The Gerson Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine

Pitta Season Tips by Dr. Scott Gerson

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The mystic poet William Blake once said. “How sweet I roamed from field to field, and tasted all the summer's pride.” Certainly summer brings with it ample evidence of Nature’s wonders. During this period the earth tilts towards the sun which supplies abundant heat and light.  It is a season characterized by heat and humidity and unbridled growth of flowers, grasses, trees and leaves. Children and adults alike emerge from their homes and naturally begin to engage in increased physical activities. Other important qualities of Pitta include softness, excitation, and joy.  However, the seasons around the globe are undergoing extreme changes and it is thus becoming a major cause of concern for all nations.

Hence it is becoming increasingly essential to adapt lifestyles according to seasons, so as to prevent the adverse effects of extreme climatic conditions. ‘Ritucharya’ or seasonal regimen, as advised by Ayurveda, thus has a major role to play in modern life.

Seasons are of two types – one that drains the energy from the body (Ādāna) and the one that imparts energy to the body (Visarga). Summer falls in the first category, whereas winter is in the latter. The joys of summer are also accompanied by certain specific conditions due to the impact of heat: dehydration, constipation, skin eruptions, heat fatigue, kidney stones, inflammations, etc.

In order to conserve energy, and preserve our health, we need to follow certain Ayurveda recommendations for the summer.

1. Exposure to sun: Try not to be outdoors from 10 am to 4 pm. Use an umbrella, hat or a shade, if unavoidable. Try to avoid exposure to the sun between 12 noon and 3 pm totally, as that is the time when the sun, as well as pitta dosha (universal heating energy), are at their peak and it can make us more susceptible to heat-induced problems, especially those of the skin and the eyes.

2. Activities: It is good to reduce physical exercise both in duration and intensity. This is because the body energy and tolerance will be reduced during the summer season. Regular exercise should be performed only in the morning, well before the impact of daytime heat starts. It is always good to restrict even that to only half one’s capacity. Other recommended summer activities include: swimming or wading in an ocean or lake, wearing thin, light, cotton or linen clothing, spending evenings on the terrace, spending time with friends and family.

3. Food: Most people do not realize it but our jathara agni (main digestive fire), and hence our hunger, is lower in the Grishma ritu (summer season). Therefore, we should eat less. Reducing the intake of salty, pungent and sour food items is ideal in summer. Choose more items that are light, unctuous, cold and liquid and indulge in predominantly sweet, bitter, and easily digestible foods. Fresh vegetable juice is an excellent choice in this season.

Bacteria grow faster in summer and associated illnesses are usually at its peak during this season. Hence food items should be cooked carefully and properly, especially in summer. For the same reason, leftover foods should be avoided completely.

Fruits (ripe and sweet) and leafy green vegetables can be consumed more regularly than root vegetables. Examples are: peaches, dates, mangoes, sweet cherries, avocado, various salad greens, and lightly steamed cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, etc.)

4. Drinks: Water should be taken in sufficient quantity to avoid dehydration and illnesses due to heat. Spring water at room temperature or even cold water can be used for drinking. Drinking water boiled with a little of coriander seeds and allowed to cool is delicious and helpful in fighting the heat. Milk (especially buffalo milk), diluted buttermilk, and coconut water are especially good for summer.

The inherent property of alcohol, even if ice cold, is hot (ushna). The other properties of alcohol are just opposite to that of Ojas (vital energy). One of the principles of Ayurveda is that similar properties cause an increase in that property, and dissimilar ones cause a decrease. Hence alcohol increases body heat in a hot season, and also reduces vital energy. Hence it should be avoided especially in summer.

Here are a few traditional Ayurvedic summer drinks you can try if you're feeling adventurous:

Preparation - Add a pinch of powdered cardamom, cinnamon and dry ginger (or 1/8 tsp fresh grated ginger root) to one pint (16 oz.) of water. Stir in one tsp. raw honey. Mix well. Panaka is very soothing, cooling, tasty and it satisfactorily quenches thirst.

Preparation - Soak a small handful of raisins, dates and figs in one liter (~32 oz.) of cool water for an hour. Then put it in blender and blend well. Mantha is very soothing, naturally sweet, has a cooling effect and is nourishing. It also relaxes and cools the mind and body.

Preparation – Use a coffee grinder to make a fine powder of dry roasted barley and channa dal (split and hulled chickpeas). Add 2-4 Tbsp. to one liter of water and boil it for 3-5 minutes. Then add 1 tsp. raw honey (or jaggery), ¼ tsp cardamom powder and ¼ cup of milk. Serve it after it cools down or refrigerate.

5. Sleep: Daytime sleep (diwaswap) is permitted in summer, for those who are physically exhausted due to exposure to sun. But it should preferably be resorted to in a gently air-conditioned room or in a room that is the coolest in the home.

6. Controlling temperature: Use of an air-conditioner is good in summer. But sudden changes in the temperature are better avoided - Going to an outdoor temperature of 90°F from a room that is cooled below 65°F will invite problems due to the sudden change. It should also be noted that people who habitually work in overly air-conditioned offices become vulnerable to heat-associated illnesses when they then abruptly shift to a weekend in the sun.

7. Good Company: Ayurveda advises the importance of the “cooling” togetherness with the family members, near and dear ones, more so in summer.

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According to Ayurveda giving up the causative factors is itself an effective form of treatment. So following the above recommendations will certainly help us all to avoid diseases promoted by the summer season. Additionally, an increase of even one degree Celsius of temperature at Earth’s surface can cause major impacts on all life on Earth. So it is important for us all to learn about global warming and avoid practices that enhance it. Live healthy! Leave a healthy planet for the next generation!