Staying Cool The Ayurvedic WayJuly 4, 2013
“Even after all this time
The Sun never says to the Earth
‘You owe me.’
Look what happens with a love like that
It lights the whole sky.” – Hafiz
This poem by Hafiz is one of my favorites. The sun tirelessly gives to us day in and day out. It warms us, energizes us, and keeps us alive. But sometimes we need to take a break from the sun as I found out all too well last week.
We just sweated our way through a heat wave here in NYC and another one is underway. The blistering sun combined with high humidity for days on end was uncomfortable, to say the least. I’m just starting to feel back to normal after experiencing heat exhaustion. It’s happened to me before, so I recognize the symptoms and take it very seriously. Left untreated, it can lead to heat stroke, a potentially fatal condition which requires medical intervention.
Staying Cool The Ayurvedic Way
Heat exhaustion can happen when dehydration occurs after a long heat spell–especially when the humidity is high. Living in an urban area can add to the likelihood of it occurring because of the poor air quality. Symptoms can include:
- Dizziness or faintness
- Rapid or weak pulse
- Muscle cramps
- Excessive sweating
- Nausea or vomiting
- Skin may be cool and moist to the touch
When heat exhaustion occurs, you need to immediately cool the body by:
- Drinking cool (not ice-cold) non-alcoholic liquids
- Stopping all activity and RESTING
- Getting out of the sun and preferably into air-conditioning
- Taking a cool shower or bath
- Wearing loose-fitting, lightweight, natural fabrics
If your temperature reaches 104 degrees, seek medical attention immediately as heat stroke may be imminent.
People with high Pitta dosha need to be particularly vigilant about keeping their body cool. The main element in Pitta dosha is fire and so they already run hot. In order to avoid damaging their internal organs, Pittas should take special care to not get overheated. I devoted a recent blog post to Pitta Season which is upon us here in the Northern Hemisphere. You can read it HERE to get some tips on how to maintain a healthy Pitta balance during the hot summer months.
But it’s not just Pittas that need to be cautious about overheating. I learned this the hard way a couple of years ago on a long bike ride on a blistering summer day. My prakriti is Vata-Pitta, which can be a dangerous combination in hot, humid weather. Vata dosha is dry and easily becomes dehydrated. Vatas also don’t sweat a lot. Coupled with Pitta dosha, the air (Vata) can fan the fire (Pitta) and make a perfect storm for heat exhaustion. Ever heard the phrase “He/she runs hot and cold”? Well, Vata-Pittas literally do–physically and emotionally.
Coconut water saved me that afternoon on my bike, and these days I am never without it in the summer. Coconut is a cooling fruit that can do wonders to help keep you hydrated. Read my article to learn about the many benefits of coconuts.
A problem that Vata-Pittas encounter when overheated is that their Vata dosha doesn’t like to sit still and they are often bothered by air conditioning because of the cold air movement. I ditched my air conditioner last summer because it unnerved me so. I’ve never minded the heat, but as I’ve gotten older, my body’s cooling mechanism seems more precarious.
It takes several days for my body to readjust once heat exhaustion occurs. This time around I forced myself to lay on the couch in the middle of the day to rest. This is torture for a Vata-Pitta, unlike a Kapha who would gladly head for an afternoon nap. Curious about all the hoopla, I watched two entire seasons of “Homeland”. Watching TV during the daytime is borderline sinful to me. I am chomping at the bit to hop on my bike and go for a ride. But this is a situation where doing nothing is what needs to be done.
Water is the predominant element in Kapha dosha, so Kaphas do better in dry weather. When the humidity is high, they also suffer. Unlike Vatas, Kaphas tend to sweat a lot but also retain water. They need to be cautious in high heat and humidity, especially if they are overweight and/or have high blood pressure.
Exercising in hot, humid weather can be extremely dangerous. I want desperately to hand out Ayurveda tips to all of the Pittas running in the park during the hottest time of day. Red-faced and looking like they want to kill someone, I wonder what possible benefit they are deriving from this self-inflicted torture. And HOT YOGA? Don’t get me going on that subject.
In fact, Ayurveda teaches that we should only exercise to 50% of our capacity. When it comes to the doshas, all exercise is NOT created equal. So, take it easy in the heat. Maybe opt for a swim or an early morning or evening walk or bike ride.
The bottom line is that all three of the doshas need to take care during extreme heat, especially when the humidity is high. Here are a few cooling Ayurvedic remedies for prevention or treatment of heat-related symptoms:
- Fully hydrating the body can take up to two weeks. Sipping hot/warm water every 15 minutes throughout the day is much more effective than downing large glasses of water all at once. Cold water is shocking to the system and should be avoided. It also interferes with digestion by literally putting out the digestive fire. Remember that the average core temperature of the body is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Coconut water alone or mixed with fresh orange juice is one of the best hydrators around. Most sports drinks have added sugar and other unnecessary ingredients.
- Sweet cucumber milk is delicious. Blend 1 cup of raw or organic, non-homogenized milk with 1/2 cup skinned cucumber and 1 T raw sugar. (Thank you Joyful Belly Ayurveda!) Milk is very cooling and calming for Vatas and Pittas, but it should aways be taken alone.
- Combine 3-4 cups of water with 10 fresh mint leaves, 1/2 tsp. freshly grated ginger and 1 tsp. fennel seeds. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain and drink throughout the day. It will help cool the body and aid digestion. You can add salt, lemon, lime and/or raw honey. If adding honey, don’t add it to boiling hot water–wait a few minutes. Honey heated at high temperatures is toxic.
Here is a wonderful video with some more Ayurvedic home remedies:
Wherever you are in the world, if blistering heat and humidity is upon you, be very cautious. Find a shady tree, or air conditioning and stay out of the sun as much as possible. I, for one, plan to spend a great deal of the Fourth of July holiday in a movie theater!