The Yoga of Food: Eating for Summer

The Yoga of Food: Eating for Summer

As the sun shines hot and bright during the long summer days, agni tattva, the fire element, warms and radiates strongly inside our bodies. The fire element activates the third chakra (manipura) to promote healing, transformation, manifestation, and growth. Agni tattva strengthens pitta, the Ayurvedic dosha (bio-elemental energy) that is strongest in the summertime, to provide the energy of digestion and metabolism.

When agni and pitta become too strong they can ignite anxiety, restlessness, anger, irritability, heartburn, constipation, excessive bleeding or dry skin. Poor digestion, low energy, poor immune system, excess weight, and depression are signs that our agni and pitta may be weak. Fortunately, Ayurveda, yoga’s sister healing science, provides simple and direct advice on how to balance pitta and agni tattva through dietary adjustments.

Hydrate and Eat Raw

The simplest approach to keeping your pitta from overheating is to properly hydrate and to eat more raw fruits and vegetables. The more exposure you have to summer’s moisture-sapping heat, the more you will need to increase your fluid intake and raw food intake. To know if you are drinking enough water, pay attention to your thirst levels and the color of your urine (it should be a light-colored yellow, not dark). Add more raw vegetables to your lunch as digestive agni is strongest then.

Sweet, Bitter, and Astringent Tastes

There are three Ayurvedic tastes that help balance pitta: sweet, bitter, and astringent.

The sweet taste is cooling, grounding, nourishing, strengthening, and anti-inflammatory. Only consume foods that are naturally sweet, which will be mostly fruits (melons, dates, figs, mangoes, berries, prunes) but will also be found in most grains, squashes, sweet peppers, root vegetables (beets, carrots, sweet potatoes), some spices (basil, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, fennel, mint, saffron, tarragon, vanilla) and some dairy products (ghee, milk).

The astringent taste (dry, rough, and chalky) is heavy and cooling and it absorbs excess moisture and curbs excessive tendencies. The astringent taste is in most legumes (beans, lentils), some fruits (pomegranates, pears, apples, and dried fruit), vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, alfalfa sprouts, avocado, artichoke, asparagus, green beans, lettuce, peas, potatoes), a few grains (pasta, quinoa, couscous, oat bran, popcorn, rice cakes), spices and herbs (coriander, dill, fennel, nutmeg, parsley, saffron, turmeric, vanilla).

The bitter taste is very cooling, drying, and cleansing. This taste also alleviates thirst, stimulates a healthy appetite, and is a digestive tonic. The bitter taste is found primarily in dark leafy greens (kale, dandelion greens, collards).

Avoid Hot Spicy Foods

While all of the above will be naturally cooling and calming to the pitta dosha, it is also important to avoid hot and warming foods in your diet. Minimize or avoid deep-fried and processed foods and animal protein (especially red meat). Avoid pungent, sour, and salty tastes as they aggravate pitta. Especially avoid warm and hot spices like cayenne, garlic, dried ginger, black pepper and chili peppers. Minimize caffeine, nicotine, and other stimulants, including alcohol. An occasional beer or white wine is okay.

The long hot days of summer create ample opportunities to feel, explore, and balance the fire element and pitta dosha. All of the above is general advice; consider it as a starting point for changing your diet for the summer season. As you experience summertime’s energy of expansion and activity, focus on creating groundedness and inner-peace.

As you feel summer’s warmth inside your body, notice how the above dietary choices help to cool and dissipate this heat. Experiment and make adjustments based on your individual constitution, local seasonal foods, and the specific weather conditions where you live. Most importantly, pay attention to how the weather and the food you eat affects your prana, digestion, and overall sense of health and well-being.

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