Summer Eating for Your Dosha

July 1, 2016    BY Caroline Schmidt

Living in the sultry heat of the South, I dread the summer months. The heat is exhausting; any small irritant can escalate into a full-blown burst of rage for me very quickly. Each year I reassess my yoga practices, diet, and lifestyle in the hopes of staying cool, calm, and collected during the dog days of the season. Here are my simple recommendations for a summer of balanced health.

Vata

  • Enjoy some sweet, watery fruit. Cut down on the dry and crunchy stuff (that includes dried fruits). In the summer heat, pitta is burning off vata’s already deficient moisture. This is especially true if you are in the vata stage of life (which starts between the ages of 40 to 55 approximately, or, for women, during the peri- or postmenopausal phase). Air and water partner for proper movement in the body. Dry, crunchy snacks absorb what little moisture vata has, making digestion difficult. Vata has a tendency toward digestive issues. Too many dry, hard, raw foods can aggravate constipation, gas, and bloating in the body.

  • Give yourself regularly timed meals with sustenance. Poor vata can easily get burned out during this fiery summer season. Hearty, earthy meals eaten at regulated times help provide stability in energy, body, and mind. Think pastas, grains, and if you're a meat-eater, light meats.

  • Incorporate more sweet and salty tastes into your meals.

    • Sweet

      • According to ayurveda, the sweet taste is said to stabilize and build energy, as well as support longevity, strength, and ojas—which is the body’s vital energy reserve.

      • Where to find it: in most grains, pastas, meat, and milk, as well as in dates, maple syrup, honey, natural sugars, almonds, fennel, licorice, marshmallow, and raisins.

    • Salty

      • In healthy amounts, salt helps retain moisture and maintain electrolyte balance. It also functions as a laxative and demulcent—a softening agent—which helps to soothe vata’s hard and dry attributes.

      • Where to find it: in salts, kelp, seaweed, and tamari. Since variety is so pleasing to vatas, I ask my vata-dominant clients to go to a spice market or specialty grocery store like a Whole Foods to sample the many varieties of salt and choose a few of their favorites for creative variation.
         

  • Draw in the elements of earth and water.

    • For earth: Create a stable foundation for your body and mind through grounding asana and meditation practices. Eat your meals seated and at regular times. Take a walk or practice out in nature. Garden. Put your hands and feet in or on the earth. 

    • For water: Swim. Spend a lazy afternoon by a body of water, and sit and listen to its sounds. Take the path of least resistance and soften when up against a hard concept, idea, or situation. Cultivate a soft heart and mind through offerings of service, gratitude, and compassion.

Pitta 

  • Eat light. If you are blessed with a pitta constitution, most likely you can digest at a higher capacity than most. Pitta’s fire element is present through bile and digestive enzymatic secretions. Taking in heavy foods, which require a strong, sharp, chemical mix for compositional breakdown, can cause agni (digestive fire) to blaze. My teacher, Dr. Rosy Mann, once called this state of agni “ravished.” Sounds aggressive, right? Pitta does not need more aggression because God has given us so much of it already! Eating simple whole foods such as grains, legumes, veggies, and fruits helps keep pitta's sharp agni stable and peaceful.

  • Practice ayurvedic etiquette when it comes to eating. Often when pitta is in the fiery summer season, we're so stimulated by our element and into our pittic nature (focusing intently, task-mastering, multitasking, and generally burning up with hunger) that by the time we sit down to eat, we practically inhale our food. (Remember the above “ravished” quality?) Rather than wolfing down your food while standing to save time, assist your body by cultivating your sattvic (balanced) ayurvedic eating etiquette, so that digestion can occur in a relaxed and settled state. Sit down, be still, give thanks and blessings, look at your food, chew your food, be soft in conversation or be silent, and sit still for a spell after you eat to give yourself space to begin to absorb and assimilate your nourishment.

  • Incorporate more astringent/bitter and sweet tastes into your meals.

    • Astringent/bitter tastes dry and cool pitta's wet, hot qualities. These tastes are found in most green things, such as leafy greens and other green veggies, green apples, most legumes, aloe vera gel or juice, rhubarb, pomegranate, hibiscus, chrysanthemum, yarrow, and black tea.  

    • Sweet gives us a sensual reminder of how good it is to be sweet (sigh) and provides stable metabolic fuel. Choose the sattvic sweet found in most grains, dates, natural sugars, fruits, licorice, and coconut.

  • Draw in the elements of ether and air.

    • For ether: The gaze of a pitta-dominant person can get hyper-focused and intense like a laser—and it's no fun to be under it! Calling in the ether element can help to balance this. You can do this by looking for openings—as in free time in your schedule; opportunities to release the ego and attempts to be in control; and letting go of arguments, resentments, and micromanaging. Also, try cultivating expansion, non-resistance, and practices for disbursement, like asking for help, spiritual practice, meditation, or prayer. When it comes to yoga practice, expansive, lateral openings and deep stretching is the way to go! Also, cultivate the ether element by calling in support or guidance from a higher power.  

    • For air: Give yourself a stable fire by attending to the air element through a vayu-balancing asana practice and daily pranayama, such as nadi shodhanam (alternate-nostril breathing) with the left side dominant, as well as sitali (cooling breath) or sitkari (hissing breath).

Kapha 

  • Eat light and fresh from the garden. Eating light and fresh is a great way to keep kapha in her naturally beautiful, blissful state. Summer is a great season for kapha. Her earth and water elements are cool, heavy, slow, and unctuous; and summer as a season is about fire, which is hot, light, and sharp. These are balancing qualities for kapha, whose digestion can be inherently slow or even stagnant. Eating light helps stimulate kapha’s agni and keeps it burning bright.  

  • Avoid very large or heavy meals, as well as heavy meats and dairy.

  • Incorporate more pungent and bitter/astringent tastes into your meals.

    • Pungent. When it comes to agni, kapha needs a little something to stimulate the spark! In addition to digestive and circulatory support, a pungent taste acts as a diaphoretic and helps eliminate kapha's excessive wetness. Pungent tastes also behave as expectorants, which is helpful considering kapha's phlegmatic nature. Find pungent tastes in peppers, raw onion, radishes, and many spices, including black pepper, cumin, ginger, and mustard.

    • Bitter and astringent. Like the pungent taste, both of these are light and reductive. They are catabolic in the tissues and help draw excess moisture down and out through the colon. Find these tastes in most green vegetables, as well as in rhubarb, pomegranate, hibiscus, chrysanthemum, aloe, yarrow, black tea, coffee, and chicory.

  • Draw in the elements of fire and air.

    • For fire: Kapha needs the hot, light, and sharp qualities of fire to counterbalance its cool, heavy, slow nature. Take a hot yoga class or do your asana, pranayama, and meditation practices in a warm, sunny location, like the beach. Energize yourself with fiery mantras like the bija (seed) mantra Ram, or stimulate the illumination of your highest potential with the mahamrityunjaya mantra. Surround and clothe yourself with bright reds and warm colors.

    • For air: Kapha needs air's ability to shift, move, or change direction quickly and with ease. Air brings flexibility to kapha’s stable and sticky nature, and dries up its excess wetness. Cultivate this element through repetitive dynamic movement, such as sun salutations, dancing, or walks and runs outside.

General Ayurvedic Eating Tips

  • Drink when you're thirsty. Rather than mindlessly sipping beverages all day (which taxes agni by making it work constantly), give your digestion some space to do its most precious work by refraining from beverages after meals.

  • Take an afternoon break. Walk away from your work and:

    • Set a timer for 10 to 25 minutes and put your legs up a wall to rest your senses and relax your adrenal glands.

    • Find a shady garden and enjoy a cooling summer tea.

    • Or do both!

  • Eat fruit as a snack by itself. No raw fruit with meals. Dr. Vasant Lad, founder of the Ayurvedic Institute, lists eating fruit or fruit juice with meals as a practice to be avoided and an example of poor food pairing. Fruit does not play well with other foods in the belly. As you can imagine, the digestive components needed to break down light, fresh, summer fruit is different from that needed to digest a cheeseburger (with its predominantly heavy, oily, dense, and slow qualities) or lentils and quinoa (with their predominantly astringent tastes). Why confuse your digestive fire with an incompatible combination? Summer fruit is its own sensual pleasure and should be enjoyed by itself as a sweet, succulent treat.

  • When eating meals:

    • Sit and relax.

    • Give thanks.

    • Acknowledge the elements represented in your food:

      • For earth: Experience the physical substance of the food: its color, shape, texture, and smell.

      • For water: Consider the water it took to grow the food, as well as any moisture in the dish you’re enjoying.

      • For fire: Remember the life-giving essence of the sun found in all living things, as well as our body’s ability to transform the food into energy that will nourish and repair its tissues.

      • For air: Enjoy the ability to move, transform, and grow through this nourishment. Relish the movement of transformation.

      • For ether: Acknowledge and honor the intelligence of the plants and animals that you are consuming, asking that their wisdom be passed on to you.

  • Engage in light, easy, pleasant conversation, or silence. Avoid intense subjects like violence, and steer clear of heated discussions, arguing, or gossip.

  • Eat your sweet foods first and your bitter/astringent ones last. This means start with grains, breads, and meats first and finish with veggies, dark chocolate, coffee, or tea as a digestif. Digestion has an order, and consuming in this sequence makes for a more peaceful digestive experience.

     

Caroline Schmidt
Caroline Schmidt is a lifetime lover of learning. She is a yoga teacher, Ayurvedic Yoga Specialist, an avid gardener and devoted cook in Memphis, TN.  Her intension is to share the practices of yoga, Ayurveda, pranayama, meditation and good food as a pathway to healing the heart. Caroline views the practice (including cooking!) as a pathway towards balance, stability and a vivacious life. It is with respect to the tradition that she encourages her students to find and explore a connection... Read more>>