some external force, fire as a source of light to see in the darkness, and the wind as movement of air seen in the dancing limbs of the trees. All of these elements of nature are comprised of some combination of these five elements, and correspond with characteristics of the three functional energies. The three doshas are Kapha, Vata and Pitta. Kapha consists of earth and water, Vata consists of air and ether, and Pitta consists of fire and water.
Kapha is the energy of cohesion, binding together to create structure and is composed of earth and water. The inert rock represents Kapha dosha. Vata energy is responsible for movement and vibration, consisting of air and ether. The wind represents Vata dosha. Pitta is the energy of transformation and its elemental constitution is mainly fire with enough water to control the burning heat. The fire that provides the light to see the rock and the wind through the trees represents Pitta dosha.
In humans, Pitta is responsible for regulating body temperature, digesting food and converting it into nutrients. Pitta drives our agni, our digestive fire, and, in Ayurveda, we are what we digest. Pitta helps us to see, to form clear thoughts, practice discernment, to be confident and to speak to the point. However, in excess, Pitta can manifest as anger, intense hunger, intense jealousy, rage or other symptoms.
Signs of Aggravation
When Pitta dosha accumulates, we may experience some of the following symptoms:
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, oily skin, acne, skin blisters
- Gastritis, ulcers, acid reflux, heartburn, irritability, anger, sharp pain, sharp headaches
- Fevers, infections, inflammations, excessive perspiration, red hot eyes, desire for cool drinks, burning, hyperacidity and insomnia
- Dizziness, sensitivity to heat and light, ringing in ears
- Acidic smell to feces, sweat, urine, skin, breath, jaundice, yellow hue to skin and skin infections
- Vertigo, dizziness
- Excessive thirst, perspiration or urination
Causes of Aggravation
Apart from summer aggravating Pitta dosha, some other lifestyle choices, food intakes and activities add to the already increasing Pitta dosha during the summer months; it is a good idea to remain mindful of the signs of Pitta aggravation and to make lifestyle adjustments accordingly should we notice our Pitta is on the rise.
- Eating very sour, salty, pungent or fried food increases Pitta dosha. So it is wise to limit intake of yogurt, fermented foods and citrus fruits as well as heating spices like black pepper, ginger and cayenne.
- Smoking, consumption of alcohol, hallucinogenic drugs or excessive use of medical drugs also leads to an increase in Pitta dosha.
- Outdoor activities in the afternoon, especially strenuous activities and sun exposure, increase Pitta dosha.
- Excessive competition or excessive intellectual stimulation increase Pitta dosha.
- Anger, irritability and sexual indulgence are also responsible for increasing Pitta dosha.
It is important to keep in mind that Ayurveda is about avoidance of extremes and following a moderate path, so as our Pitta increases through any of the means above, it is important to adopt lifestyle routines and choices that help to maintain a healthy balance of Pitta dosha.
Here are six tips for reducing Pitta dosha this summer:
- Eat a Pitta-pacifying diet: One of Pitta’s qualities is that it is Hot. Consume foods, drinks and herbs that reduce the heat of Pitta dosha. For example, limit use of heating spices like ginger and chili powder. Choose foods that are sweet, bitter and astringent over foods that are spicy, sour or salty. Eat cooling foods such as cucumber, corn, raw vegetables, and herbs like cilantro, coriander and fennel. Eat cooling fruits such as grapes or watermelon.
- Practice yoga to reduce Pitta dosha: Forward folds are cooling to the body, so try postures such as standing and seated forward folds including Paschimottanasanaor Janu Sirsasana. Restorative yoga postures are also cooling to the body. Try a restorative forward fold by sitting with legs crossed or extended wide, resting the head and arms on a chair or the support of bolsters and props.
- Practice Pranayama, or breath control: Slow, deep breathing is calming to the body and mind, and can reduce the mental intensity of Pitta dosha. Try a cooling breath like Sitali. To practice Sitali breath, curl the tongue into a straw and suck air in through it. Basically, inhale through the curled tongue to feel the cooling effect of the air on the tongue. Exhale normally through the nose.
- Practice meditation: Meditation, combined with the slow, steady flow of the breath, helps to cool and soothe the mind. Perhaps practice a brief mediation before each meal, taking time to breathe deeply and to notice the breath and the mind in the present moment. This can be the conscious breaths to help reset the mind.
- Avoid overscheduling and make sure to schedule time to do nothing: Over-activity can lead to burnout and, in the summer, social engagements have a tendency to increase. Remember that is okay to say no sometimes in order to maintain balance. Self-care should not go on vacation during the busy summer months.
- Hydration is happiness: Water helps to cool and to balance the summer heat. Activities like swimming, walking barefoot in wet grass or soaking the feet in cool water help to reduce heat. It is important to hydrate well especially after exercise in the summer. The hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. are the Pitta times of day so it is best to avoid direct sun or outdoor exercise during this time.