It was a blistering hot day in July when I was sitting in my Ayurveda Nutrition class. The Santa Ana winds had kicked the temperature up to 101°F (38.5°C) in southern California, and even the air conditioner couldn’t keep the classroom cool. My teacher, Dr. Jayagopal, started class with a mischievous smile that turned upwards into a question:
“Is our Agni (digestive fire) strongest in the summer or winter?”
“SUMMER!” I blurted out, proudly and obnoxiously.
[awkward pause – which is code for “Incorrect Answer”]
It was a trick question, hence the mischievous smile.
“How do you feel right now in this heat?” he asked me. “Hungry?”
“No, actually I feel a little nauseous.“
Looking back now, I realize that the hotter the days became, the less hungry I felt. In fact, I hadn’t heard my stomach growl for days. I answered Dr. Jay’s question prematurely from my brain and notebook rather than from my body. The answer to his question was right there in my own belly.
To be fair, mine was a logical deduction. The Dinacharya of Ayurveda (aka our Daily Habits) teaches us that our power of digestion mirrors the power of the sun. Thus, during Pitta time of day, between 10am and 2pm, our Agni is stronger and more efficient than during any other period within the 24-hour cycle.
Sun at its highest, Agni at its highest. Inner ecosystem matches outer ecosystem.
Naturally I assumed that during Pitta Season, we would play by the same rules as those of Pitta Hour. But, apparently, that’s not how it goes down.
Have you noticed that during the sweltering days of summer, you don’t have much of an appetite, but during the winter you’re always hungry? That’s because when it’s cold outside, our bodies naturally draw heat inward, into the gut, to keep us warm, and heat in the gut translates into maximized digestive power. This is why we crave and can better digest heavier foods (like warm stews and food with more oily content) in the colder months. Conversely, in the summer, our internal heat disperses to keep us cool, and our Agni weakens. We naturally reach for fruits and vegetables–lighter foods with higher water content for hydration.
Hunger is your friend. A grumbling belly is nature’s way of alerting you that your inner furnace is ready and willing to fully digest your food.
Here in the West, we often approach our diet as a mental exercise using the brain first: we research diet trends, count calories, read nutrition blogs (and, yes, even Ayurveda blogs) so that we can “follow the rules.”
But Ayurveda doesn’t give a damn about the molecular structure of milk, labels on a jar, or the protein content of an energy bar. It’s a body-centric approach that encourages us to turn our inner gaze into our bodies, feel into what is happening there, and then use our minds to figure things out, not the other way around.
So step away from the blogs for a moment (except for this one, of course!), and resist going on autopilot as you create your grocery list. Go to your local farmer’s market or grocery store, close your eyes, and feel into your body. What food colors are calling to you? What smells and tastes are enticing you? What are your cells longing for?
Attune to the voices of your body, and trust your gut.
Because in the heat of the summer, that’s a pretty darn cool thing to do.
P.S. Here are a few excellent Ayurveda resources you can use to flow with the heat and live in harmony with this Pitta time of year:
• Check out Banyan Botanicals’ comprehensive list of awesome Pitta-pacifying lifestyle tips. It’s one of the best “cheat sheets” I have found to help guide you as we move deeper into the summer months. You’ll love this.