[Editor's note: This is a guest post by Melina Meza, BS Nutrition, RYT-500]
The water (jala) element plays a significant role in the Ayurvedic system during the summer season to balance the intensity of fire (agni) which can be transformative or fierce. Water is considered a balancing, cooling, calming force, essential to maintain our health, longevity, and juicy tissues. If you get overexposed to the fire element in nature, or become dehydrated, over-exercise during the hottest time of day, lose sleep, or travel too often, your luscious water body and inner reservoir of life-sustaining fluids will begin to evaporate into space and leave you feeling irritated, tired, and unfocused. Without sufficient water and hydration, your inner ecosystem will be in the red-alert, “high risk category” for running too hot and dry in the Pitta time of year, which occurs during June-August in North America.
Water is essential for life as we know it to exist. It is in every plant and food that we eat, in every cell in our body, and within everything in nature, yet it’s easy to forget how precious water is, where it comes from, and what it looks like in nature. One way to get re-connected to the water element and the water you drink is to take a hike and discover your local watershed! Do you know where your drinking water comes from? Do you know the name of your local watershed? What’s its ecosystem looks like? What creatures and plants drink from the same source as you?
Once you arrive in nature, notice how it feels in your body to be near the source of water that sustains your life. Do you feel a connection with water? Can you see how water is part of a dynamic ecosystem, a part of you? I’ve had the good fortune of visiting and meditating by many rivers and a few watersheds this summer and have come to the conclusion that each body of water has its own personality and offers its own medicine. The sounds and rhythms in water do their part to call us into balance, back to our true self, and into our most elemental state. All we have to do is stop and listen.
Without sufficient water on a daily basis, you will likely experience dehydration, dry skin, tight fascia, stiffness, and constipation on a physical level. In life, you might experience a version of this “dryness”—lack of juiciness, when you over commit in work or social situations, eat too many spicy meals, drink excessive amounts of alcohol or coffee, or place yourself in intense situations, like competing for first place in every sport without proper water and electrolyte balancing. A few simple activities such as eating cooling foods and spices, prioritizing leisure time, napping, planning a vacation, or scheduling free time each day to be creative can take you from the dry side of life back into the flow. Summer is ideally the time to chill and be outdoors as often as possible. Give yourself a break, you deserve it!
One simple mindfulness practice I encourage people to consider in the summer is to become more conscious and aware of their water consumption and the temperature of the water they drink. Notice how it feels in your body (hot or cold) after drinking beverages that are room temperature, warm, or iced cold. If it’s hot out and you want to cool down, consider drinking a glass of room temperature water with cucumber and/or mint, adding a squeeze of lime to your drink, or making a cup of peppermint or rose tea to cool down instead of drinking iced cold beverages that may actually have the opposite effect of cooling you down. Once you become of aware of what water temperature works best for you, experiment and place sliced cucumbers or mint leaves in your water to keep you mellow and your water consumption steady.
If you are looking for some foods to help you stay cool and calm, here are a few suggestions for your next visit to the market:
- Fats: Coconut or sunflower oil
- Dairy (if you eat dairy)
- Mung beans & lentils
- Vegetables: Celery, cucumbers, spinach, sprouts, zucchini
- Grapes, melons, lime, pomegranate, figs
- Grains: Barley, basmati, white rice
- Spices: Saffron, cumin, fennel
Aromatherapy: Lavender, chamomile, clary sage, vetiver, peppermint, rose
Skin Care: Aloe vera applied to burnt skin or try a honey facial to hydrate your skin
Summer Yin Yoga Practice
This sequence I am suggesting is a balancing, yin practice in that it promotes easy, slow, quiet, cooling movement. Find a comfortable place to rest on your back before drawing your knees close to your belly. Take a few moments to close your eyes, relax and unwind, before starting the summer yin/restorative practice.
- Pranayama with a bolster under your spine: pause and relax after each exhale
- Supine twist with bent knees
- Balasana (child’s pose) with forehead resting on hands
- “Reaching under the bed” pose
- Mandukasana (wide knee child’s pose with chest on the floor or bolster)
- Ardha Matsyendrasana (mellow version)
- Sukhasana (meditation seat)
Melina has been exploring the art and science of yoga and nutrition for over 17 years. She combines her knowledge of Hatha Yoga, Ayurveda, whole foods nutrition, and healthy lifestyle promotion into a unique style called Seasonal Vinyasa.
What is Seasonal Vinyasa – Yoga for the Seasons?
Seasonal Vinyasa describes an artistic style of sequencing asana and seasonal daily rituals. The main inspiration for Seasonal Vinyasa comes from the Hatha Yoga and Ayurveda traditions, two complementary sciences that promote health in body, mind, and spirit. While inspiring the self-knowledge to adjust day-to-day choices and align with what is occurring outside in nature, Seasonal Vinasa emphasizes the teachings of the yogis—that there is no separation between humans and nature.