Updated: Jul 6, 2021
If yoga is the science of guiding the self back to Brahman, Ayurveda is the science of how to support the body and mind for the spirit to do its work. Ayurveda balances out more than many of us will ever understand. It takes into consideration our birth, our parents' state during our conception, our karma, the time of day, season, time of our life, and so much more. It relies on the aspects of the planet's elements (earth, water, fire, air, and ether), and like yoga, focuses on the Gunas (Sattva, Rajas, Tamas).
During the time of year those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are experiencing now, summer is full of heat. It holds fire and water, and when fire is out of balance, can irritate a variety of physical and mental aspects of the body. In balance, fire element helps us focus, and digest our thoughts and food. When it's out of balance, we can feel the weight of the heat in the air and get angry. The water element which helps us stay hydrated and in touch with our emotions can dry up leaving us disconnected emotionally. One of the ways to help support all ourselves during this time of year is through diet and our asana practice.
While many of us are growing hot peppers in our gardens or containers, right now we actually would do well to enjoy the coolness of cucumbers and seasoning food with cilantro. Alcohol drives heat, so we can instead drink limeade which has a cooling effect and supports digestion. Mint is a wonderful summer herb and when I visited Greece, was used extensively in cooking which made the unbearable almost 40 degrees Celsius temperatures much more tolerable. Lemon balm, like mint, is a cooling herb that spreads rapidly in the garden. It's great for digestion support, as well. Use it in making a sun tea or toss into a salad.
While those with a primary Pitta dosha prefer active and regimented forms of asana, summer is not necessarily the best time for it. Practices that support this time of year are more relaxing without goals. Incorporate forward bends, lateral movements, and twists. Twists activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is great for engaging relaxation. Avoid inversions as they increase heat in the body. Back bends can either support or exacerbate Pitta doshas this time of year, so pay attention to what happens in your body. If you feel the heat, you might need to make it a very gentle back bend that is held for only a few breaths. One option would be a modified camel with fists on the low back/hip shelf.
Moon salutations are a great option for this time of year as they keep the body open and can be done quite slowly. Other asanas that might benefit those who practice Raja Yoga are: Ardha Chandrasana, Malasana, Urdhva Hastasana, and Trikonasana.
For pranayama, focusing on the exhale can be a great way to release pent up heat. Summer is the time of year where open mouth exhales can also be beneficial. These types of breath release heat from the body. Shitali pranayam is also a great practice this time of year as it brings in cool air and is associated with the water element.
Make sure to practice longer svasanas. Pittas are usually ready to get out of that practice in a minute or two, but some say svasana is the most important asana you will ever do. (Why? That is for another blog.)
For meditation, when beginning, focus on the heart center and feel compassion for yourself.
Patanjali's "Yoga Sutras,” which is the foremost authority on Raja Yoga to many, says in Sutra 2.4
This sutra reminds us that while the asana needs to be stable (i.e. set upon a good foundation), we also need to consciously relax in it. Sukha can also be translated as mild. Allow your asanas to be enjoyable. Surrender in each moment. Remember that you are not the doer.
Sometimes the most difficult challenge in our yoga practice during the heat of summer is remembering that last part. Not everything has to be difficult. Not everything needs to be a challenge. Not everything needs to be part of a list to check off. Sometimes things that are more beneficial for us as experienced through the soft playfulness of a puppy learning how to befriend another dog or a baby learning to walk.