Today we are emerging out of a three-day heat wave in Washington, DC. Yesterday we hit record highs for June, and it was reflected by the many sweaty, sun-dressed people I saw dragging themselves along the glaring city sidewalks at midday.
Being 30 weeks pregnant - oh wow, there so much extra blood in my body right now! - with a broken A/C unit and a backyard full of poison ivy (meaning I get to walk my dog through the sunny, hilly streets of our new neighborhood) means that I am experiencing a whole new definition of the word “hot.”
In Ayurveda, we talk about heat in terms of a concept called pitta. Pitta is the element in all of us that is driven by fire. It gives us our ability to digest anything (thoughts, experiences, food) and is responsible for our keen intelligence and quick sense of humor. It loves to express as leadership, ambition and sexuality. It gives us life! Without pitta to animate us, we would be such lifeless lumps of clay or windy wisps of people.
When pitta gets too hot, as tends to happen during a swampy DC summer, we experience the imbalance as chronic crankiness, itchy rashes and burning indigestion. People with out-of-whack pitta get red in the face as they lay on their horns in traffic. They micromanage projects until they alienate everyone around them and generally suck the fun out of all situations.
Although iPhone gods have promised me that the temperatures will cool off later this week, I was inspired to make a plan of how I will get through my first big, fat pregnant summer without turning into a pitta monster (as may have happened before).
I thought that especially those of you who live in hot summer climates could also use a few cooling reminders. So with that, here are my...
10 Self-Care Hacks to Survive the Summer Heat
1. Keep your oven off. Instead, enjoy a lot of no-cook foods like this salad, these energy date bites, and of course, my favorite 10-minute spring rolls. Slightly bitter foods, like red leafed lettuce, aloe vera juice and sweet stone-fruits (plums and peaches), also help to cool down our fiery pitta. Melon is also great, but plan to eat it on its own as a snack about 20 minutes before you eat anything else. This is because we digest melons so dang fast that it can cause digestive issues when consumed with slower-assimilating foods like grains, meat and dairy. I like to snack on a few pieces while I’m cooking lunch. By the time I am putting food on the table, I’ve given the melon a good head start.
2. Reclaim the siesta. There is a reason why people in hot countries rest after lunch. It’s hard to do anything else when you are that hot. Luckily, resting post-lunch helps with digestion, too. Ayurveda recommends a tiny nap after lunch, resting on your left side to increase digestion, and a digestive walk after dinner, when it’s cooler. If your office doesn’t have a nap room, then try implementing this practice on weekends.
3. If a nap is not going to happen, meditate or practice a few minutes of a cooling pranayama (yoga speak for “special breath”). This one looks really silly, but dang if it doesn’t work wonders in just a few breaths.
4. Plan to come home hot. Fill your fridge with spa-like lavender-scented cold towels and stick a bottle of rosewater spray next to your condiments. Make homemade popsicles from blended farmer’s market fruit and eat one right when you walk in. When you come home sweaty, use the towel to wash your face, arms and feet. Then spritz on the rosewater. Finally, put your feet up and eat a popsicle. Notice how you feel 10 billion times better afterward.
5. Count to 10. Continued, oppressive heat means that tempers will flare. This is why the murder rate always always rises along with the temperature. Although I haven’t truly considered acts of violence, I know that I need to watch my emotions when I am too hot. Taking a moment to diffuse my anger may sound simple but it has saved me from ugly, unnecessary fights in the moment and the painful apologies that come after.
6. If heat-induced anger is an issue for you, try this emotional release. If you’re feeling hot and bothered, first take the steps you need to cool down. Then, when your mind is calmer, see if you can narrow your anger down to one clear demand (ie, I want you to take the trash out on Friday mornings without me reminding you). Continuing in your state of calm, express that demand in some form. Perhaps you calmly say it to the person (and resist the urge to apologize after you do), or maybe you just need to write it down on a scrap of paper which you can burn or toss afterward. Regardless, you are angry for a good reason. Thinking it through and expressing it will make you feel better and perhaps improve your relationships.
7. Submerge thyself. This is a little obvious, but being emerged in cold water does such wonders to cool us all down in mind/body/spirit. Hit the pool (I wish I lived in Austin so I could go to these pools every day), find a hike with a swim (I love this one near Charlottesville, VA) or turn your shower to cold for the last minute. The cold shocks us back to who we are and gives us a gateway to our soul, according to this modern yogi.
8. Laugh more. I find that tapping into my sense of humor diffuses heat-induced tension. I giggle a lot with the people I love (or just myself sometimes). Sometimes we need to bring in the bigger guns. Try this video on male/female relations or this sad cat diary.
9. Get lost in a story. Summer reading is such a lovely way to mark the season. My recommendations are this extremely well-researched work of nonfiction that reads like a novel, and this series on the deeper nature of female friendships that could take you the whole season to get through, but will be well worth it.
10. Do less, or almost nothing. When I’m hot, I always feel overwhelmed. When I’m overwhelmed, I have difficulty establishing my priorities, which means I can begin acting out of anxiety. Lately, I've been reading a page in the Tao Te Ching before bed every night before bed. This ancient Chinese Taoist reminds us of the power of non-action. We exhaust ourselves by acting out of anxiety. Instead, we should relax and wait for a deeper impulse to move. I find that when I have the patience to wait and see, taking action is much smoother and more effective.
From the text:
“Therefore the sage keeps to the deed that consists in taking no action and practices the teaching that uses no words.”
The ancient masters have spoken. During the summer, less can be way more, especially if you want to be a happy human being.
So now, take a moment to go drink cool water and take a few deep breaths. When you get home, wash your feet and put them up the wall. Modify your self-care for the season, and see how much the world supports your nourishing efforts.
For one, I’m 100% in support of them. You, my hot little tamale, deserve all the coolness available to you. Soak it up, drink it in and share the benefits in terms of your loving attitude and spot-on sense of humor, especially when it comes to the hard parts of life. It’s truly the best gift we can give anyone around us, ourselves included.