Happy Summer (for my Northern Hemisphere friends)! Summering is taken very “seriously” here in the Pacific North West. We are “serious” about getting up and out into nature! When I’m not in the studio or my office, you can find me making my way to some form of water, usually a river, with my hubby and my pup, to soak it up. Nothing soothes and revitalizes me more than water. Because I have a good amount of fire, air and ether in my elemental make-up, I crave water and earth. Lying on a sandy beach, and taking dips in the cool river is such good medicine for me. However you delight in celebrating this time of year, we can all summer more enjoyably when we look to Ayurveda for guidance on how to adapt our yoga practice, the food we nourish ourselves with, and our lifestyle rhythms.
Ayurveda is the traditional system of nutrition and medicine in India, and is at least 5,000 years old. Ayurveda is a model of understanding the body and mind, and looks to the forces and elements of nature as symbolic representations of reality. Ayur = life and Veda = science. It’s a structured way to wrap our minds around the complexities of life.
THE PITTA DOSHA
Pitta is one of the three Ayurvedic constitutional types, doshas, and we all have some amount of pitta in our unique constitutional make up. The pitta dosha is made up of mostly fire, with a little water. During pitta season we all have the tendency to go out of balance in excess pitta ways.
When the pitta dosha is in balance, people are passionate, ambitious, and courageous. Pitta dominant folks are natural leaders and are blessed with determination and a strong will. When pitta is out of balance, there’s a tendency for anger, impatience, irritability, and jealousy to arise. In addition to these fiery emotions, there can also be red, inflamed skin issues like acne, rosacea, rashes and eczema, and too much acid and activity in the digestive tract resulting in heartburn and diarrhea.
HOW TO ADAPT YOUR YOGA PRACTICE
In our yoga practice during pitta season, or any other time that pitta is in excess, we want to focus on cultivating more ease, surrender and sweetness. Because of the tendency to burn the wick at both ends, to push and push until exhaustion, the aim is to soothe the nervous system and remind ourselves of the sweetness of life. Life is more than our work, productivity and accomplishments. We have this tremendous gift of being embodied, and by opening our hearts and allowing ourselves to steep in the awe of life, we can practice and live in a way that celebrates the qualities of the pitta dosha. It’s not that we want to run away from pitta, we want it to be there from its healthiest, balanced state.
Pitta is said to reside in the lower half of the stomach and the small intestine, so, during pitta season, and any other time that pitta goes into excess, we want to encourage circulation in the abdomen. That means we practice lots of side bending and twisting postures. We also want to calm the nervous system with more forward folding and restorative postures, and include cooling practices. Because ujjayi / victorious breath is slightly warming, we may want to set aside this pranayama during pitta season. Adapting our yoga practice to support the elemental effects of the warm months will allow us to do all of the summering our hearts desire, while remaining rooted and in ease.
The following practice is a cooling pranayama called sitali. Depending on your genetics, you’ll be able to practice sitali in one of two ways: with a curled tongue – kind of like making a straw shape with your tongue, or a flat tongue.
- Sit or lie down with a long spine.
- Open your mouth, stick your tongue out of your mouth a little and either make a straw shape with your tongue or relax and broaden your tongue.
- Inhale through your mouth, sensing the coolness of your in breath, all the way down your throat and into your lungs.
- Gently close your lips and exhale out of your nose, sensing the softening aspect of your exhalations. Slow down your exhalation so it’s longer than your inhalation, which will enhance the calming effects of this practice.
- Repeat for several minutes or more, then take a few deep breaths of inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth with a “sigh”.
HOW TO IMBALANCE YOUR PITTA
I have a favorite resource called The Ayurvedic Cook Book by Amadea Morningstar with Urmila Desai that I brought to class the other day to share with the students, and many of you asked me to include it in this newsletter, so here you go! This book has a really great introduction to Ayurveda in the beginning and then delicious recipes with a key that indicates if the recipe increases or decreases each dosha. The book includes a list of how to both balance and cause imbalance in each dosha. As a person with a good amount (OK a very good amount) of pitta in my constitution, I chuckled as I read the list of ways to cause pitta to go into excess. I’ll tell you more after the list 🙂
- Drink plenty of alcohol.
- Eat spicy food.
- Engage in frustrating activities (I’m still trying to figure out what this one means).
- Emphasize tomatoes, chilis, raw onions, sour foods and yogurt in your diet.
- Exercise at the hottest time of day.
- Wear tight hot clothing.
- Use drugs, especially cocaine, speed, or marijuana.
- Avoid cool fresh peaceful places.
- Snack on highly salted foods.
- Repress your feelings.
- Eat as much red meat and salted fish as possible.
I basically live off of tomatoes (only when they’re in season because I’m a total tomato snob), chilis, sour foods and yogurt sauces, and LOVE salty snacks. Tight clothes are my primary work uniform, and please give me all of the spicy food. So… we all have things to work on! I avoid most everything else on that list and allow myself the pleasure of pleasing my palate.
In service and gratitude for our community,