Ayurvedic View on How to Exercise in the Summer

July is here. With at least two more months of high temperatures ahead of us there is plenty of time to enjoy the beach, yoga practices in parks, swimming, and fun picnics. Summer is all about having fun and relaxing, isn’t it?

As counterintuitive as it may seem, hot summer days can make us feel not that bright and cool in our mood and the way we interact with others.

Have you noticed that everyone gets short tempered and more irritated as soon as the temperature goes above 80?

People turn impatient in lines, become short with each other, and annoyed for no reason. While some people can attribute it to bad days, hormones or poor bringing up, Ayurveda explains it differently: heat-aggravated Pitta.

Pitta is one of the Ayurvedic doshas. Hot, fiery, intense and strong, it can send emotions through the roof and create aggression, jealousy and criticism.

Other signs of aggravated Pitta are impatience, heartburn, acid reflux, stomach ulcers, sensitivity to heat, lethargy, sarcasm, skin rashes, boils, acne, low blood sugar and difficulty falling asleep.

High Pitta almost always lead to inflammation. And inflammation in its turn can lead to a lot of unpleasant things including water retention, puffy face, redness, and exacerbate chronic conditions.

To balance fiery Pitta and to stay cool, Ayurveda recommends following several simple routines and dietary guidelines that you might be familiar with if you are on my newsletter list or read my book Happy Belly.

Besides external influences that are not under our control (such as hot weather), there are other things that we have control of and that can either help to keep fiery Pitta at bay and aggravate it further. Food and exercise are 2 big variables that we have total control over. Both should be adapted according to individual constitution and season. Ayurveda is all about achieving and maintaining balance which helps to go through life with ease and happiness. Isn’t something that we all would enjoy?

As yogis we can use yoga practices to help us stay balanced in the scorching hot summer. These tips are applicable not only to yoga practice but to most physical workouts in the summer. They will help you to stay in great shape and feel fresh even in the hottest days.

During asana practice or other exercise

  • Have fun! Traditionally, Ayurveda, recommends lightening the workout load in the summer. Some of the best summer-friendly pitta-balancing workouts are yoga (not hot!), swimming, dancing, and anything else that is light, fun, and not competitive.
  • Stay mindful. What matters most of not what you do but how you do it. Ayurvedic wisdom encourages us to stay mindful during any type of movement. Be present in your body, listen to its cues, and trust it.
  • Exercise only to 50% of your max capacity and don’t to push to exhaustion. While many of us are used to think of exercise as a ‘must do’ not so pleasant activity, try to change this perception and make it more about having fun and enjoying movement this summer. While moving through vinyasas for example, focus on your breath and all the transitions, letting go of the goal oriented-practice. The amazing thing about this approach to exercise that you get stronger really fast and exercise leaves you feeling energized, not depleted. What’s the point of trying to be strong and muscular if you are too tired and sore to enjoy life afterwards.
  • Stay hydrated but avoid drinking ice-cold water. According to ayurveda it can hinder digestive fire and lead to fatigue and sluggish digestion. Instead try sipping on coconut water, watermelon juice, or add cucumber slices and mint to regular water for a cooling effect.

After asana practice or other exercise

Watch out for high pitta sings after every asana practice or workout such as burring dry eyes, itchy scalp or inflamed patches of skin, swelling, redness, burning heat feeling inside or on the joints and scalp. Try a few of the following tips to cool down and to reduce Pitta.

  • Exercise in the early morning; never in the middle of the day. Avoid excessive activity during midday heat as it can be draining.
  • Do five rounds of sitali breathing at the end of your yoga practice or intense physical activity. It is cooling for the body and calming for the mind.
  • After your asana practice or any other physical workout, make sure you don’t skip on the restorative poses and good quality stretching.
  • Put cold cucumber slices on your eyes, and rest for five minutes if your eyes are burning or dry.
  • If you still feel the intense Pitta nature after completing the workout, do a yoga nidra to relax to a very deep level both physically and mentally
  • Take a cool shower and let some cool water run on your head and eyes
  • Enjoy cooling bitter, astrigent, sweet foods after the workout. Salads, fresh dairy-free smoothies and fresh fruit work great! Eat less food that is spicy, sour, salty or hot. Avoid hot peppers, fermented foods (yogurt, pickles, wine, miso) and acidic foods (citrus fruits, tomatoes, coffee, vinegar). Add mung beans, dark green, cilantro, broccoli, cabbage, celery, seaweed, snow peas, summer squash and bitter gourd to your grocery list as they are very cooling.
  • Rub coconut oil on the soles of the feet and hands before going to sleep.
  • To cool pitta use alkalizing foods especially bitter greens. A salad from massaged kale with avocado and cilantro would be great. As would also be pure water or cucumber juice with aloe Vera, mint and blue green algae. Avoid sour, fermented, smoked, salty and super spicy foods to prevent pitta from rising even higher. So apple cider vinegar, mustard honey dressing, ginger kombucha, hot sauce, smoked salmon should not be a part of the recovery plan for pitta. Watch out for fried and oily food and keep in mind that too much animal protein can do you more harm than good.
  • Due to high appetite high pitta can get you to overeat so slowdown and keep breathing while you eat. There is no competition to finish everything on your plate!
  • Taking brahmi to calm your mind might be a good idea. Healthy pittawould be good for the body. In my experience weight training, boot camps, hiits aggravate pitta the most so reduce them.
  • Just as food exercise routines should change with the seasons. Don’t hold on to long cardio sessions that might have worked in the Spring. Stay fluid and flow with nature’s rhythms.

What to watch out for/avoid

There are a few general things to avoid during the high heat summer days:

  • Competition with yourself or others. Try not to be critical of your abilities while working on specific asanas.
  • Very high intensity practices or workouts. Rely on your bodies signals and have fun first and foremost. If your body is enjoying movement, there   will be less internal resistance to exercise or craving afterwards. A balanced happy body is more likely to be at a healthy weight than a stressed fatigued one.
  • Exercising in the heat/sun or heated room. Leave it for Fall and Winter season

Your turn: How do you exercise in the summer? Do you feel you Pitta getting too high after your exercise routine?

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