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The Summer Issue

Beat the Heat with Cooling Ayurvedic Foods

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If you are anything like me, having grown up in the hellish conditions of summers in South Texas, you are probably thinking something along the lines of “the weather this summer has been great!” But I was recently reminded that summer didn’t actually begin till June 21. Bummer. July and August are still to come, and whether it’s a river weekend, an agua fresca (see pp. TK) , or a homemade wet towel/box fan air conditioner, everyone in San Antonio has their own way to handle the heat during the dog days. Why not add some 6,000-year-old wisdom to your repertoire?

In the Indian system of metaphysics known as Ayurveda, the energy of the physical universe is expressed as five elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether (or space). These elements represent not only physical materials, but their related energies and functions as well. For example, the earth element refers to the physical substances that give the body mass, and also to the psychological sense of being stable and grounded. Similarly, the fire element is expressed as the “fire” of the digestive processes as well as the “fire” and determination of the will. In the human organism, these five elements combine in various ways to produce various body and personality types. There are three main types (doshas) which are combinations of the five elements: Kapha dosha (earth and water), Pitta dosha (water and fire), and Vata dosha (air and ether). There are then 10 subtypes representing various combinations of the three main doshas. In addition, any food or substance that we may consume has its own dosha properties that affect each body type in different ways. This may all seem very confusing and intricate, and it is. Fortunately there are many free online questionnaires and quizzes to help you determine your dosha type. Whatever practices, foods, or therapies you may pursue will be dependent on your particular dosha. Generally people of the Pitta dosha type, which I am, are the people who most often experience an excess of heat in the body.

When I asked Patricia Wickman of Radiant Living Yoga and Ayurveda what kinds of foods Ayurveda recommends to help cool the body, she first pointed out the difference between thermogenic cooling and energetic cooling. Thermogenic cooling describes the action of raspas, iced drinks, smoothies, and the like. Energetic cooling, with which Ayurveda is concerned, is when the liver’s pH is alkalized by eating and drinking things that are above a seven on the pH scale. Some of the foods she suggested for raising pH include bitter greens such as cooked spinach, beet greens, Swiss chard, and collard greens. Citrus fruits are acidic in nature, but lime has the unique quality of neutralizing pH, so squeezing lime over your food or drink is helpful in general in the summertime regardless of your dosha. Milk, and sweet, non-citrus fruits (including avocado) are also said to be good Pitta-reducing foods.

Now for the bad news — a list of foods and behaviors that generally aggravate energetic heat: fatty foods, medications, citrus fruits, tomatoes, spicy foods, coffee, tea, soda, peppermint, onions, garlic, alcohol, smoking, and psychological stress. Double bummer. If you are anything like me, despite your best intentions, you will be sweating profusely this summer – again. Thank the universe for the raspa man.

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