Ayurvedic Medicine

Pitta Imbalance: How to Spot the Symptoms and Feel Better

If the heat leaves you hankering for shade, your may have a pitta imbalance. These Ayurvedic practices can help you keep your cool.

In Ayurveda, the three doshas, or constitutions, are vata, kapha, and pitta. Certain doshas are more predominant during certain seasons, which can aggravate the dosha and cause imbalance in the body. Pitta drives transformation and governs digestion, body temperature, and more. A imbalance in the pitta dosha can manifest itself in unhealthy physical and emotional patterns.

What is pitta?

Imagine a bubbling pot of steaming hot, sour, and spicy soup—that’s the nature of pitta. Each dosha is associated with two different elements. Pitta is made up of the primal elements fire (mainly) and water (secondarily). Pitta has hot, oily, sharp, light, sour, fluid, and pungent attributes—many of the same sensory qualities that surrounds us during summer. Of the three doshas, pitta has the most in common with summer, says Ayurvedic practitioner Niika Quistgard.

Wildfire on California coast - Sonoma County by ocean with view above marine layer.
Feeling scorched? You could have a pitta imbalance. Photo: iStock

A fundamental principle of Ayurveda is that like increases like. In Ayurveda: Secrets of Healing, teacher and author Maya Tiwari writes, “The doshas are not simply the dynamic energy within the body; rather, they are influenced primarily by seasonal variations.” As summer heats up, we become prone to accumulating excess pitta. If we already possess a pitta prakriti (nature), we’re at an even higher risk of becoming out of balance.

Read Ayurveda Secrets of Healing

What are the signs of pitta imbalance?

Signs and symptoms of pitta imbalance are directly linked to the qualities of pitta dosha: fire and water. Pitta governs digestion and metabolism, so the fire may flare first in the small intestine and the stomach—pitta’s main seats in the body—with indigestion, heart burn, or diarrhea. Other signs of pitta imbalance include:

  • Burning sensations throughout the body
  • Red, irritated skin
  • Particularly stinky sweat
  • Fever
  • Inflammation
  • A hypercritical or intense mental outlook
  • Sensitivity to the sun
  • Hot flashes
  • Excessive thirst

Emotionally, you may notice pitta imbalance in being quick to anger, feeing impatience and frustration, or feeling resentful or judgmental of others.

Help for pitta imbalance

So what should you do when pitta’s boiling over? There are lots of simple ways to keep your inner fire at bay. Keep in mind that doshic imbalances can vary in manifestation and severity, depending on many factors. If you suspect any health problems, seek a qualified practitioner. But if you’re simply a touch overheated, tune in to your senses and try applying opposing qualities to maintain balance in the midst of summer’s swelter. Try some of our tips below to help cool excess heat in the body.

1. Eat Pitta-balancing food

In Ayurevda, different tastes pacify different doshas. Eating foods that are bitter, sweet, and astringent can help a great deal in pacifying pitta. Some great options include apples, grapes, zucchini, lettuce, cucumbers, cilantro, and fresh organic dairy. Beans, grains, coconut, and watermelon are also wonderful foods for pitta imbalance.

Eliminate or reduce your intake of alcohol, coffee, heavy meats, and fried, oily, salty, spicy, and sour foods during times of pitta imbalance. Instead of salt, use fennel seeds, coriander, fenugreek, and fresh lime juice for seasoning.

Pitta Pops

Try this frozen treat on a hot afternoon.

Serving Size: Makes eight 4-ounce popsicles

Ingredients

  • 1 quart vanilla almond milk
  • 1/3 cup raw or turbinado sugar
  • 2 tablespoons powdered cardamom

Directions

1. Pour one cup of the almond milk into a small saucepan. Stir in the sugar and cardamom and heat to almost frothing. Turn off the heat.

2. Pour the remaining almond milk into a large bowl. Add the hot mixture and whisk to combine all the ingredients. Allow to cool, then pour into Popsicle forms and freeze.

2. Cool Down

The hotter you feel, the more aggravated your pitta will become. Prioritize spending time in cool areas, shade, or air conditioning if available. If you are able to, swim in cool water. Be sure to sleep in a room with cooler temperature and breathable sheets. Wear breathable natural fibers that have a cooling effect, such as cotton and linen, says Quistgard. Try prAna Women’s Pinoit Top

Avoid difficult and heat-building workouts. Things like HIIT, heavy weight lifting, and long-distance running can be strenuous on the body and aggravate pitta during the summer months. Instead of breaking a sweat, choose a calming yoga sequence or a slow walk in nature.

Another way to calm pitta is to fill your home with cooling and relaxing smells. Treat yourself to a fresh bouquet of tuberose, gardenia, or freesia. Or dab on a diluted essential oil: Try rose, jasmine, geranium, vetiver, or ylang ylang. You can create a rosewater spritz to spray on your face and body to help keep you cool and refreshed.

3. Relax the Senses

Pitta-dominant individuals are very driven and work focused. They tend to be highly motivated and are likely to spend the majority of the day highly active and immersed in their work. To calm pitta, take a break from work that requires intense visual focus. Close the computer screen and gaze at summer’s verdant trees and meadows. Surround yourself with cooling hues of pearl white, blue, green, silver, and gray.

Pittas also tend to be prone to listening to loud and upbeat music, matching their on-the-go nature. This kind of music only exasperates pitta in the body. Some ways to help balance your pitta is to listen to calm and relaxing music.  Slow instrumental music and flute music are great options for pitta. Devotional songs are also a wonderful way to calm your heart and soothe your spirit.

4. Pranayama

Try cooling pranayama techniques, like Sitali and Sitkari, which are done by inhaling through the mouth and exhaling through the nose.

To do Sitali, sit in a comfortable position, make an O shape with your mouth, and curl the tongue lengthwise. Then, as B.K.S. Iyengar instructs in Light on Pranayama, “draw in air…as if drinking with a straw and fill the lungs completely.” Withdraw the tongue, close the mouth, and hold the breath for five to 10 seconds. Exhale through the nose. Repeat this cycle for five to 10 minutes and then rest in Savasana (Corpse Pose).

If you can’t curl your tongue, try Sitkari, which is similar to Sitali except that the tongue is kept flat. Part the lips and allow the tip of the tongue to protrude slightly. Practice gently and without intensity early or late in the day, when the air is cool.

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