It’s May in Memphis, and the energy has shifted from a steady, temperate, kaphic spring to an overbooked, “you’d better stay on top of your shit,” sharp-witted, multi-tasking pitta energy. Personally, I have been “in the weeds” all month.
This past Monday, I rolled into my first appointment thinking "OMG—groan—here we go again, another marathon week."
Between teaching yoga classes, working with private clients, leading and taking trainings, maintaining relationships, participating in social events, and attending to self-care, I am barely keeping up. This past Monday, I rolled into my first appointment thinking "OMG—groan—here we go again, another marathon week."
Because I have a pitta-dominant prakruti (constitution), am in my pitta stage of life (mid-life—I’m 35), and live in a very pittic climate (Memphis is hot and wet), for me, during pitta time of year, this seasonal change means a quadruple-dose of fire.
It’s common for people to experience anxiety as “their season” approaches. For example, some vatas may get anxious anticipating the cold, dry aspects of winter. In my case, as pitta-time approaches, I get flashbacks of two summers ago. I call this my “summer of apologies,” when I was so pittically aggravated (burned out, broken out, sharp-tongued, judgmental, and swollen with inflammation) that my dear friends stopped talking to me for a few months. It was not a popular summer for me. The summer of apologies was accompanied by a backdraft of shame, guilt, and embarrassment over my short temper and nasty attitude. I wrote apology emails and texts, and spent months tiptoeing around friends and lovers that I’d scorched with my fiery derangement like a dragon shooting flames out of its mouth.
My point? The elements are powerful. Pitta and its season are dominated by the ayurvedic elements of fire and water. My prakruti is dominated by fire, water and earth. And this is the fiery life stage for me—the time to get shit done. That's a whole lot of fire. And fire is a great blessing, but dangerous enough that it should never be left unattended.
Now, every year before the heat of the summer sets in, I revise my plan for how to stay balanced during pitta season. Here are my latest tips for maintaining my cool—and subsequently, maintaining relationships with friends and lovers—as the summer sun kicks in:
1. Cold showers
Do yourself a favor, take your body temperature down. Here's a nurturing summer practice that helps me stay cool, and friendly to both myself and others:
Step 1: Turn all electronic devices to silent.
Step 2: A gentle abhyanga with coconut oil and essential oils of rose and sandalwood, or rose-geranium.
Step 3: Legs up the wall for 10-25min.
Step 4: A cool shower or bath.
2. Be flexible.
Pittas are known for being driven and ambitious; we often strive to accomplish everything on our task lists, especially when fueled by the bright light of summer. This year, I’m opening to the energy of improvisation with the intention to create more space in my schedule. I’m getting comfortable with relaxing into an easier pace, and more open to neglecting the non-essential items on my to-do list in exchange for more time to just be.
Pittas are known for being driven and ambitious; we often strive to accomplish everything on our task lists, especially when fueled by the bright light of summer.
3. Enjoy yourself.
Once during a tarot card reading, the reader asked me,“what do you do for fun?” I drew a solid blank. Nothing popped into my mind. “Oh yeah, joy. That’s important,” I realized.
Now, I continually remind myself that all my work, all my experiences, and all of my relationships are the manifestations of abundance in my life. This physical experience is for delight as well as transformation. I’m looking for joy in every aspect of my life. And when I can’t find that joy? That’s a sign that I’m worn out and burning up my ojas. That I need to stop what I’m doing, be still, and rejuvenate. Even if that means that I have to cancel or refer clients out. After all, a worn out body and mind has a harder time connecting with joy.
4. Surround yourself with beauty.
Sight and vision are ruled by pitta, and pitta is pacified by lovely, exquisite things. When you’re feeling extra fiery, fill your home or office with some of your favorite flowers; or, visit an art gallery, botanical garden, or park. Seek out any setting that is beautiful and soak it in. Take time to dress, adorn, and treat yourself like a goddess or god, and tap into the healing power of beauty.
Divine light manifests through the fire element—first and foremost, as the luminous fire inside the heart. In his book Yoga and Ayurveda, David Frawley writes: “This is the real inner fire or light from which all other fires derive their light and energy by reflection. It is the seer of all and the entire universe is its body.”
Praying for divine support and inspiration alone helps to soothe pitta’s sharpness, and connecting with the divine through prayer, meditation, or any bhakti (devotional) practice can help keep the ego in check.
6. Give yourself space through your physical practice.
Due to my pitta-dominant nature, in the midst of summer, I often feel too hot to do much asana. The asana that I do mostly focuses on deep stretching. Spreading the muscle fibers and fascial tissue is like opening the "vents" in the body. If the muscles and the fascial tissue that encases those muscles are bound tight, it means that the muscle fibers are sitting really close together, efficiently holding heat in. To disperse my extra heat, I focus on opening the tissues with long-hold myofascial release and yin-yoga style stretching. There’s not a ton of regular asana in there, it’s more like an improvisational stretching practice. Giving myself this unstructured time is like a tonic for my typical pittic task-mastering.
7. Keep your vata in check.
Tending to prana (the subtle form of vata dosha) on the daily helps maintain a safe, steady fire. Just as a wild wind can cause a bonfire to rage (or alternately, can completely blow it out), when vata, with its air and ether elements, becomes deranged, it can easily knock our inner fire out of whack.
Tending to prana (the subtle form of vata dosha) on the daily helps maintain a safe, steady fire.
Two helpful pranayamas are nadi shodhanam with the left nostril dominant, and shitali or sheetkari (for those of you who cannot curl the tongue). When practicing shitali, I feel the cool air through the wet straw of my tongue. On inhalation, the breath travels up to the third eye and continues to the crown of the head. On the exhalation, a cooling energy cascades down like a waterfall coating my entire body.
Practicing nadi shodhanam is balancing. It's important to regulate the flow of prana in order to keep the inner fire balanced. Regulation of prana creates an even temperature and balances agni (the fire element). The addition of chandra bhedana (left nostril practice) calls in the moon’s silvery, soothing light rays and brings in receptive, feminine energy.
All in all, ya’ll: Slow down and take care of yourself. Here’s to practicing these principles all summer long (and in my case avoiding another summer of apologies!)