Light. Fire. Heat. Intensity. It’s summertime! Do you worship long days of bright sunlight? Do you welcome a renewed feeling of lightness and expansive consciousness? Maybe you just can’t get enough of the hot summer temperatures. Or, do you dread the heat and go out of your way to avoid the summer sun? Perhaps a dark, air-conditioned movie theater is more your speed on a hot summer day.

Summer, like each of the seasons, arrives with its own distinct personality. Depending on your constitution, summer may increase your internal sense of harmony, or it may aggravate one of your innate tendencies. For example, a hot-natured individual who prefers a cool climate may love the winter, but will feel hotter than most—to the point of discomfort—as the heat of summer intensifies. On the other hand, someone with chronically cold hands and feet, who never seems to be able to stay warm in the winter months, will experience exactly the opposite: long, cold winters will be a challenge and s/he will relish the heat of summer. But the seasons need not be an intrinsic source of fluctuating dread and euphoria.

Summer can motivate improved physical fitness and it is generally a great season to be active, provided you exercise at appropriate times and at an appropriate intensity. Exercise is very heating and, at this time of year, is best avoided during the heat of the day, especially from 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Instead, try exercising early in the morning, when the atmosphere is crisp and cool. It’s also important not to push too hard. Ideally, exercise at about 50–70% of your capacity, breathing through your nose the entire time, if you can. Follow your workout with a drop of rose oil to the third eye, throat, and navel to help the body cool down.

You are a reflection of the world around you. Whatever is happening in nature, is happening inside your body. This means that as the hot summer months go by, heat accumulates within. Your diet is one of the best tools to balance out excessive summer heat. The guiding principle—a diet based on light and cooling foods. 

Ayurveda teaches that like increases like. Adding water to a bucket of water, results in more water. Feeding an overheated body with spicy curry, increases heat. That being said, opposites balance. Pour water over a fire and it goes out. Feed an overheated body cool watermelon juice and instantly you will feel a cooling effect.  The Ayurveda summer diet is based upon this principle. It incorporates cooling foods; those which nature so intelligently gifts you in warm months to counteract heat.

Your power of digestion is actually at its lowest in summer. In order to prevent itself from overheating, the body turns down its internal heat (agni). This is why appetite is naturally lower in summer and you tend to crave light foods such as fresh fruit juices or salads.

One of the fundamental principles of Ayurveda is that our habits, routines, and dietary choices should ebb and flow with the seasons. We can support an improved state of balance throughout the year by making a conscious effort to live in harmony with the cycles of nature and by regularly adjusting our lifestyle and habits to accommodate the arrival of each new season. While this idea may at first seem daunting, many people find that the recommended seasonal adjustments come quite naturally and that a few simple changes can dramatically increase health and vitality.

In Ayurveda, it is said that like increases like and that opposites balance; this helps to explain why summertime stirs something different in each of us. If you know your constitution, you can actually take even more personalized steps to harmonize your internal landscape with the changing nature of the seasons.

Summer: The Fire Season

The most striking characteristics of summer—the heat, the long days of bright sun, the sharp intensity, and the transformative nature of the season—are directly in line with why summer is considered a hot or pitta season. And, despite the fact that some climates are exceptionally humid this time of year, the cumulative effect of intense heat is to dry things out, so summer is also considered dry. While there is plenty to celebrate about summer’s unique personality, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. A summer seasonal routine is aimed at fostering diet and lifestyle habits that will help to prevent the over-accumulation of summer qualities and allow you to enjoy the unique gifts that summertime has to offer.

Summer Season Diet

During the summer, our bodies naturally crave light foods and small meals that are easy to digest because the digestive fire—a strong source of internal heat—disperses in order to help keep us cool. Being fully present with your meals while savoring the flavor and texture of your food will help minimize the risk of overeating. Summer is a time to favor the sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes and to relish in cool, liquid, even slightly oily foods. This is the best time of year to enjoy fresh fruits and salads. It is also a great time to indulge in sweet dairy products such as milk, butter, ghee, cottage cheese, fresh homemade yogurt, and even ice cream on occasion. All unrefined sweeteners except honey and molasses are cooling and can be enjoyed in moderation during the summer months.

In the way of beverages to beat the heat, enjoy cool or room temperature water infused with mint or lime and a little raw sugar, a sweet lassi, cooling herbal teas such as peppermint, licorice, fennel or rose, or an occasional beer. Iced drinks are best avoided; they disturb the digestive fire and create toxins in the body.

Go easy on sour or unripe fruits, aged cheeses, and heating vegetables and spices such as carrots, beets, radishes, onions, garlic, ginger, and mustard seeds. Try to avoid extremely spicy foods like chilies or cayenne pepper altogether. Also keep in mind that raw vegetables (as in salads) will be better digested if they are eaten at lunch, rather than at dinner.

Foods to avoid:

  • Pungent – Foods that are sharp or spicy such as ginger, garlic, radishes, chilies, and spicy seasonings.
  • Salty – Anything that may have excess salt or is naturally salty such as seaweed.
  • Sour –Foods that make the mouth pucker or are fermented such as lemons, grapefruit, hard cheese, and sour cream.
  • Hot –Go for room temperature over warm, and mildly seasoned over spicy.
  • Oily and dense – Foods that are deep-fried or very rich.

Foods to favor:

  • Sweet – Those which are naturally sweet such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and ghee (clarified butter).
  • Bitter –Greens such as kale, collards, and dandelion, also bitter spices like fenugreek.
  • Astringent – Foods that make the mouth feel chalky such as spinach, turmeric, beans, apples, coriander, and dill.
  • Cooling – Anything that has a cooling post-digestive effect such as cucumber, watermelon, fruit juices, fennel, dill, and coriander. However, avoid ice or foods straight from the fridge.
  • Light – Foods that don’t overburden the digestive fire.

Understanding food in terms of taste and energetics makes it easier to choose the right diet for summer. And besides what you eat, keep in mind that it’s how you eat that matters too.