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News of the persistently erupting Kilauea volcano in Hawaii has captivated me. Watching the molten lava (pitta) crawl and drop (vata), cooled by the ocean and solidify (kapha) can help us understand how three distinct energies operate our own bodies and minds. Nature has so much to teach us about our own constitution (doshas), and what happens when it falls out of balance.
If Charaka, the father of Ayurveda (Indian Medicine) was correct that man is a microcosm of nature (recorded in 300 BCE) then what we need to know about balancing our bodies and retaining wellness is all around us, even on the evening news! The five basic elements in the Kilauea drama have also conspired to create our bodies, and are managed by the doshas, the three energies which animate all matter on this planet. Wellness begins with balancing these energies.
Just as the Big Island is currently out of balance, spewing ash, smoke and lava all over vacationers’ best-laid itineraries, so too can our bodies reach a tipping point. Our seasons present such an opportunity, each having distinct characteristics. Spring is kapha with its cool rain; Fall/winter is vata with its dry and cold climates; and summer is pitta – hot! The reason why the weather affects us is because the characteristics of each season inspires unique responses from our bodies, compromising the balance of our doshas. We are constantly within this struggle – to live here with health and happiness though the environment persistently threatens to send our doshas off-kilter. To avoid illness or the expression of unwanted symptoms, we can make some small adjustments to our lifestyle to keep the doshas in equilibrium.
The Pitta Summer
Summer changes the Earth. Long days of bright sun transform sprouts to plants, just as your pitta energy of intense focus on one idea can transform it to a new project or product, a baby, or a change of job. The energy of the Sun works as fire in the digestive system, and as intelligence in the brain. The sun’s energy also activates your eyes’ retina so it can perceive light. So your body’s internal temperature, digestion, thinking and vision are all functions of pitta energy.
Have you noticed that your skin needs more attention lately? Has a cold sore or brown spot appeared on your lip? Maybe you’ve been easy to anger, with a trigger finger emotional blind spot that pops up unexpectedly? Perhaps after your favorite meal, you walk away from the table with an unusual ‘heavy belly’ feeling? Or could it be that the perfume you loved six months ago in the dead of winter, now makes you nauseous? These are all early symptoms of a Pitta imbalance. You can head them off at the pass now, or allow them to accumulate to the point of having to deal with the consequences during the Fall and Winter.
Balancing Pitta in the Body
To see pitta in balance in nature, watch a cocoon transform into a butterfly, or bees pollinating a flower. Even the rays of sun on a sandy beach and the sharp edge of a pinecone or blade of grass can demonstrate to us that cutting through obstacles, shining light on problems, or expanding our population are all the innate desire of creation itself. We share this desire for continuous creation with the pointy-beaked woodpeckers, termites infesting dead trees, and elephants defending their tribe with long, hard tusks. But these instincts can carry us away when we are unaware.
People with a pitta predominant nature do well in colder environments – they keep balanced and healthy. But in the summer they can get uncomfortable fast, can overheat and be irritable. But you don’t have to be pitta predominant to suffer, because we all have all three doshas working together in our bodies all the time. Without that fire in our system, we wouldn’t even have the drive to get up in the morning! So in the heat of summer, pitta becomes vulnerable to disturbance- inflation or contraction. Depending on your own unique constitution, summer might increase your sense of harmony, or stir up nascent tendencies toward excessive eating, working, talking, sex, nail-biting, etc.
If you feel your body’s pitta is indeed aggravated, making a few of these adjustments could help.
- Increase intake of naturally sweet, bitter, or astringent foods
- Eat cool foods
- Create meals that are half raw and half cooked
- Add cooling herbs & spices to all your meals: fresh cilantro, fennel seed, coriander, cardamom, saffron, dill, cumin
- Try aloe vera juice
- Drink fluids slightly cooler than body but not cold
- Decrease intake of oils and butter
- Eat slowly, resting while sitting up afterward
- Eat outside in a peaceful, shaded, green environment
- Adopt a few cooling asanas to your daily practice: Supta jathara parivartanasana (supine spine twist), Savasana (corpse pose), and Vriksasana (tree pose)
- Add Sitali Pranayama to your evening practice to ensure a cool night’s sleep
- Avoid too much sun
- Stay cool, but not cold. Avoid extreme AC and repetitious transitioning from inside to outside
- Get moderate exercise, but don’t overexert or sweat too much. Relax into your steady practice. Keep your energy grounded.
- Finish your exercise before 10:00 a.m.
- Soak in a cool bath with 4 t. (previously steeped) green tea leaves, 5 drops peppermint, 15 drops lavender
Balancing Pitta in the Mind
When our pitta mind is balanced we can be tidy & organized, focused, assertive, and confident. We like to start and finish projects and to learn new things. But when out of balance, our behavior can cause havoc with our bodies, work, and relationships.
Because the information you take in through your senses influences the quality of your thoughts and emotions, and thereby your deeds, we can tame a pitta imbalance with a few inexpensive additions to your home lifestyle.
Smell is the most primitive of all your senses. Odor triggers a strong connection between memory, emotion, and instinct.
- Add organic scents to your infuser, or essential oil for the body: mint, lavender, jasmine, sandalwood, rose, fennel, ylang-ylang, lemon, peppermint
- Use more cooling colors in decorating and summer clothing: soft pastels, blue, green, pink, rose
- Find sounds that are: calm, slow, without lyrics, few instruments – nothing complicated or challenging for the ear
- Hang with cooling friends. – no “hotheads”; keep intense conversations to a minimum (especially if your body is overheated)
- Practice acceptance and gratitude. Observe your need to control outcomes. Let that stuff go so you can enjoy without grasping. (If you don’t, you might be the next “hot head” not invited to the garden party!)
- Study the self, with awareness
David Frawley, the founder of the American Institute of Vedic Studies, teaches us in Ayurveda and the Mind that “To develop true intelligence requires placing the intellect in the service of awareness. The nature of your intelligence is Pitta based. Find texts that inspire you to ask “Why am I here?” Be calm, turn inward, explore slowly without goal or anxiety. This time, well spent, will improve the quality of your sense perceptions, and prepare your balanced doshas for the oncoming Fall Season.
Also, try adding cooling and surrendering practices to your yoga routine:
- Asanas: Balasana (child’s pose), padhastasana (hands/feet pose, or “forward fold”), ustrasana (camel pose)
- Pranayama: Nadi Shodana (alternate nostril breathing)
Three Pitta Balancing Scenarios
Plan at least 30 minutes each day alone and out of the heat. Try one of these ideal pitta balancing scenarios:
- Sipping a cup of cool peppermint tea, sitting in the shade of a tree
- Taking a slow walk through the trees, listening to leaf songs
- Laying in Savasana (corpse pose) in green grass, listening to calm, sweet music
As a devoted student of Ayurveda, balancing the doshas is the supreme focus of my own lifestyle, and the therapy and education I provide clients. I can now recognize the wisdom that my perfectionism offers when it rears up at unnecessary times, and predict when I might experience a break out on my face when I over exert in the sun. With these few changes, we can remain in balance and dramatically increase our enjoyment of this season.
The information in this article is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
Maya Tiwari ‘Ayurveda: A Life of Balance: The Complete Guide to Ayurvedic Nutrition & Body Types with Recipes’ 1994
Vasant Lad ‘Textbook of Ayurveda, Vol. 1: Fundamental Principles of Ayurveda’ 2001