Stay cool this summer: tips from Ayurveda

When you modify your lifestyle to suit the season, your body will hardly notice the demands the scorching heat places on it

woman sitting on a beach

What occurs in the macrocosm is replicated in the microcosm. Beyond a doubt, living beings are highly influenced by turmoil, munificence or mundane happenings of nature. Water, noise, air pollution or natural changes in weather, the circadian rhythm or even interaction and habits of family members all impact us in numerous ways.

Climate, with other factors, dictates people’s preferences. For example, when the weather is hot, people prefer staying in parks, visiting beaches, or spending time in cool atmosphere or air conditioned vehicles or rooms. Clearly, weather sends us signals to improvise our lifestyle and dietary inclinations.

And Ayurveda lays down elaborate description of seasonal and daily routine, which, when adopted, enables us to achieve perfect health, prevent diseases and also to enjoy life to the utmost.

When the mercury soars

A cloudy day does not help in raising one’s spirit, but a day with beautiful sunshine does. It boosts dwindling spirits and energises aged bones. An increase in the number of jovial children playing on the beach, building sand castles, relishing ice-creams or cooling juices is common on a hot summer day.

On the flip side, it is observed that people have stronger temper tantrums and more frequent violent outbursts in summer or on hotter days than on cooler days. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics, almost all crimes increase during summer months by almost 10 per cent—murders go up by 16 per cent, rapes and other violent crimes by 13 per cent. Even teenagers get into more trouble with drugs and alcohol, and become more involved with theft and assault in summer.

Apart from hotter temperatures, holidays and other reasons could also be contributing to the increase in crime rates. However, research points out otherwise.

Extreme heat, extreme behaviour

Studying the effects of heat on the brain for 30 years convinced Canadian criminologist [Simon Fraser University, Canada] Ehor Boyanowsky, of the direct co-relation between heat and extreme behaviour.

Dr Lance Workman, a psychologist from the University of Glamorgan, UK, proved how hot weather affects the levels of serotonin levels in our brain—increased serotonin levels lead to heightened aggression. He ascertains that there is indeed an increase in violent crimes as temperatures rise. And this trend, according to Workman, is global.

Not just the rate of crimes, but there is also a significant increase in irritability during the hot weather. Back in 1986, two psychologists, Douglas Kenrick and SW Macfarlane, conducted an interesting traffic-jam experiment on a busy UK road. They arranged for a car to sit at various traffic signals and stay there even as the light turned green [they tried this in diverse weathers].

What they found is what we all probably experience in everyday life as well—as the temperatures increased and the people inside the non-air conditioned cars began honking with increasing intensity.

Heat also induces depression. The Seasonal Affective Disorder [SAD] includes summer depression. Symptoms include: poor or altered appetite, sometimes a craving for sweet or starchy foods, weight loss or gain, trouble sleeping or tendency to oversleep, decreased energy and fatigue, difficulty concentrating and irritability, avoidance of social situations and feelings of anxiety and despair. They usually vanish as the heat subsides.

Heat and health

Hot weather not just affects our head, but also our physical health. While it soothes the problems of the cold season such as winter blues, allergy, asthma, aches and pains, hot summers also sap energy; reduce appetite; increase thirst, lethargy, depression and digestive problems.

The season also fosters the spread of infectious diseases, starting off epidemics. According to Scott Sheridan, climatology professor at Kent State University, Ohio, USA heart, vascular, and respiratory problems too increase with rising temperatures.

Cool, inside-out

Woman drinking coolAll systems of medicine consider the mind-body co-ordination, and more so Ayurveda. The ancient seers went to the extent of advocating diet, lifestyle modifications and management of diseases, exclusively based on idiosyncratic demands taking into account the significant factors like effect of normal changes of climate or vagaries of nature.

Here’s what Ayurveda prescribes for summer to keep the body and mind cool from inside out:

Sun and the skin

Soaking in too much sun can result in burnt or sensitive skin, and appearance of unattractive brown spots, and pigmentation on the skin. It can even cause skin cancer. Further, overexposure to ultraviolet rays hastens wrinkling, drying and ageing of the skin due to the release of free radicals. The eyes too suffer if exposed for long to these rays; they degenerate and develop early cataracts.

However, reasonable exposure to sunlight helps maintain healthy skin. Hence, the first important aspect of skincare in summer is exposure to the sun in moderation. Here are some tips to help keep your skin shining like the sun:

  • Avoid applying make-up. If you do apply, do so sparingly and completely remove it at bedtime.
  • Apply face packs made of watermelon puree, cucumber, orange peel powder, banana or papaya pulp mixed with honey, milk cream or rosewater.
  • Use sandalwood, neem, turmeric and aloe vera to enhance skin tone and keep the skin free from premature wrinkles and pigmentations.
  • Massage the skin regularly with coconut oil or medicated cooling oils to improve circulation and keep the skin young and healthy.
  • Minise the damage to the skin due to exposure to scorching sunlight, by covering the skin and using adequate sun protection.
  • Get sufficient good quality sleep; it is essential not just for healthy skin but also to maintain overall health.

Here’s how to stay fresh

  • Wear clothes that are made of natural materials like cotton or silk.
  • Opt for clothing in pastel colours like white, cream, light green, light blue or blends found in nature and not colours, which are very bright, glaring and shocking to the eyes. This is because light colours absorb less heat.
  • Get a whole body oil massage with aromatic or cooling oils [made of basil, neem, sandal, jasmine, champak]. It helps enhance vigour and decrease body odour.
  • Wear clean clothes after bath.
  • Rub coconut or castor oil [any other cooling oil will also do] on the scalp and the soles of the feet before bedtime to keep your body cool.
  • Keep roses, tuberoses, jasmine or scented flowers in vases around the house. They have a cooling effect and make the atmosphere pleasant and the heat, bearable.
  • Don’t give up exercise. However, opt for doing light yoga asanas [postures neither too complicated nor strenuous] instead of heavy weights. Alternatively, you can go for walks or pursue any other outdoor activity [swimming or other water sports], or simply spend some time near a water source early morning—it will refresh your mind and give you immense health benefits.
  • Do cooling pranayama [sheethali, sheetakari] and dhyana [meditation] to avoid overheating your body.

The recommendations are made by seers of ayurveda after meticulously studying the nature and man—follow them to help your body cope with the hot season such that it takes the vagaries of climate in stride.

With inputs from Shantala Priyadarshini, MS, Ayurveda and assistant professor Government Ayurveda Medical College, Karnataka.


A version of this article was first published in the May 2010 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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