The physiology of a human is governed by three doshas, Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Dosha literary means ‘to cause harm’ and only do so when they are functioning abnormally. When functioning normally, they maintain good health and guide the normal processes of the body.
Each dosha is comprised of the five elements of nature, ether, air, fire, water and earth. The pitta dosha is the force that is responsible for digestion and metabolism. It’s made up of fire and a small amount of water. Its principal quality is heat but it is also light, slightly oily, sharp and unstable. The nature of the pitta individual reflects these qualities.
Pitta’s main site or residence in the body is found in the lower half of the stomach and small intestine. However, it also governs the blood, eyes, sweat glands, spleen and liver. Pitta is responsible for the digestion of any sensory impression.
Symptoms of pitta imbalances are those that reflect an increase of heat in the body. These include joint inflammation, loose stools, heartburn, yellow tongue coating, excessive thirst, burning sensations, fever, body odor, rashes, and acne.
Living in Texas during the pitta season which is summer (hot) isn’t always a breeze with temperatures soaring over 100! Personally, I struggle each summer to keep calm and cool both mentally and digestively. I am so grateful for the knowledge of Ayurveda. It helps to keep common pitta disturbances at bay during this season. Here are some helpful tips and suggestions that I follow that I hope will benefit you too.
The pitta dosha is balanced by sweet, bitter and astringent tastes. Foods that have the qualities of being cool, slightly heavy, and dry also balance pitta dosha. Pitta dosha is aggravated by pungent, sour and salty tastes. Foods that are hot, light, and oily also aggravate pitta dosha.
The sweet taste is cooling, heavy and anti-inflammatory. It satisfies thirst, is strength building, grounding and nourishing. Eating plenty of fresh, local and organic fruits and vegetables is supportive in increasing these qualities, building ojas (immune system), and they make excellent cleansers – helping to remove impurities from the body. Eating fruits that are well-ripened, sweet, and taken away from other foods will best support your digestive fire, agni. Eating fruits with meals can cause ama (toxins) and weaken digestion.
Grains are sweet and are important for supporting proper digestion and elimination, they improve memory, reflexes and ensure proper nervous system response. This could be as simple as ensuring a healthy oatmeal or whole grain breakfast cereal with spices each morning.
The bitter taste is cool and dry and can be found in dark leafy greens. These are great for pacifying the pitta dosha, they are liver and blood cleansing and support clear skin.
These include collard and dandelion greens, kale, chard and spinach. Fenugreek, turmeric, saffron and cumin are great bitter spices to incorporate into your recipes. My favorite way to add more greens is folding them into my sweet kichadee OR making this yummy, warm, sunflower kale salad.
The astringent taste is heavy, cold and dry. It is the flavor of dryness found in legumes such as mung beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, and lentils. Some fruits and vegetables are astringent such as apples, cranberries, pomegranate, broccoli, and cauliflower.
Fresh herbs and spices such dill, fennel, cilantro, lavender and mint are great during this time of year, whether in a homemade salad dressing or a yogurt raita, they can help flavor foods without being pungent (spicy, too hot). Spices that would keep pitta balanced are fennel, coriander, cumin, and cardamom.
General Dietary Recommendations For Pitta Dosha
Eat at regular times each day. Pittas can get “busy” and want to rush out the door. Leaving the stomach empty until mid-morning or lunch is not beneficial and can cause acidic or sour stomach, cause ama (toxins), and cause you to overeat at the next meal.
While I am a big promoter of eating a warm ojas increasing breakfast such as oats with ghee and spices, fruit can be very cleansing upon arising.
Eat a good breakfast and take lunch between 12pm – 1pm when the agni (digestive fire) is the strongest.
Avoid eating past sundown – this helps support liver function.
Pitta’s agni is typically strong and can handle almost anything. Don’t let this be a reason to eat poorly as this can create ama (toxins). Take foods in moderate amounts, two palms quantity at each meal. Don’t overeat just because you can!
Caffeine, Alcohol + Sugar
Avoid refined sugar, alcohol, caffeine, fast and fried foods – all of which raise pitta and causes tamasic qualities (turbulence) in the mind and body, including inflammation and anger. I find this the easiest time of year to support clients kicking the caffeine habit. In the winter, we long for that warmth each morning upon rising which most times is more a habitual routine than a need. Replace that caffeine habit with an herbal tea or warm lemon water upon rising.
How You Eat Is More Important Than What You Eat
Pitta’s like to get things done and ensure that their checklist has been completed by the end of the day! This can cause a lot of “working lunches”. This is one of the most important aspects of living an Ayurvedic lifestyle – avoid eating while distracted – at your computer working, on the phone or watching T.V., reading the newspaper, listening to talk radio. Take your meals in a calm, quiet, sattvic space with limited distractions. This will support a healthy agni, calm mind, and compassionate heart!
A sattvic environment is one that is clean and clear of clutter. A placemat is beneficial and ensuring that everything you need, utensils, salt, napkin, etc. is right in front of you to avoid excessive movement during your meal. A candle, a plant or anything that gives you joy should be at the center of your table. Light, devotional music can be beneficial.
Drink plenty of room temperature water. It may seem logical to take in ice water during this time, however when drinks are taken too cold this constricts the blood vessels and prevents built up heat inside from being released. Therefore the heat is pushed deeper within and causes stress to the body.
This is the same when you’ve walked from the heat of the outdoors into an air-conditioned room. The sudden change disturbs the normal functions of the body. It’s best to cool the body down gradually. In addition, iced beverages weaken the agni (digestive fire) and can create poor digestion. Take drinks at room temperature.
Yoga can be practiced daily during the cooler times of day, dusk or dawn. Postures should be practices slowly, with a calm, relaxed and fun attitude letting go of the competitive tendency.
You should not overheat yourself while practicing yoga. This will help to keep you less intense and more relaxed. Postures that are beneficial are those that open the heart and reduce heat: pigeon, camel, cobra, bow, fish and bridge. Opening the hips is beneficial with postures like tree, warrior and half-moon. A long savasana or yoga nidra at the end of your practice is beneficial for soothing the mind.
Getting adequate sleep is important during the summer to prevent a person with a pitta nature from burning out. The days are longer and we tend to over-commit ourselves, we spend more time outdoors, and we tend to get over-heated. To prevent pitta from crashing, set your bedtime routine for 10:00pm and plan to awaken 1/2 hour prior to sun rise. Taking a 20-30 minute nap in the afternoon can be beneficial and builds ojas (immune system).
Rose Water, Rose Water, Rose Water!
Have you ever noticed that the amount of road rage is higher during the summer months than any other time of year? Ayurvedically speaking, that makes sense, right? We’re hotter, our tempers are shorter, and we’ve got places to be! I notice it every year and I can honestly sit back and let that person cut me off without reacting.
One of the best remedies to keep pitta calm is cooling, sweet, floral fragrances like rose, jasmine and honeysuckle. I like to keep a bottle of rose water in my purse. If you begin to feel overheated just spritz your face and body and wah-la, you instantly feel cool and calm!
A hug a day keeps pitta away! When pitta burns out, more nurturing is needed to restore energy. A hug and a massage can help provide that nourishment. The antidote to anger is compassion and scheduling a massage or practicing self-massage (abyhanga) can be just what pitta needs to keep balanced.