Ayurveda (Traditional Indian Medicine) is an ancient natural health science that believes in maintaining a balance of energies (Vata, Pitta & Kapha) within the body in accordance with the external environment in which it resides.According to Ayurveda everything in the universe (including our bodies) is composed of 5 elements and these elements manifest as three energies, that is Vata (Ether & Air), Pitta (Fire & Water) & Kapha (Water & Earth). With each season an accumulation, alleviation or aggravation of one or more Doshas may occur, affecting our bodies either positively or negatively.
The study of seasons is called Rtucharya and it provides information on diet, cleanses, herbal medicines and activities best suited to any particular season. This seasonal awareness allows us to live in balance & harmony with our environment.Although Ayurveda offers a fairly straight forward approach to health, the complexities lie with balancing individual differences combined with seasonal variations. Nothing can be isolated and the whole picture must be examined before a problem is addressed or a solution sought. To get the most from Ayurveda, awareness about your individual constitution (Dosha) will allow you to completely embrace the Ayurvedic lifestyle.
Every persons’ body is made up of the 3 Doshas (energies) in varying proportions often with a predominance of one or more Dosha, eg Vata, Pitta or Kapha or a combination such as “Vata Pitta”, “Pitta Kapha” or “Vata Kapha”. Each season will therefore affect people in different ways depending upon their constitution & health.
Ayurveda seeks to balance the body before it becomes aggravated (“prevention is better than cure”). It anticipates imbalances before they arise and in so doing takes the correct measures to avoid or reduce the severity of the problem.The Ayurvedic year is divided into 6 distinct seasons, that is Spring, Summer, Rainy Season, Autumn, Early Winter & Late Winter. Contrary to popular belief what we typically believe to be summer (May until August) is actually made up of 2 specific seasons, namely Summer (May 15th -July 15th) & the Rainy season (July 15th -September 15th). At the very least this seasonal awareness will burst the bubble of the misconceived notion that it shouldn’t rain during August!
Summer is heralded by an energetic shift around mid-May, this lasts until mid July when it shifts again to the Rainy season. Luckily for us residing in Ireland we do not experience the extremes of any season. The summer does not bring searing heat & dryness and the Rainy season does not translate into monsoons. Nevertheless Summer in Ireland does follow the predetermined energetic pattern that Ayurveda suggests.Vata (Ether & Air) is the main Dosha that accumulates during the summer months but if the summer heat is excessive Pitta Dosha (Fire & Water) may become slightly aggravated. Kapha (Water & Earth) is the only Dosha that is alleviated during summer, hence why it’s easier to lose weight.The environment can be hot and dry which is reflected in some of the common summer health complaints, e.g. lethargy, sunburn, constipation, skin irritations, heat stroke, neuralgia’s, dehydration, dryness of mucous membranes, etc. To harmonize the body & offset external environmental factors there are a number of prescribed lifestyle & dietary recommendations.
- According to Ayurveda, this is the only time of year that laziness is actually prescribed! Siestas, gentle strolls and spending time soaking up natures splendour are all prescribed whilst strenuous work & arduous exercise should be avoided. Ancient texts suggest the cool environments of rivers, streams and ponds are ideal for Summer time.
- Ayurveda pays close attention to the 6 tastes in the diet (Sweet, Sour, Satly, Pungent, Bitter & Astringent) as taste expresses the 5 elements manifesting in food. The external environment also has taste. During the summer months the Pungent taste (Air/Fire) is dominant and to balance this some bitter foods & sweet tastes are advisable as they cool & soothe the body. Avoid foods & drinks that promote dryness & heat such as heavy, pungent, salty or sour tasting food.
- Generally sweating is more frequent during the summer and as a result electrolytes and fluid are lost from the body. As a result further drying can take place if the body is not adequately hydrated. Extra water alone is not sufficient as the body requires taste to process fluid properly. The Ayurvedic system recommends that you add flavour to your water e.g. add a small amount of elderflower or rose cordial, a dash of pure juice, or a squeeze of lemon or lime. Hydration is also assisted by consuming ripe fruits (summer stone fruits, berries, etc) and cooling vegetables (leafy greens, salads, etc) as they are essentially full of water but have the added benefit of taste & vitamins.
- Many medicinal herbs can also be used to aid the cooling & soothing action sought such as elderflower, marshmallow, rose, aloe vera, nettle, sandalwood, jasmine, etc.
THE RAINY SEASON
Summer inevitably leads to the Rainy season, a time notorious for aggravating all 3 Doshas. The weather is somewhat erratic (going from hot to cold and dry to wet in no obvious pattern) & is generally quite oppressive. Although here in Ireland we avoid the severity that this season brings to many equatorial countries we are still faced with the energetics of this season.
As all Doshas are aggravated it is difficult to know how this will materialise in the body. It is highly dependent on both the constitution and health of the individual and how erratic the season. Nevertheless this is a challenging time of year and is one where extra precautions should be taken. Generally we see a reduction in energy levels and often the nervous system becomes irritated. Commonly yeast, fungal & bacterial infections thrive. Other very common health problems experienced are fluid retention, blood sugar irregularities, headaches, high blood pressure, UTIs, skin irritations and allergies. For those already weakened or infirm they may become further debilitated.
Ayurvedic texts suggest a moderate diet & lifestyle with herbs or foods to assist with appetite, digestion & elimination to help the body function properly. Day sleep is not advisable unless you are unwell. The liberal use of honey (pure & unheated of course) is recommended due to its haemostatic action (blood stabilising). Pickles that help food to digest can be taken with all savoury meals. On the cooler rainy days salty, sour, juicy & oily food is favourable, like vegetable soups.
The bottom line for this time of year is that it’s advisable to be flexible with your routine and avoid any extremes.
Summer Guidelines (May 15th – July 15th)
- Foods & drinks to include: Ripe juicy fruits (the summer stone fruits & berries, etc); Green leafy vegetables; Salad greens; Cucumber: Bitter melon; Elderflower cordial; Coconut water; Aloe vera juice; Marshmallow tea, Moringa oleifera (Drumsticks)
- Foods & Drinks to Avoid/Reduce: Red meat, Alcohol, pungent spices (chili, black pepper, mustard seeds, etc), Junk foods, Processed foods, etc
- Activities to include: gentle yoga, pranyama breathing, gentle exercise (walking & swimming) and Siestas
- Activities to Avoid/Reduce: Strenuous exercise & work; hectic activity; excessive exposure to the sun
- Herbs to include: Aloe vera, Elderflower, Marshmallow, Rose, Slippery Elm, Nettle, Sandalwood & Jasmine
Rainy Season Guidelines
- Food & Drinks to Include: Generally include Honey; wheat, rice & barley. On hot days follow summer guidelines but on the cooler rainy days include: Pickles; salty, sour slightly juicy & oily foods eg vegetable soups.
- Foods & Drinks to Avoid/Reduce: Red meat, Alcohol, pungent spices, heavy or stodgy foods (starchy carbs), etc
- Activities to Include: Ayurvedic treatments -Nasya & Abhyanga; Aromatherapy Baths; Meditation & gentle yoga
- Activities to Avoid: Excessive exercise; Exposure to the sun; Day sleep & Stressful situations
- Herbs to include: Passionflower, Sandalwood, Nettle, Punarnava, Chamomile & Brahmi
About the author – Doug Hyde
Doug is an Ayurvedic practitioner, therapist & teacher and the co-owner of Satmya. He was first introduced to Ayurveda in 1998 and has pursued his passion for this ancient science ever since. Read more here