In the Northern Hemisphere we are fortunate if the rains come, hopefully enough, and not too much or too little. With climate change, sentient beings have been hard hit in the last week, with record storms in Gujarat, West Bengal and Rajasthan displacing thousands of people in India. In areas across the planet as widespread as Jakarta, Indonesia, Myanmar (Burma) and Las Vegas, Nevada, heavy floods erupted. We are all interconnected on this increasingly small planet.
The United States Climate Alliance is a bi-partisan coalition of states and territories committed to holding with the Paris Climate Agreement, formed this June 1st. We make up close to 1/3 of the US population. Co-chairs are state governors Jerry Brown (California), Andrew Cuomo (New York) and Jay Inslee (Washington). It was formed with the recognition that we have no time to wait to support one another and we must act skillfully in the face of climate change.
Moving from the bigger picture to the smaller picture of individual need, I ask the question again, what to eat when the rains come? First, may we all have enough to eat. This blog is for everyone lucky enough to have choices in what we are consuming today.
From a seasonal perspective, in early summer, we begin with a pretty clear sense that we need to keep cool in the face of Pitta heat. This can be straight forward: more cooling (not icy) drinks, soothing mists, a determination to not overwork if possible, rest in shady places when we can, walk and play in the cool of the day. We take in enough hydration in the face of increased perspiration. It’s all about keeping cool, while balancing our own unique blend of the doshas. Since sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes calm Pitta best, it is easy to gravitate toward these. More fresh ripe sweet fruits are available in summer to enjoy, and they can be used in easy drinks like the Vata Classico Shake recipe that follows. (from www.easyhealingdrinks.com)
Pitta-calming bitter and astringent foods take the form of soothing mint, fresh cilantro, lettuce, Asian greens, and raw spinach as well. (Try Cooling Coconut Green Drink in the new Cleansing and Sustaining Easy Healing Drinks from the Wisdom of Ayurveda, www.easyhealingdrinks.com) We continue to use mild digestive spices in drinks and foods to support our ability to assimilate. With regard to the temperature of summer fluids, in Ayurveda we take it easy on extremes. Iced drinks can dilute hydrochloric acid and repress production of digestive enzymes. (Western research on the digestive system substantiates this ancient view.) Yet we also take it easy on hot water at this point in the year, because it can bring up Pitta, as many menopausal women discover.
If we have more Pitta or Kapha in our make up, we’ll eat more raw foods in summer, including a salad at lunch when agni is strongest. (FYI: Ayurveda considers many raw foods heavy, and more difficult to digest. This is particularly true for some of us, the Vata people. Yet not for everyone at all times.) If you are working with Vata conditions, trust yourself and keep having more cooked foods as needed, even in warm weather. Our digestive systems can be relied upon to give us the feedback we need, if we’re willing to listen to them. If your stomach is rumbly – grumbly with salad, listen. If it sings with interest, take that in, too.
The unexpected rhythms of agni
While many of us approach summer with enthusiasm, it’s actually one of the trickier of seasons to navigate in its duration. At certain points in the season, we can feel flat out exhausted. What’s going on? Part of the issue is excess Pitta, which can produce summer fatigue. Yet agni is the other factor.
When agni, our digestive fire, is balanced and vital, our health is good; digestion, absorption and elimination are smooth; brain fog is non-existent; our senses and consciousness are clear. Our appetite is good. We’re basically happy. Given the current stresses of life on the planet, such a state of balanced agni, sama agni, sounds like some kind of fairy tale. Yet this description reminds us that this fire is essential to our well-being, and can be part of the solution to some of our difficulties. With healthy balanced agni, we can take in what we need to nourish ourselves and burn up some toxins before they create problems. Without agni, toxic undigested waste in the form of ama can and does build, ferment, and percolate into our tissues. With low agni, we can feel sluggish, foggy, stagnant, bloated. Our appetite is low, and elimination can be slow.
Agni has many of the same gunas/attributes as Pitta dosha. Both are hot, sharp, light, subtle, mobile, and penetrating. Agni is a strong positive and transforming force. In its daily rhythm, agni peaks mid-day, during the hours when Pitta is highest. Yet there are some important distinctions to make between the two from a seasonal perspective. Those with a predominance of Pitta dosha do tend to have strong agni. Agni is also strongest in general during the Pitta time of day. Yet in the Pitta season of summer, our agni tends to dip. How can this be so? A gaggle of conditions converge to create this picture.
Appetite is an indicator of agni; the better it is, the stronger our digestive fire, in most cases. Agni is actually strongest in winter, as it gets pushed from the periphery of the cells into the GI tract. As humans we tend to have the strongest appetite and the greatest ability to digest food in cool weather. We eat more. Agni is present in spring, as well, to fire our metabolism and cleanse excess waste. Yet in the heat of summer both our strength and agni decline. We need to keep cool. We do this by sweating and drinking more fluids. Early in the summer we can pull this off, to calm Pitta and ward off dehydration. Yet the longer these conditions persist 1) drinking excess fluids and 2) perspiring to lower body temperature, the more agni is diminished. Our appetite drops. And summer fatigue sets in, with excess Pitta.
At this point, if we are fortunate, the rains come, in manageable quantities. Rain can calm Pitta dosha. Yet it has a different effect on Vata and Kapha. With the monsoon, agni drops further and becomes dull. It is manda agni, the kind of digestive fire we usually associate with Kapha dosha. Vata is accumulating under the surface of the season, causing a thready kind of instability. All three doshas can become rather uneasy with one another. So how do we respond, how do we eat for this season? How to positively harmonize all three doshas?
With agni lower, we eat more lightly.
With agni lower, we drink smaller amounts of fluids. Slow down with that sipping.
Clear beverages promote agni more than creamy ones.
We take it easier on cold, heavy, wet drinks, especially as it is raining. Wait! You say. This is summer. It’s all about cold wet drinks. Up to a point, yes. Yet if you are feeling sluggish, not thirsty, and are staring out the window at the monsoon, conditions have changed. East Indians know this, yet we in the West are not always so wise.
It may be time to pull out the classic Ayurvedic digestive support of a thin slice of ginger with lime juice and mineral salt sprinkled on top of it, nibbled before meals as needed to ignite digestive fire. (While sweet, bitter and astringent tastes sooth Pitta, it is sour, pungent and salty flavors that build agni.) Using bitter taste judiciously can be win-win if Pitta is high yet agni is diminished. A small amount of a bitter taste, whether aloe vera juice, gentian or Swedish bitters prior to a meal, can revive dulled agni, and calm Pitta and Kapha. (If Vata is in excess, this solution is less likely to be successful.)
If you’re wise, you’ll drink less fluids in late summer with rain, yet they can be spiced a bit more vividly. Light foods increase agni, not heavy ones. Warm foods encourage it, not cold ones. Sky gazing, clear view, can improve agni. Agni is light and clear; do not impede it.
May you have the friends you need in these times. May you receive the nourishment you need in this season.
PS: While Vata Classico is a little creamy, it’s also light, soothing and entirely plant-based.
THE VATA CLASSICO SHAKE YEAR-ROUND
This simple, nourishing shake can be easily adapted in many ways.
Time: Overnight soak, plus 5 minutes
Makes: one cup
1 Tablespoon flax or chia seeds
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup fresh almond milk or plain, unsweetened ready-made organic almond milk
1/2 ripe banana
1 thin slice fresh ginger, peeled and well chopped
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon maple syrup
Put the flax seeds and water in a glass jar, shake them, stash them in the fridge overnight. In the morning, blend the soaked seed with a hand held blender or whatever you’ve got. This step gives you extra protein, Omega 3s and a bit of mood-calming, as well as laxative action.
Add the rest of the ingredients and blend the shake until smooth.
Effects: Tridoshic: flax best for Vata, chia for Pitta or Kapha.
This shake supports: digestive system, plasma, blood, muscle, fat, bone, marrow & nerves.
Comments: From an Ayurvedic food combining point of view, banana mixed with cow’s milk or yogurt is considered quite hard to digest, despite its popularity on the American holistic health scene. This shake is an Ayurvedic answer to: “how can you use banana in a smoothie?” Feel free to use this recipe as a simple template with other fruits, like ½ cup or more fresh berries.
Want more protein? Use hemp seeds.
This blog excerpted in part from Amadea Morningstar & Renee Lynn’s upcoming print book Easy Healing Drinks for the Wisdom of Ayurveda: Delicious and Nourishing Recipes for All Seasons.
Photo: Before the Rains, Gordon Bruen and Friends 2011 by Iza Bruen-Morningstar