Having spent now my second summer in India (summer’s in India are about as hot as they may get anywhere in the world!), I feel happy to share with all some Ayurvedic tips to managing the heat and transforming summer time into a very pleasant time. The Rishi’s taught us to observe and understand the seasons and then follow accordingly a routine to balance our physiology. This was one of the three cornerstones of disease free life, in Sanskrit it is called ritucharya. If you follow these basic rules you will see the summer months transform into a time of much vitality, energy and bliss.
I often am surprised when I see people consume heating foods in summer and then shortly thereafter complain of boils and heat conditions. Many people do not fully understand that pungent (such as garlic) and fermented (such as curds or kombucha) foods are remarkably heating. For the first steps towards a summer diet please drastically reduce the following:
Heating foods such as garlic, onion, chili, ginger (in excess)
Fermented foods such as old cheese, yoghurt, kombucha, alcohol (this goes without saying anyway). Fresh paneer cheese is perfectly fine.
Heating animal products (if you’re still non-veg) such as Fish or Eggs
Refined oils which do not digest properly must be replaced by whole oil such as ghee or any organic and cold pressed oil. Ghee is the queen of all oils in Ayurveda. It is renowned for its cooling and nourishing effects. If you are not vegan then use organic ghee for cooking in summer. It should be from cow’s milk not buffalo milk and organic and from happy cows.
We are also all very blessed by the many wonderful fruits in summer that are as if by Divine will very superb for cooling the entire system. One example is Bel (wood-apple) fruit which is renowned in Ayurveda for its many good effects on the stomach. It is by no surprise that this is a wonderful coolant and summer tonic all in all. It is best taken as a juice made from the fresh fruit pulp.
Mangos are great but they have to be ripe (tree ripened!) and fully sweet. The mangos in the market are all adulterated and picked green then chemically ripened so it’s best to avoid them. Auroville mangos are wonderful if you can get them picked ripe or just before ripe. Mangos have many medicinal effects and when ripe and sweet are cooling to the system. When sour and unripe they are highly aggravating.
Fresh sugar cane juice and green coconut juice are two more elixirs for the summer. Both are cooling and nourishing and should be taken throughout the course of the hot season.
The general diet for summer should be light with an emphasis on sweet, bitter and astringent tastes. The following foods are especially good to take regularly: fresh greens, cucumber, wood-apple (Bel fruit), green coconut, pomegranates, karela (bitter-gourd), Neem leafs, sweet ripe juicy fruits (make sure they are fully ripened). All grains and pulses are fine too. Use less spices and favour cooling spices such as fennel or coriander in your masala. Keep the very heating spices such as black pepper out of the masala at just a pinch.
If you are taking dairy products and can get organic unpasteurized milk then you can take this an hour before bedtime with a pinch of cardamom powder. Milk is sweet and cooling and helps to lubricate the entire system compensating for the dying quality of the sun.
If you are vegan, you can prepare nut milks from pine nuts or cashews to get a similar effect.
A favorite summer tea that works very well is rose petal tea. Roses are sweet and bitter, they also help to purify the blood so are an age old tonic to the entire system.
For those who can manage the taste, Neem is abundant and very effective too. I personally enjoy the bitter Neem leaf tea and find this a wonderful summer tea too.
A good summer tea mix is fennel seeds, liquorice root, nanari, coriander and rose petals.
By far of all the essential oils one can use in summer, Khus (Vertiver) excels and has been used in India for thousands of years for this very purpose. Try to get pure steam distilled Khus oil, it is usually a thick and sticky natural green colour. Apply this to your temples, palms and soles of your feet in the morning and whenever feeling the heat. You will notice a considerable coolant effect. Second to Khus is pure Sandalwood oil. This oil is best applied to the centre of the feet, palms and most importantly the third eye. Do this first thing in the morning after morning bath and ablutions. Keep it with you during the day for a top up as need be.
Summer is the best time for swimming. Take care not to swim in the hottest time of the day as you might get sunburnt and it would defeat the purpose of a cooling swim. Swim either in the morning before the sun is at its peak or in the latish afternoon. Try to spend at least 10-15 minutes in the water just floating or doing gentle strokes as you prefer.
Summer is not a time for vigorous exercise which overheats our already heated physiology. If you are not able to swim then doing a cooling asana and pranayama practice will be best. Sheetali (cooling breath) is a great pranayama for summer as well as the following asanas: moon salutation, spinal twisting postures, standing postures and all sitting postures excepting the Lion pose.
Special note about swimming: If you are unable to swim in the sea or a fresh water source, it is not advisable to swim in chlorinated water. Chlorine is a toxin and is absorbed via the skin. The toxic harmful effects outweigh any benefits by being in water. If the sea is not an option try find a freshwater pool to take a summers dip in. If neither are possible take cool bucket showers as a substitute throughout the day.
COOLING OIL MASSAGE
It might sound incongruous to apply oil to the body but there is a beautiful oil prepared in South India that has a remarkable cooling effect on the entire body, this is available at the Arya Vaidya Sala in Pondy and is called Vilvapachotyadi Thailam. It’s main ingredient is Bilva or Wood-apple. You will see it has the beautiful fragrance of Wood-apple. Oil is absorbed by the skin and works directly on Pitta or the fire aspect of our physiology and you will find applying this oil in the evenings and massaging it thoroughly in for a few days gives you a kind of cool shield to manage the heat much better. The suns rays also dry out the body which the oil compensates for beautifully. If this oil is not available where you are you can opt for cold pressed coconut oil – make sure it’s cold pressed!
A few more basic tips from the Ayurvedic texts to take note of in summer:
Always wear a hat or a take an umbrella, avoid direct sunlight as much as possible.
Drink lots of purified and energized water. Especially drink upon rising in the morning.
Sleep on your right side if feeling very hot, this activates the left nostril which brings cooling to the physiology.
By following these principals and balancing the internal fires within the body, summer becomes a most beautiful season in to enjoy the bounty of summer fruits, the silence that is abundant and the fragrance of the many flowering plants.