Beat the heat with these 5 ayurvedic lifestyle tips. By Julia Clarke
The arrival of summer brings with it many reasons to celebrate: warm weather means you can lose the heavy layers and play outdoors; with long days comes improved energy and more time for seeing friends after work; and summer fruits and vegetables gift your dining table with delicious and healthy meals. Best of all, across the board we generally experience better health and less sickness in the summer months than at any other time of year.
Despite all of summer’s gains, yoga’s holistic sister science ayurveda is here to remind us that too much of anything (even sunshine!) is never a good thing. In fact, though the onset of summer fills us with vitality and positivity, if we’re not careful to conserve our energy, by summer’s end we might experience burnout, hyperacidity and inflammation.
Central to understanding how ayurvedic science works is the idea that everything in life can be viewed through the lens of the five elements. Heavy foods like whole grains and root vegetables express the earth element and ground you, while heated emotions like anger and criticism contain the fire element and burn you out over time. This principle, known as Five Element Theory, even applies to the seasons.
Summertime, not surprisingly, is marked by an increase of the fire element; we get more exposure to the sun’s energy now than at any other time of year.
A simple way of understanding how ayurveda views the effect of the seasons on your physiology comes in the concept of Samanya (like increases like). When it comes to the seasons, Samanya conveys that whatever is happening on the outside is also happening on the inside. The cold and dry weather that we experience in late autumn and early winter naturally leaves us with dry skin and chapped lips, while the increase of runny noses in the spring can be attributed to the moisture that the seasonal thaw brings. Because the sun presides over summer, over time heat builds up in your tissues and mind and can lead to unwanted acidity in your digestion, red eyes, skin rashes, and even becoming a little short tempered with those around you as your emotional state takes a turn for the fiery.
The remedy, according to ayurveda, lies in the practice of Vishesha (balance with opposites). Vishesha posits that you can counter the effects of the seasons by making small adjustments to your diet and daily routine. Enjoy the gifts of summer without falling prey to overheating with these five easy lifestyle tips:
1.Tame your inner fire
Though a strong digestive fire is highly prized in ayurveda, there is such a thing as too much heat in digestion. If you’re digesting your food too quickly, you might not absorb enough nutrients, or experience feelings of ‘hanger’ as you become hungry again too quickly after eating. Avoid too many heating foods right now like hot chillies, too much salt and too many sour, fermented foods like cheese and alcohol. Instead, make sure to eat enough to fuel your activities and enjoy what’s fresh and in season: sweet, juicy fruits like peaches and cherries with breakfast, courgettes, leafy greens and asparagus with lunch and dinner, and cooling coconut water and mint tea throughout the day.
2. Slow your flow
Now could be a good time to take a break from hot yoga and fast-paced flows and instead seek out a contemplative Vinyasa practice focused on gentle heart openers and side bends and enjoy your body’s naturally increased flexibility in summer. Yin and Restorative Yoga are ideal as complementary practices to your more active lifestyle at this time of year.
3. Cool your heels
Turns out our natural inclination to get to the beach in summer is right on! Spending time on or near water is incredibly calming when we’re starting to feel intense emotions like irritation or jealousy.
Plan for time spent along the sea front or river’s edge and take a break to sit and listen to the soothing sounds of waves and waterfalls.
4. Try easy
With all this daylight, it’s natural to want to push your limits a bit with your daily workouts. Summer therefore is a high time for sports-related injuries, overheating and dehydration. Try to avoid pushing yourself beyond your natural capacity or getting caught up in the competition. Instead, exercise outdoors and in nature when you can, seek out shaded trails, use the cooler early morning and early evening times, and safely enjoy swimming and water sports. Remember, it’s okay to stop and smell the roses!
A 2018 study by the American Physiological Society found that the stress hormone cortisol actually spikes as temperatures rise. Chances are you’re waking up earlier at this time of year anyway, so schedule in 10 minutes of meditation before you go about your day and approach your activities and challenges mindfully.
Julia Clarke is the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners and teaches graduate studies in Ayurveda at Maharishi International University. She recently moved home to Scotland after 20 years living in the USA to focus on her two loves: writing and teaching yoga.
Practice this daily meditation (taken from the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners) in any seated or reclining posture to increase your sense of inner calm:
Bring your awareness to your breath. Notice how it sounds like the ocean.
Now imagine that you are sitting on the beach, watching the ocean. Feel the sun and breeze on your skin, the soft sand underneath you. Hear the call of the birds in the sky above you and the sound of the gentle tide. Observe the waves washing up onto the shore, then gliding back into the ocean.
Begin to sync your breath with the tide. As you inhale, imagine you are drawing the waves toward you as they wash up on the beach. As you exhale, send them back to join the ocean. Feel that you are not separate from the waves or the ocean.
Let each exhale wash away frustration and judgement. Feel each inhale fill you with compassion and joy.
After 5-10 minutes, return to the sensations within your body, and feel your breath return to normal.
Julia Clarke is the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners and an Ayurveda practitioner based in Glasgow.