At the moment in the UK we are having a heat-wave with temperatures reaching 30°C (86°F) (unusual for the UK).
What happens to us during these times of hot weather?
You will probably feel hot, sweating, tiredness, and fatigue. Symptoms can vary from migraines to confusion to heat stroke. Ultimately, too much heat can put your heart under stress.
A medical article from Harvard Health Publishing explains what happens:
Like water flowing downhill, heat naturally moves from warm areas to cooler ones. As long as the air around you is cooler than your body, you radiate heat to the air. But this transfer stops when the air temperature approaches body temperature.
Your body shouldn’t get too hot (or too cold). If your temperature rises too far, the proteins that build your body and run virtually all of its chemical processes can stop working. The human body sheds extra heat in two ways, both of which stress the heart.
Their recommendations include:
- Take it easy and choose cooler times for activities.
- Cooling down is the best way to beat the heat: fans, baths, etc.
- Drink fluids for your health.
- Eat light. Smaller meals, smoothies, salads, and fruits will also give you extra fluids and minerals.
Excess Heat from an Ayurvedic Perspective
How all of this translate in Ayurvedic terms?
Excess heat very much relates to excess Pitta.
We can experience all the signs of excess Pitta, including being more irritable, overly reactive, intense, or egotistical. We can develop a hot temper.
With the excess heat, the heart bits faster to help the body cool down. As the heart beats faster, the tip of your tongue will be red (signs of fire element) and the liver, a Pitta organ, may become fatigued.
The fact that the heart is beating faster denotes movement, and hence indicates an increase of Vata dosha too.
As we see, the recommendations from Harvard's article very much follow what Ayurveda says: opposite qualities pacify.
Exercise puts the heart under stress, as well as increased heat, hence, any exercise should be done during the colder hours.
Ayurveda has specific recommendations regarding Pitta balancing exercises/practices, including cooling pranayama.
I see people running, cycling, etc. when outside temperatures are reaching 28°C (82.4°F) or higher. Do you think this type of exercise in these weather conditions is healthy or balancing?
Cooling down through your skin by bathing in the sea, lake, or river (or bathtub)...isn't it wonderful? This brings the element of water, which is the element that balance both Pitta and Vata. What do you think about fans, air conditioners, or even iced baths?
Wine, sugary juices, and alcoholic drinks increase heat (hence Pitta) and dehydration (dry quality is a Vata quality).
Eat a Pitta pacifying diet. Add the elements of cold, wet, and moist to balance the heat of Pitta. Add cooling herbs and spices to your meals, such as coriander, fennel, or mint and lime juice, avocado, and coconut.
The practice of self-massage reduces stress to the heart, however, use oils with cooling properties such as coconut oil in the summer.
Sheetali pranayama is a cooling pranayama practice that is great for the summer heat and pacifying Pitta. It involves breathing in over or through your tongue and breathing out through the nostrils.
Ayurveda Can Help You Cool Down in the Summer Heat
We can see how modern medicine and Ayurveda do say similar things, however, Ayurveda has a more holistic view, and can include more specific guidance and practices, including yoga and pranayama.
From yoga, always practice the 8 limbs of yoga of Patanjali. And, I would like to remind you of Ahimsa:
Do no harm to yourself nor to others.
The practice of awareness will show you what to do. Our body has its own intelligence; we need to learn to listen to it.