Weathering the Summer Heat, Yoga Style

We’ve been relatively lucky here in the Pacific Northwest, compared to the rest of the United States, with respect to scorching heat. The fact remains though, that those of us who are in the northern hemisphere are in Pitta season.

Ayurveda asserts that just as the doshas(Kapha, Pitta, Vata) of our bodies align with the 5 elements(earth, water, fire, air, ether) in different amounts and combinations so do the seasons of the year. Summer is the season of Pitta.

Pitta is the dosha that corresponds to fire and to a lesser degree, water. Pitta drives our digestion, eyesight and intellect. In balance those with high pitta in their constitutions are determined, competitive, highly intelligent, and ambitious, with good insight and keen discrimination.

Ayurvedic science notes that like aggravates and opposite creates balance. The qualities of Pitta are hot, sharp, oily, mobile, liquid and bright. So when we find ourselves feeling unsettled or like things are not quite right internally, we can investigate that not quite right feeling in terms of the qualities that are present. We then want to invoke the opposite characteristics in order to bring ourselves back to a state of equilibrium.

During this time, and especially if you have pitta in your constitution and/or are in your pitta time of life(basically adulthood), your pitta may get knocked off balance. How would you know that has happened? If you find yourself feeling impatient or aggravated, if you have acid indigestion, loose stools or are experiencing inflammation, these are all signs of pitta being elevated.

Below are some suggestions on cooling pitta’s fire. Always remember to weigh these recommendations against your felt experience. Choose one or two out that pique your interest , give them a try and note the results. Keep the ones that are helpful, let go of the others and move on to other ideas that seem appealing to you. Trust your intuition and seek guidance if you are feeling confused or uncertain about what you are experiencing. Sometimes these challenges can be in our blind spots and the antidotes can be elusive. So calling on a trusted guide or mentor can point you in the best direction for your healing journey.

In order to create balance, we can consider the gunas that are most prevalent in Pitta. Gunas are qualities of nature. The guravadi gunas 20 qualities of substance that are paired in opposites to help guide you toward balance. So, to calm your pitta fire, consider the following gunas and their opposites or antidotes:

  • Hot–>Cold – Anything cool will help, cooling beverages, a cool shower, taking a dip in a pool or lake or cool shower or bath, eating cooling foods like watermelon, cucumber or cilantro will all help to temper that inner fire.
  • Sharp–>Soft/Dull – Can you take a pause in your day to play or soften in some way, maybe with peaceful music or light attention on your breath
  • Light–>Heavy – See if you find some space to rest, nap or just lie down, sensing the ground beneath you, the weight of your body
  • Mobile–>Stable – Finding grounding and stillness help to balance pitta, Sense your feet on the floor or if you can be bare foot on the cool earth even better.
  • Liquid–>Dry – Ayurveda recommends foods that have an astringent quality, these are foods that have a drying and cooling effect on the body. They include peas, beans, potatoes, cauliflower, lettuce, avocado and alfalfa sprouts.

Don’t forget your yoga practice. Pitta can tend toward perfectionism so take notice if you find yourself being aggressive with your practice or overdoing it. Instead you will want to practice in ways that feel gentle and even playful, grounding. When doing the poses, whether in a class or not, you might try practicing at 60 or 70% of your usual effort(note this can be HARD for a Pitta so do your best!). Make sure to spend some time in shavasana, maybe even put on a piece of quiet music to help you to stay longer than you ordinarily might.

On your own you might try a restorative pose, like Supta Buddha Konasana(Supported Bound Angle Pose). Sit on your mat. Place a long folded blanket behind you and a small pillow on top of it. Have the souls of your feet touching each other and your knees open out to the sides. Place blocks or rolled blankets or pillows under your knees to support them. Set up the bolsters for your knees but then lift your knees as you lower your spine onto the the long folded blanket. This will help you to protect your back as you move into position. Once you like back, slide that small pillow under your neck and head but not your shoulders. Open your knees onto the supports you have in place. Place an eyeball of hand towel over your eyes to help them to relax. Rest in this position for 5-20 minutes. You can use a meditation practice if that is something familiar to you, or soft music or simply rest in silence. 

Here are two cooling breathing practices for you to try:

  1. Sitali pranayama. Sitali is one of the only breathing practices where you breathe in through the mouth. You breathe in across your tongue. Roll the tongue if possible, if not just stick the tongue out flat. The incoming air is cooled by the moisture on the tongue. At the top of the inhalation you draw the tongue in, retain the breath and focus on the coolness, letting it permeate your body as much as possible. Exhale through your nose. Take a natural breath or two and then repeat. Do this again. If it feels comfortable for you to do so, set your timer for five minutes and continue the practice. When the timer goes off, pause and notice how you feel.
  2. Chandra Bhedana pranayama. In chandra bhedana you breathe in through your left nostril and out through the right. The left nostril corresponds to ida – the moon or cooling energy channel in the body. The right nostril corresponds to pinball – the sun or heating energy channel. In this practice we are breathing in cool energy and breathing out heat. You can use your right hand self in vishnu mudra – the index and middle fingers fold to the pad of the thumb. The thumb is used to close off the right nostril, the ring finger to close off the left nostril. You prepare by breathing in and out through both nostrils. To begin, you use your thumb and close the right nostril, breathing in through the left. At the top of the inhalation you close left nostril, open right and breathe out. Once the exhalation is complete, you breathe back in through the left nostril. You continue for five rounds or five minutes, whichever you can comfortably maintain. An alternative is to use your attention rather than your hand to direct the breath. In other words, as you breathe in you direct your attention to your left nostril inviting the breath to flow in through the left. As you breathe out you direct your attention to your right nostril, inviting the breath to flow out through the right. Of course, you do not worry that some breath may be moving through the other nostril. Just your attention supports the cooling energy in and heating energy out.

Mudras are gestures or seals that can deepen your meditation or breathing practices. Generally these are hand positions(though they can be full body positions as well), in which the hands are arranged in a particular way that touches on specific energetic points. Touching these points stimulates a particular energetic flow or quality. Each of the fingers corresponds to a different element: Thumb represents fire, index finger air, middle finger space, ring finger earth and little finger water. 

The above pitta calming breathing practices can be supported by the pitta calming mudra called Jalayshaya Mudra. Place your palms together. Interlace your fingers with the right thumb over the left. Extend your pinky and ring fingers. Place the heels of your hands in front of the area around your navel with your fingers pointing forward, though not rigidly so. 

Jala translates as lake or water and shaya as peaceful or calm. This mudra invites the breath to move more deeply in the body. You can enhance the effects with visualization if that is something that you find helpful. Picture a cool, placid lake, surrounded by shade trees and wild flowers swaying in a gentle breeze. 

When we describe practices as cooling in yoga, we are mainly referring to the mind and nervous system. You might have noticed though that when your body is overheated, your mind resists and that exacerbates the problem So, you will likely find that a quiet or cool mind and nervous system contribute to a cooling physical effect as well. I sincerely hope that you find this information and these suggestions helpful. Feel free to reach out with any questions or comments.

Kim Trimmer

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