Have you ever wondered why it is hotter in August than June when the sun was closer and the days were longest?
There is a simple principle in Ayurveda that states: “Heat accumulates.”
Wherever there is fire, and water or matter close enough to absorb its energy, heat will accumulate. Summertime is nature’s most poetic expression of that dynamic. After the Summer Equinox, when the sun gets as close to our part of the world as it will get in any given year, its fiery rays are absorbed by the earth and our oceans, holding its warmth, and continuing to accumulate heat incrementally over the course of these dog days.
It’s the same dynamic that makes the day warmest mid-afternoon despite the sun being strongest at noon when it is most directly above. The dynamic plays out everywhere in nature, and wherever it appears it is called, in Ayurveda, Pitta.
Because Pitta, or excess heat, burns, causing depletion and deterioration, Ayurveda intelligently suggests that we calm and cool ourselves in the summer. The best way we can do this is to decelerate. This is certainly the time, as age-old tradition has it, for holidays and shorter work weeks. It is the season, too, to really stop and smell the roses. Not only will that help you slow to nature’s pace, but roses, as well as lavender, jasmine, sunflower and most summer flowers, are cooling to mind and body.
Summer in the Kitchen
At the end of a hot day who wants to cook?
Trust your own feelings and eat raw, or light, or outdoors, or even all three! Look for foods that are tonifying, refreshing and cooling. Focus on the sweet, astringent and bitter tastes, like cucumbers, summer squash, peas, avocado, corn, leafy greens and green beans, to balance Pitta.
Great meals for summer include beans (sweet and astringent) and greens (astringent and bitter), like this Tofu with Snap Peas and Scallions from Whole Living, that is ideal except for the red pepper flakes (good for Spring), which you can replace with fresh chopped mint. Try squeezing half a lime over the final and garnish with fresh chopped cilantro for more summer flavor.
Due to the tendency to sweat this season, nature provides foods high in mineral content to replace elecrolytes, regulate body temperature and maintain energy. Cucumbers, Potatoes, Bananas, Almonds are all rich in minerals, especially potassium ~ good for balancing that extra dash of Himalayan salt that will satisfy cravings this time of year.
A few particulars to help you keep cool all summer ~
Lime ~ The health benefits of lime make a long list. Not only are they a delicious thirst-quencher with more Vitamin C than a lemon and twice the amount of juice, but adding lime to your water increases the absorbability of nutrients by up to five times. The citric acid in lime revs up the digestive fires, while its heavy mineral content creates an alkaline reaction in the system which can relieve heat-related issues such as inflammation, peptic ulcer, dehydration headache and skin eruptions.
Mint ~ This pretty little leaf reminds me of Rilke’s Ninth Duino Elegy, “Why, if this interval of being can be spent serenely in the form of a laurel, slightly darker than all other green, with tiny waves on the edges of every leaf (like the smile of a breeze)…” Every bit as poetically inspiring as laurel, Mint is an excellent herb for Pitta as it dilates and cools. Sprinkle on meals, infuse in drinking water, blend into tonics and smoothies, or simply chew on the leaves for breath-refreshing relief on a summer day.
Fennel ~ One of the great spices for Pitta, fennel aids digestion without increasing “heat” in the body. Add to foods anytime you cook, and chew on its seeds after a meal to boost metabolism.
Cilantro ~ A Tridoshic wonder in that it balances all mind-body types, Cilantro is especially wonderful for Pitta. You might try my Summer’s Garden Soup, a cool soup for dinner based on cilantro, cucumbers and avocado. Try to get some Cilantro every day.
Coconut Water ~ In our summer kitchen, we have come to absolutely rely on coconut water for sweet, soothing relief. Ayurveda considers that sweat and blood are similar. Therefore, while sweating is beneficial for regulating body temperature, we need to immediately replace the lost nutrients. Coconut water is nature’s closest substitute to blood plasma, and therefore quickly absorbed for high-speed restoration. It is, simply, genius.
Himalayan Salt ~ With some 88 vital minerals, Himalayan salt, also called rock salt, restores much of what we lose when we sweat. Its potassium load balances its sodium so that, when taken in moderation, it can be a safe alternative to table salt.
A word of caution ~ Alcohol is heating, and therefore can be dehydrating. Avoid red wine, whiskey, brandy and rum as they are especially heating.
And one final note ~ A dab of sandalwood on the middle of your forehead is cooling, as are mineral baths at room temperature, and coconut oil massaged into the scalp and onto the feet before bedtime. If you have children who are challenged in falling asleep at night, make them a cup of warm milk boiled with nutmeg before going to bed. Once in bed, place an ice pack at the top of their head and gently rub their feet while whispering sweet lullabies. Your voice is cool comfort to a child. Of course, a child who falls asleep easily is cool comfort and an Ayurvedic blessing for the parents!
In Summer, nature’s edible delights are tonifying, balancing and refreshing. Mostly sweet and astringent, tastes that cool body and mind, this season’s harvest includes Avocado, Bell peppers, Corn, Cucumber, Eggplant, Green Beans, Heirloom Tomatoes, Zucchini, Leafy Greens like Romaine, Napa Cabbage, Bok Choy and Red Lettuce; also Blackberries, Blueberries, Cantaloupe, Cherries, Grapes, Honeydew Melon, Mangoes, Nectarines, Peaches, Plums, Raspberries, Strawberries, Watermelon and Basil, Cilantro, Dill, Lavender, Lemon Verbena, Mint, Oregano, Rosemary.
In July, a small family box from our local CSA Suzie’s Farm contained:
Cucumber, Romanian Sweet Pepper, Lettuce, Summer Squash, Beans, Basil, Tomato, Leeks, Radish. And with so much summer squash on hand, those intelligent folks at Suzie’s posted a great recipe for Summer Squash Soup on their blog.
There are more great ideas for maintaining balance all summer from the wise ones at Blue Lotus Ayurveda. However, if you are feeling severely overheated or depleted, please seek a personal Ayurvedic consultation, or medical advice. Over-heating can be serious.
By keeping your cool, you can really enjoy your summer, which is after all, designed for your enjoyment. Let us know how we can support your cool.
We wish you a blissful season.