Summertime, and the livin’ is easy — except when those fiery Pitta emotions flare up as a result of too much heat. Fortunately, Ayurveda offers easy, natural remedies to keep you cool as a cucumber this summer. In the interview below, we delve into the topic with top integrative physician and Ayurvedic expert, Nancy Lonsdorf, M.D. Dr. Lonsdorf was named “one of the nation's most prominent Ayurvedic doctors” by The Chicago Tribune.
vpk: Could you explain why, from the perspective of Ayurveda, we might tend to feel more irritable or short-tempered during the summer months, or hot weather?
Dr. Lonsdorf: Ayurveda teaches us that as living beings, we are fully integrated into nature, and that what’s going on outside of us influences what goes on inside of us. So the seasons — including the weather, the length of the days and nights, the intensity of the sun, the intensity of light — all influence physiological processes including our hormonal secretions, our sleep, our digestive patterns, and our metabolism.
So now that it’s summer, our bodies are experiencing the longest days and periods of daylight in the entire year. And as it turns out, over four thousand of our genes that were quiescent during the winter become very active in the summer and vice versa!
Ayurveda tells us that just as the heat and light are predominant outside in the summer, inside of our bodies, our Pitta — or our digestion and metabolism — becomes strong and prone to imbalance in the direction of building up excess heat in the area of emotions. For example, we might feel more irritable or prone to lose our temper.
vpk: What are some of the things we can do to counter the effects of too much heat, starting with diet?
Dr. Lonsdorf: It’s the principle of opposites: if you apply an opposite influence, it helps to balance out another influence that may be increased so much it’s creating uncomfortable symptoms. So if you’re feeling this buildup of heat, then you need to calm your Pitta, which will also cool your emotions.
When we get too much of the heat element, we tend to get irritable, short tempered, we lose our patience easily — these are all symptoms of Sadhaka Pitta, which is the aspect of Pitta that governs our emotions. It’s present in both our heart and our brain. And Sadhaka Pitta can be balanced out, just as the Pitta in our entire physiology, through things that have opposite qualities to the weather.
So that would mean cooling, juicy, watery things. We know that what puts out a fire best is water, so we have sweet, juicy fruits — which we naturally gravitate towards in summer. On the Fourth of July, what do we like to have at outdoor parties? Watermelon, because everyone knows that sweet, juicy liquid quenches thirst and leaves us feeling cool, calm, and refreshed, instead of hot and bothered. Cucumbers and cucumber juice are also good. And zucchini juice is very, very cooling. Plain zucchini juice can take the heat out of the skin if a person’s feeling flushed, hot, and agitated. It cools the liver-blood system down faster than anything I’ve ever found.
vpk: Wow, zucchini juice! Who knew? So you just juice it up?
Dr. Lonsdorf: Yes. One zucchini equals out to about a cup, or eight ounces. Drink that down on an empty stomach and within 15 minutes you’ll feel way more mellow. It takes the heat out of the head and the skin. And you’ll feel cool from inside, as though somebody put your heater on ice. The “heater” in our bodies is in our stomach and our liver. That’s where, beside our head and the brain, the most metabolic activity is going on. And Ayurveda says that’s the center of our heat. It’s the solar plexus. “Solar” means sun, and that’s where our sun is, our energy source.
Pears are also wonderful for Sadhaka Pitta. They’re known in Ayurveda to help calm down the emotions and help people feel much more peaceful and not so irritable. It’s also good to avoid things that will aggravate Pitta because they have too much inherent fire in them — such as alcohol, which we know goes down as heating. It burns the esophagus and the stomach feels hot. Things like that are Pitta-aggravating substances.
vpk: Would you recommend dairy as well? I understand it’s very cooling.
Dr. Lonsdorf: If somebody can tolerate dairy it is cooling, yes. But a lot of the things we resort to in the summer — like ice cream — are filled with sugar, which can create imbalance in Pitta in other ways by stressing out the pancreas, and stressing out the liver. So summer is not a license to have unlimited ice cream. Generally, though, yes, dairy is considered cooling, although many people don’t tolerate it because it’s also heavy.
vpk: So perhaps coconut milk and almond milk instead?
Dr. Lonsdorf: Coconut water would be the real champion here. It wins the prize because it’s the most cooling, refreshing, and hydrating. In fact it’s said that in World War One, when they didn’t have IV solutions readily available, nurses could crack open a coconut, run the water into somebody’s veins, and save their lives by rehydrating them.
vpk: That’s amazing. I’ll have to stock up!
Dr. Lonsdorf: Yes, coconut water is naturally rich in electrolytes as well. Coconut milk, on the other hand, is pretty high in fat so it might be a little stressful for some people to digest.
Keeping beautiful flowers around, especially roses, is another way to cool Pitta. The scent of roses is very cooling. And food-grade Organic Rose Water in a sweet lassi, for example, is also very cooling — especially if you make yogurt fresh so that it’s mild and not too sour. And be sure not to make it with too much sugar. A little bit of Organic Rose Petal Spread is also very cooling.
Organic Cooling Pitta Tea is also effective. In fact, I had a patient just today who told me that she and her husband are having trouble with the in-laws and they’re creating a lot of emotional stress for them. So they decided that they would drink Pitta Tea all day long and she said that it really helped and they’ve all stayed much calmer.
vpk: That’s fantastic.
Dr. Lonsdorf: If you take Pitta Tea and you add a teaspoon or two of rosewater to it, then you’ve really got something for Sadhaka Pitta. This is why people give roses — they’re meant to touch the heart, or win over the heart.
vpk: It’s true! You really can’t help but soften when you get roses.
Dr. Lonsdorf: If you want to stir somebody’s Sadhaka Pitta with passion, you can give them red roses; and if you want to calm their Sadhaka Pitta you can give pink. Research on the color pink actually has shown that it reduces violent tendencies. It’s very calming. In fact, in mental health facilities, when there is a “quiet room” for someone who has been agitated, they’ll often paint the walls pink.
vpk: Interesting. Along those lines, I guess the colors we dress in can also have a heating or cooling effect, right?
Dr. Lonsdorf: Yes. Generally, in the summer you’ll want to avoid black, which absorbs heat. Light colors reflect the light and the heat, so they’ll keep you cooler. Pink’s a good color, as is white. Blue is innately cooling, and green is healing. Luckily, we have plenty of blue and green in the summer. We’ve got the blue sky and the green leaves, and the water looks blue. Blue especially balances Pitta, and green balances Vata, so they help the two liveliest doshas to calm down.
vpk: I read that taking walks in nature is Pitta pacifying, is that right?
Dr. Lonsdorf: Absolutely. Research shows that it lowers cortisol and improves people’s health just to take a walk in nature. And we know that Ayurveda says that just being in a cool, shady woods is really good. Also swimming — not so much in the middle of the day, but around sunrise or an hour or so after, or in the evening. It’s really cooling and takes some of the heat out of the system.
vpk: On that note, any exercise tips for summer?
Dr. Lonsdorf: Generally, the evening or the early morning, when it’s cooler, are better. And cooling sports are good — things that are water sports that we naturally gravitate toward in the summer because it cools us off. Avoid heavy exertion outdoors in the middle of the day if possible. Don’t overdo hot yoga in the summer, if you practice it.
vpk: How about herbal supplements? What do you recommend?
Dr. Lonsdorf: My favorite for anything Pitta, emotionally, is Stress Free Emotions. It really works so well for my patients. It’s something you can take one or two tablets of even on an as-needed basis, and usually within 15-20 minutes you completely forget that you were hot and bothered, or irritable and upset about something. It works like magic and it’s very gentle.
Organic Digest Tone (Triphala Plus) is helpful, especially if somebody doesn’t have regular bowel movements. Regular, everyday eliminating through the colon is important to help keep Pitta from building up.
You can also use Organic Pitta Churna. The seasoning has very cooling spices in it, which help keep your digestive tract and metabolism cooled down in the summer. Blissful Heart is also a great aroma for keeping Pitta emotions calm.
vpk: On a final note, how about massage and body care?
Dr. Lonsdorf: Coconut oil for self-massage in the summer is very cooling, whereas sesame has a more heating effect. You can also use Jasmine Herbal Soap, or Rose Herbal Soap. And Cooling Pitta Aroma Oil is also good for aromatherapy.
Dr. Nancy Lonsdorf is an integrative physician and recognized Ayurvedic expert specializing in women's health issues. Named "one of the nation's most prominent Ayurvedic doctors" by the Chicago Tribune, she is board-certified in Integrative and Holistic Medicine (ABIHM). Over the past twenty-five years, she has treated over 20,000 patients with Maharishi Ayurveda and integrative medicine approaches. She is author of The Ageless Woman — a woman’s guide for midlife and beyond, and co-author of the best-selling A Woman’s Best Medicine. She trains health professionals in Maharishi Ayurveda at the University of Maryland; Pacific Pearl Integrative Health in La Jolla, CA; and Atlantic Integrative Health in New Jersey. She has a private practice in integrative medicine and Maharishi Ayurveda in Fairfield, Iowa and internationally, via phone and Video Call. Dr. Lonsdorf's heartfelt desire is for a naturally healthy, disease-free society and a health system that empowers, educates and supports genuine health from within for every individual.
The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.
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