So, we looked into how to identify our own individual body constitutions in The heat is on, and we looked at signs of excess pitta and how it manifests in us physically, mentally and emotionally in both The heat is on, and The heat is on (2).
Now that we know how to recognise excess heat in our bodies and we know how prone we ourselves may be to excess Pitta, the next step of course is learning how to pacify it.
What can we do so that our skin doesn’t break out, or we don’t keep getting those burning headaches, or lose our temper at the slightest irritation?
YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT
Believe it or not, (said with just a slight hint of sarcasm:)) Dr Gillian McKeith was not the first one to coin the phrase, ‘you are what you eat’!! What? you all cry in disbelief!! This is in fact an old Ayurvedic saying and given that Ayurveda is over 5000 years old, I think it has Dr Gillian McKeith beat!
It is a fundamental concept in Ayurveda. Indeed Ayurveda takes the view that poor diet is the main cause of disease in the body. When we say, poor diet, we don’t just mean the obvious like eating lots of sweets, cakes, oily, fried, processed fast food, or bags and bags of salty oily crisps (although obviously that is also not advised) but it also refers to eating inappropriately for your body constitution. Not eating to excess those foods that will aggravate your individual doshic balance, such that you experience the negative effects of the doshas. Remember we said in The heat is on, that when in balance, the doshas are blissfully out of sight? It is only when they are in excess that they manifest as illness, disease, aches, pains etc.
Small changes in our diet, can help to reduce the heat and so reduce the breakouts, headaches and short temper or get rid of them altogether. All without taking any kind of pharmaceutical medication, which may have all kinds of other side effects.
PITTA PACIFYING FOODS
So what are these small changes that we can make? What foods should we favour to keep Pitta’s fire at healthy levels, and which should we avoid so as not to fan our Pitta flames?
You will find a table on my page The Pitta Food List, listing all those foods to favour and those to avoid or minimise if you are a Pitta dominant personality, or are currently experiencing a Pitta excess whether due to the Summer heat or for any other number of reasons like perhaps you are under a lot of stress in work or in life generally. There can be a whole host of reasons why your Pitta is high. However rather than just leave it at that, here’s your food list, over and out!! I wanted to explore this a little more so that you begin to understand the science behind it.
As I mentioned in Ayur What?? Ayurveda cultivates an intimate understanding of and relationship with nature, both your own individual nature and that of the cosmos. As Sebastian Pole put it in his fantastic book Ayurvedic Medicine
“If we are not aware of what our nature is and what the qualities of nature are, or we choose to ignore them, then we will certainly become ill……..surely a large part of the cause of the modern malaise must be our separation and distance from nature and her natural rhythms”
Ayurveda views everything in nature as interconnected, and reflected in everything else, which includes ourselves. We are a microcosm of the Universe similarly comprised of the 5 great elements, never static, always moving, flowing and changing with the changing influences around us. Learning to understand these natural rhythms (such as the changing seasons) and become more sensitive to the effects they have on us, will help us begin to harmonise with nature and tune into this innate wisdom to stay happy, healthy and balanced, which is the aim of this The heat is on series.
RASA, VIRYA, VIPAKA, PRABHAVA
Part of cultivating this intimate relationship with nature is observing and getting to know her a little better, her tastes, qualities, aromas, textures and what they can teach us, and applying that knowledge in our daily lives to our own individual constitutions.
So, you may ask, how do you know which foods to favour and which to avoid? Do you just have to learn the list off by heart or is there a wisdom or logic to it? What about the foods that are not on the list? How are you supposed to know whether they increase or decrease Pitta in the body?
All very good questions, and of course the answer is that there is a logic and wisdom behind it. There is a science to it that can be learned and understood, remember that Ayurveda means ‘Science of Life’.
So what are some of the things you consider when ascertaining whether a food or herb is likely to, for example, increase or decrease Pitta? Well, all food and herbs can be classified by reference to a number of different characteristics and Ayurvedic pharmacology is based upon these characteristics namely their Rasa (taste), Virya (thermal effect, ie whether they have a heating or cooling effect on the body), Vipaka (post-digestive effect),and their Prabhava (special properties). The last one is a bit more esoteric admittedly, essentially it consists of a number of foods that prove to be an exception to the rule! These characteristics directly influence the Tridosha and also influence the nutrition and transformation of the bodily tissues or dhatus.
Today we are going to look in more detail at Rasa (taste) as this is one of the key factors in understanding why certain foods should be avoided and others favoured.
THE SIX TASTES
According to Ayurveda there are six tastes, namely: Sweet, sour, salty, spicy/pungent, bitter and astringent.
These basic tastes are derived from the 5 elements. It all always comes back to the 5 great elements!
- Sweet taste contains earth and water;
- sour taste contains earth and fire;
- salty taste contains water and fire;
- spicy or pungent taste contains fire and air;
- bitter taste contains air and ether; and
- astringent taste contains air and earth.
Each Dosha is aggravated and pacified by three different tastes. Those which aggravate Pitta are sour, salty and spicy, which makes perfect sense when you see that all three contain fire. Pitta is pacified by sweet, bitter and astringent tastes.
Given that Pitta is mainly comprised of fire, I guess it won’t come as a huge surprise that hot spicy foods will aggravate Pitta, especially if taken in excess. I mean it makes sense really doesn’t it? Add heat to heat what do you get? Even more heat!!! When I say spicy, I don’t mean any dish with any form of spice in it, indeed some spices have a cooling effect on the body. I am rather referring to hot heating foods and spices such as cayenne or black pepper, chilli peppers etc, those foods and spices with a hot spicy taste.
Equally, the idea that salty foods increase Pitta will not be such a huge surprise. You know the saying ‘rubbing salt on the wound’? What does it do? Burns, that’s what. If you have ever put too much salt in your saline solution for nasal drops or netti pot you will know all about the heating/burning effect of excess salt!!
Have you ever eaten those sour dummies, sour jellies or sucked a sour apple lollipop, or a sour slice of lemon? Can you picture the face you make, all contorted like you are chewing a wasp? You can feel them tingling or burning on your tongue can’t you? When they are really really sour they can even make your eyes water. Why is that? Sour taste is heating.
So you see, it’s not rocket science, when you stop to think about it and break it down to the elements, which you can do with everything, it makes sense. The wisdom is accessible to you just by tuning in to nature, observing her and understanding her qualities, and becoming more sensitive to your own inherent nature. This in turn helps you synergise the two so that you are pulsing in harmony with the world around you in your own natural balanced state.
Incidentally, if you are not sure what Astringent taste tastes like, imagine the sensation in your mouth when you eat a really unripe or green banana, that gives you an idea.
I encourage you to start to become more aware of the taste of the food you put in your mouth. Where on your tongue you taste the various tastes, and the sensations they cause in your mouth so that you begin to become more familiar and discerning of the tastes. This will help you begin to be more sensitive to their energetics and thus better able to identify the taste of any food you eat and so the effect it may have on your doshas.
That’s it for today. There is more to come in this The heat is on series so stay tuned. If you are following this series and want to be sure not to miss any, then follow by clicking on the large orange ‘Follow’ button on my home page and you will receive an email every time I publish a new post.
Until next time beautiful souls.