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Take a cooling bath in a lake with friends

So here we are in the dog days of summer. As the heat and humidity reach their pinnacle in the world around us, so does Pitta within us. Have you felt any of the following signs of high Pitta recently?

  • Rashes or redness in the skin
  • Hot flashes
  • Impatience
  • Acid reflux or heartburn
  • Irritability over little things
  • Road rage
  • Inflammation

Pitta is easily elevated in anyone this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere, but even more so for those who have a significant proportion of Pitta in their baseline constitution, or prakriti.

Here are some quick solutions to bring that inner fire down fast:

  1. Spritz pure rose water over your face and eyes for an instant cool-down
  2. Drink coconut water or cucumber water (soak a few organic cucumber slices in a cup of water overnight) – both help cool you from the inside out
  3. Avoid spicy salsas and chili peppers, as well as acidic foods like tomato sauce, kombucha and grapefruit
  4. Schedule regular “computer screen vacations” throughout your work day, and then soothe your eyes (an organ with high concentrations of pitta) by gazing at an image of nature, especially bodies of water, or simply “palming” the eyes to let them rest in darkness
  5. Instead of lemonade, which is heating due to the sour taste, drink limeade (it is lime’s prabhav or mysterious effect that it is cooling despite being sour)
  6. Practice sheetali pranayama: roll your tongue like a straw (or press the tip of your tongue against the back of your top teeth) and breathe in through the mouth so air rushes over the tongue, then breathe out through the nose. Wait for the next inhale to arise naturally so you don’t hyperventilate. Do 12 slow rounds, then sit quietly. (This is a great antidote when someone cuts you off in traffic!)
  7. Create a little space in your schedule – give yourself extra time to get to an appointment, or block off a half hour at the end of your work day to close up loose ends before starting your commute
  8. Wear cooling colors like green and blue
  9. Sit for five minutes of stillness in the morning simply observing the breath, bringing the mind back to the breath each time it wanders
  10. When the critical or judgmental mind starts talking in your head, say to yourself, “Ah, my Pitta must be high!” and wait for a cooler moment before sharing your thoughts.

With a little forethought, we can anticipate high Pitta and take steps in advance to pacify it. Most importantly, be gentle with yourself. Stop working so hard (in all arenas) and remember that summer CAN be an invitation to adventure and fun. Put your feet up and kick back, even for five minutes – your Pitta will thank you.

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Join me for a free webinar “Deepen Your Yoga with Ayurveda” on Tuesday, Aug. 21, at 7pm CDT (8pm EDT, 5pm PDT). Register and get more information here: http://ivyingram.com/free-webinars/

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In a previous Foundations post, I described the main qualities of Kapha dosha (the energy of Earth and Water): heavy, slow, cool, oily, liquid, slippery/smooth, dense, soft, and stable.

In human beings, Kapha’s primary responsibility is creating structure, stability and lubrication. When Kapha is in balance (i.e., when it is maintained at the original baseline level set at an individual’s birth), then that person enjoys a sense of groundedness, stamina and compassion.

A two-toed sloth at the San Diego Zoo.

When Kapha dosha gets elevated, however, then excess mass or liquid can start to cause problems. Imbalances connected to the element of Water such as congestion, excess mucus, edema, and weight gain can occur, as can Earth element issues like cysts, tumors, gallstones, diabetes, and kidney stones.

In the mind and heart, excess Kapha can make a person feel lethargy, fatigue, “stuck in a rut,” a lack of clarity, or overly attached, greedy and possessive.

What causes Kapha dosha to elevate? Exposure to Kapha’s qualities (in the immediate environment around you, in foods consumed, or in the environment of the mind) will cause Kapha to rise in accordance with the law of “like increases like.”

Kapha-increasing foods are heavy, oily and sweet, like dairy, fried foods, meat, cake and ice cream. Cold and moist climates, iced drinks, sedentary lifestyles, napping during the day and sleeping in a soft bed can all increase Kapha.

Kapha is most present in the early years of childhood when our bodies are responsible for growth and building. Kapha is also high in the damp, wet season of Spring, when allergies often unleash a torrent of Kapha phlegm.

The best “medicine” for Kapha contains its opposite qualities: light, sharp, fast, warm, dry, rough, and mobile. It is of the utmost importance for Kapha types to engage in plenty of exercise and movement, avoid cold and heavy food, cook with ginger, chilis and black pepper, and cultivate devotion through chanting and yoga.

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Join me for a free webinar “Deepen Your Yoga with Ayurveda” on Tuesday, Aug. 21, at 7pm CDT (8pm EDT, 5pm PDT). Register and get more information here: http://ivyingram.com/free-webinars/

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Earlier this week, I discovered I had a groupon that was about to expire for the restaurant Texas French Bread. It was late, and I was tired – but I was also hungry, so I hopped in the car. I generally eat dinner around 6, but due to a late meeting it was now 8:30 and I was becoming ravenous.

Upon entering the restaurant, I fell into a seat and exhaled. It had been a long and somewhat nerve-jangling day. After ordering, I turned my attention to the people nearby enjoying their food. I love watching people. Especially when I am eating out alone, I tend not to bring anything to read or do, and simply watch instead. There was a generous familiarity among the other diners that made it feel like I had walked in to a dinner party – people from different tables seemed to know each other, talking with each other in passing. The friendliness of the room was contagious.

I enjoyed a lovely meal, right down to the butterscotch pudding with salted caramel. It was a rare meal out for me which lent a celebratory feel to the evening that encouraged a sweet indulgence – and with the rapid pace I had been keeping up all day, I figured a little dose of heavy Kapha would be good for me.  (And it was!)

As I swallowed my last bites, I watched a portly man rise from a nearby table and sprinkle something from a zip-loc baggie around the floor in the middle of the dinning room. The complete lack of furtiveness in his movements seemed odd given that he was, in fact, sprinkling something around a public restaurant.

Then another man rose and took a seat at the (previously un-noticed by me) grand piano in the corner, and suddenly a vociferous stream of tango music catapulted across the room. Two couples rose smoothly from different tables and slid onto what I suddenly realized was a dance floor cleared in the middle of the room. My jaw hung slack as I looked around, feeling caught unaware in a musical or a Bollywood movie.

I watched the two couples slide across the floor with their controlled turns and fluid movements, each couple moving as one. The movements were slow and steady, smooth as if sliding on ice, and absolutely graceful. A low-profile version of tango, these dancers conveyed more elegance than drama, the portly sprinkler chief among them. As I admired their gravity and grace, I thought, “What a perfect expression of balanced Kapha.”

The occasional quick turn of a leg or foot prevented any dullness from settling in, yet the overriding impression was of calmness, stateliness. Each dancer seemed absorbed into their partner, a perfect illustration of the cleaving quality of oil (in contrast to water’s tendency to disperse). Their quiet grace was lovely and captivating.

So often, Kapha gets the short end of the stick in our culture. We tend to focus on its negative expressions, or the qualities of excess Kapha – lethargy, obesity, stuckness. The elegant dance of tango reminded me that every dosha has value and strengths to offer us, and from which we can benefit.

Those of us with a lot of Vata or Pitta in our baseline constitutions can particularly benefit from a Kapha-cultivating practice. Similar to tango, a slow, graceful practice like Quigong or Taichi also cultivates the qualities of Kapha in a balanced, life-affirming way. Stamina, fluidity and compassion are ample rewards.

Watching the couples spin and settle back into their velvety smoothness, I was sold. I wanted in, regardless of the fact that I don’t really know how to tango. I happily leapt up when one of the original dancers approached me, woman dining alone that I was, and invited me to dance.

Settling into the crook of his arm, letting him steer me through the swooping glides and firm stops, something in me turned and slid into place with a satisfied “click.” The conviviality of the crowd, the swirling smoothness of the dance, the sweetness of the meal – a perfect Kapha night.

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In the last few posts, we’ve been learning about Pitta Dosha, the energy of Fire (and a little Water). Today, we’ll celebrate the endurance and compassion of Kapha Dosha.

In Sanskrit, the term Kapha comes from “ka” meaning water, and “pha” meaning to flourish – that which is flourished by water. Kapha is made up of the energy of Water and Earth. It creates stability, moisture, and the power to reduce friction.

Kapha in the body governs lubrication, structure and support, a dosha relatively underdeveloped in our culture, especially in comparison to the overly celebrated multitasking of Vata and intense drive of Pitta. Another very important function of Kapha is the responsibility for recording and retaining all experiences. A balanced Kapha person has the memory of an elephant and will never forget.

Here are some expressions of the qualities of Kapha:

Heavy – strong muscles, big bones, large frame

Slow – sluggish metabolism, slow speech

Cool – clammy skin

Oily – oily skin, well-lubricated joints

Liquid – secretion of saliva and mucus, eyes deep like an ocean

Slimy/Smooth – protective mucus in the gastrointestinal tract

Dense – luxurious thick hair, firm mind

Soft – smooth soft skin, voluptuous body

Static – stable and sedentary behavior

Kapha’s functions in the body include lubrication of mucus membranes, maintaining electrolyte balance, wound healing, cellular wall structure, sleep, nourishment, taste and smell.

Kapha is the archetypal Earth Mama who represents motherhood, fertility, and embodies the bounty of the Earth. These individuals are gentle and slow. Kapha people love to hug and are full of grace and compassion. They can also be described as a “tortoise” type.

Kapha-dominant people like to keep a schedule; they enjoy routine and can be thrown by a change in plans. Kaphas have a great capacity for forgiveness and are capable of a deep sense of inner peace, typically expressed through acts devotion. Their reliability, stamina and loyalty are often noted by the people closest to them.

Stay tuned to learn what happens when Kapha dosha becomes imbalanced.

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In the last few posts, we’ve been learning about Vata Dosha, the energy of Air and Space. Today, we dive into the fire of Pitta Dosha.

Pitta – The Energy of Fire and Water

The word Pitta comes from the Sanskrit root tap, meaning fire or heat. This is the same root that the term tapas (discipline) comes from, which refers to the burning passion of commitment and dedication.

Pitta is predominantly the energy of the element Fire, although there is also a little bit of Water energy in Pitta as well. Just like a physical flame, Pitta transforms matter from one form to another. We can see Pitta at work in the daily transformative power of our own metabolism and digestion.

The qualities of Pitta are oily, sharp, hot, light (in both senses: light-weight and bright), pungent in odor, spreading and liquid. A Pitta-dominant person typically has a medium-framed body, red-toned oily skin, quick digestion with a ravenous appetite, balding or prematurely grey hair, and a sharp intellect. When the weather is hot and humid, Pitta is dominant in the environment. (Hello, summer in central Texas!)

In the human body, Pitta is responsible for metabolism and maintaining healthy temperature. Its functions include digestion, absorption, assimilation, cellular metabolism, vision, and maintaining healthy skin. Importantly, it is also responsible for the digestion of information or experience into emotions and knowledge.

People with Pitta as their dominant dosha tend to be interested in matters of the mind, sometimes at the expense of the body. They can have fiery emotions, full of passion, and they can be competitive or even aggressive in communication, invested as they are in persuading their listeners. Their drive and motivation is strong and goal-directed.

Stay tuned to learn what happens when Pitta dosha gets out of balance.

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In my last Ayurveda Foundations post, I described the main qualities of Vata dosha (the energy of Air and Space): dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, mobile and clear.

In human beings, Vata’s primary responsibility is to coordinate movement and communication. When Vata is in balance (i.e., when it is maintained at the original baseline level set at an individual’s birth), then that person’s movements and communications are effective and healthy.

However, when Vata dosha gets elevated above an individual’s unique “norm,” then signs of Air and Space emerge: cracking joints, dry skin, constipation, weight loss, insomnia, poor circulation, pain, stiffness, tremors, irregular heart beat, fatigue, and ringing in the ears.

In the mental-emotional realm, aggravated Vata can create fear, anxiety, worry, forgetfulness, and an inability to focus. “Spaciness” is a sure sign of excess Space element, a component of Vata.

What causes Vata dosha to get elevated? According to the law of “like increases like,” exposure to Vata’s qualities will cause Vata to go up. Some common culprits include windy weather and eating leftovers (incarnations of the dry quality), high altitude and caffeine (light), cold weather and frozen food (cold), crunchy chips and granola (rough),  repetitive thought patterns and recreational drugs (subtle), excessive exercise and travel (mobile) and staying up late (clear).

Since Vata is responsible for movement and change, it plays a critical role in maintaining overall balance – and it is often implicated when balance is lost. According to the ancient texts, more diseases arise from an excess of Vata than from the other two doshas combined.

During the particularly changeable and dry seasons of autumn (and sometimes winter), Vata is high, as it is in our elder years. Considering our cultural tendency towards constant movement (with air travel, commuting, and multi-tasking as our norms), most Western city-dwellers consistently experience high Vata. The persistent influence of cyber-“space” doesn’t help.

Therefore, it is wise to take extra steps to keep Vata dosha from getting aggravated.  The best antidotes contain the opposite qualities to Vata: oily (moist), heavy, warm, smooth/slimy, gross (substantive), and stable. Bring on the oatmeal with ghee, slow walks on the earth, and a steady meditation practice!

In the next post, we will dive into the intricacies of Pitta dosha, the energy of Fire.

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A reminder… TOMORROW NIGHT is my free webinar:

“Stop PMS and Menstrual Pain with Ayurveda:

How to Create Boundless Energy and Feel Great All Month Long”

Tuesday, June 26, 7-8:30pm CDT

To register or for more details, click here

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As explained in the previous Foundations post, according to Ayurveda there are three organizing forces (or doshas) in Nature called Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Each dosha is made up of two of the major elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether/Space) and expresses the qualities of those elements.

Vata – The Energy of Air and Space

The Sanskrit word vata is related to the verb vah, meaning vehicle, to carry or move. This meaning underlines the importance of mobility in describing Vata’s character. Like the Air element, Vata moves easily as it is light-weight and insubstantial. We can feel Vata’s presence in the wind and in the movements of our bodies and minds.

When Vata is present, it expresses its inherent qualities, causing the things around it to take on and reflect those same qualities. The qualities of Vata are dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, mobile, and clear. When these qualities are evident, we know Vata is involved.

For example, if someone has a thin body with dry skin, cold hands and feet, rough and irregular digestion, quick-moving thoughts and they can adapt easily to new environments, we would say Vata dosha is dominant in that person. If the weather is changeable or the seasons are transitioning from Summer to Autumn, Vata is dominant in the environment.

In the human body, Vata is responsible for all movement, circulation and rhythm. Its functions include speech, nerve impulses, flexibility, respiration, coughing, the heart beat, peristalsis, elimination, menstruation, labor, orgasm, clarity, and joy, to name just a few.

Vata brings forth the desire for change and is expressed in variability, ranging from a change in clothing style to a change in career, done so simply to keep from feeling bored. Vata detests routine, tending towards spontaneity and exuberant expressions of creativity. Vata is the life of the party, always ready for the next adventure – and perhaps a little spacey at times.

Stay tuned to learn what happens when Vata dosha gets out of balance.

(And until then, Happy Father’s Day!)

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