The Five Fires
What Aggravates Pitta?
Food, climate, and our emotional experience form the external and internal essence of our biological constitution. This is especially true for pitta dosha whose fire is aggravated by some of the most delicious foods and yearned-for weather. In line with the universal law that “like increases like”, it’s easy to understand why this dosha loves heat and fire because we’re drawn to whatever increases our intensity. Sunbathing, spicy snacks, and competitive sports are classic pitta-isms, but they feed fuel to the fire if we’re not properly managing it by eating dosha-balancing foods and doing relaxing activities.
Thankfully, the wisdom of Ayurveda lends us another ancient, universal truth: “opposites attract”. Understanding the law of opposites is key to managing our constitution. We can recognize it in the 10 opposing pairs of attributes found in every part of nature. The first step in managing an excess of pitta is understanding what is causing the imbalance and then seeking its opposite to reestablish equilibrium and promote healing.
In her most heated fire, inconsiderate ants aggravate pitta, not to mention spicy garlic spaghetti sauce. Knowing what jives with your constitution and what doesn’t begins with listening, very closely, to how your body responds to different stimuli–including food. In Ayurveda, food is medicine and agni–our digestive fire–arises from pitta. So what we eat either inspires a healthy, happy dosha or incites an aggressive internal flame that causes overactive agni and a host of health conditions. Managing an excess begins with taking a close look at your diet and consulting a list of pacifying foods.
Because pitta’s qualities are hot, penetrating, and intense, she needs opposite attributes to maintain a balance. She is most dominant in the summer, so winter is her pacifying, balancing season. Some of the worst places in the world for this dosha are in the tropics, for example, South East Asia, Southern India, and South America, where the climate is hot and moist. Even the shade doesn’t provide much relief from the heat. A climate that is dry and cool like northern Canada balances this dosha (though it’s not necessarily what she wants!). But not all of us can choose to live in a particular climate, so if you’re in a hot, humid place, managing pitta’s intensity is essential to keeping healthy and centered.
Repressed emotions, such as anger, resentment, jealousy, and frustration aggravate the small intestine, causing an excess of this dosha and potential skin or digestive problems. This is akin to eating a handful of hot chili peppers or a spreading a few cloves of roasted garlic on brie and bread (no temptation intended). We feed ourselves emotions through our reactions to events, just as we use food in response to hunger. Managing this dosha involves adopting a system for the healthy release of challenging emotions, such as meditation, pranayama, and contact with nature.
Foods That Balance
Salads are delicious, textured delights for summer meals. Include some of the following vegetables in your next meal salad: beet greens, cucumber, kale, parsley, cilantro, zucchini, asparagus, avocado, and bitter melon (it has an acrid taste but is oh so perfect for pitta so combine it with other vegetables to lessen its edge).
Fresh sweet fruits are best, and the options during summer are in abundance. Anything from the berry category is ideal if it’s organic, including strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries. Coconuts, apples, dates, and melons are also deliciously sweet choices.
Eat Kitchari – see our authentic recipe here. For the happy pitta version, forget the mustard seeds and hing powder and instead, garnish with cilantro and coconut.
Managing Your Constitution With Yoga & Pranayama
Pranayama relieves excess heat by cooling all five fires. Sheetali pranayama also helps reduce menopausal hot flashes and blood pressure. Learn how to cool down with this simple breathing technique in this video from Yoga with Adriene.
Simmer Down With These Bonus Tips
Rise early, at dawn if you can, to perform your morning routine, including yoga, pranayama, and meditation.
Perform abhyanga massage on yourself using coconut oil.
Spritz yourself throughout the day with a homemade spray of distilled water infused with cooling essential oil. Some cooling aromas are jasmine, sandalwood, or lime.
Eat light, cooling foods, and opt for more sweets, bitters, and astringents in each meal. Make your dinner the most digestible meal of the day.
Sip cool drinks throughout the day but don’t make them icy cold. Fennel tea, coconut water, aloe vera juice, or cucumber water are your most cooling options.
Try earthing and sun gazing at sunset. Both practices reconnect us to nature and calm the inherent pitta intensity that fires us up.
Earthing connects us with the earth element while it calms and rejuvenates our spirit. And few sensations reward us with such sweet nostalgia as the feeling of soft, fresh grass beneath our bare feet. Walk slowly and mindfully on sand, dirt, or grass. Stand still occasionally, connect with your breath, and chant Om Namah Shivaya (I bow to my highest self).
Sun gazing is believed to instill contentment and happiness as the light filters through our eyes and affects our brain’s pineal gland. Dusk is the ideal time for pittas because the heat of the sun is receding rather than heating up. Choose a quiet space to sit or stand as the sun is setting. Allow your eyes to rest, out of focus, while gazing at the sun for no more than 10 seconds. Repeat a few times, pausing between gazes. Both practices help to balance sadhaka pitta (the mind).
Allow yourself plenty of cooling, relaxation time before heading to bed. Try to sleep by about 11 p.m.
Colleen’s interest in Ayurveda grew organically from a curiosity in how to naturally improve her health and energy. During a trip to India in 2017, she became better acquainted with Ayurveda and yoga philosophy and has been studying the ancient wisdom ever since. Her love for nature, travel, and vegetables (ginger and broccoli) inspired her to become more consciously aware of how to improve our lives and eating habits. She’s the author of a self-published collection of personal stories about her experience living in Indonesia. Colleen is a certified teacher of Thai massage and hatha yoga.