Keeping it cool this summer
3rd august 2015
Are you the type of person who can’t sleep well in a new bed or gets an upset tummy when you go on holiday? Well, you are not alone as it’s extremely common. And how do we go about protecting ourselves from too much sun when we consistently hear the mixed messages of direct sunlight being healthy as well as giving us skin damage?
Travel involves lots of excitement: the planning, preparations and a change of scene all to look forward to. However, all the change and more frantic-than-usual movement can be over-exciting. I mean, who has ever had a calm departure for a family holiday? These heightened levels of excitement can lead to a few sleepless nights and perhaps even an upset stomach. Not the perfect start to what should be a well-deserved restorative time.
As we have talked about in our other articles on Ayurveda, the principle of ‘like increasing like’ means that the ‘going on holiday experience’ increases the qualities of movement, lightness and change in us. These changes tend to alter the smooth flow of the life-force and increase vata. Remember vata is light and dry: too much can cause flutterings of anxiety, light sleep and variable digestion. You can try to balance these tendencies by keeping grounded and well hydrated. There are some of our vata reducing recommendations here.
And then there is the longed for sun and what to do about the dreaded sunburn and staving off long-term skin damage. In summer the sun rises to its zenith and the fire element is at its highest: there is more warmth, dryness and lightness in the climate. These qualities increase fiery-pitta and, as the summer progresses, the heat begins to aggravate the dryness of vata. This is easy to see if you get sunburn: you go red and then your skin dries out and you start to peel.
Of course you don't want to get burnt but it is the time of year for us to replenish our solar-inspired immune-protecting vitamin D levels.
So how much sun is safe? It seems to have entered our collective media-conscience that the sun is inherently harmful which, as it's the source of life, is slightly bizarre. I have even heard it said by some ‘authorities’ that there is no safe level of exposure to the sun. Even though we have evolved near the equator to wander around naked in the sun all day, our human species has migrated out of our natural range to get enough sun and, on top of that, we have designed our lifestyle against sunlight. So when can we get our free vitamin D?
To find out whether the sun is strong enough to metabolise vitamin D you can try this Heath-Robinson clinically validated and triple-blind analytical method: stick a pole in the ground. If the shadow cast by the stick is shorter than the stick then vitamin D is go. If the shadow is longer than the stick than its too weak. This only happens significantly between early May to late August in the UK so catch her while you can.
But what about the dangerous sun? Too little and no vitamin D. Too much and it’s apparently curtains. With all the media stories around anyone would think that you can get every type of skin cancer from it. That is simply not true. There is really only solid evidence for too much sun exposure causing the non-fatal (but still undesirable) basal cell carcinoma. Even malignant melanomas, also associated with excess sun exposure, have been shown to be less prevalent in people working outside, showing that all the claims about the sun’s harming effects don't consistently stack up.
So why do we fear the sun? I think it’s now called a ‘counter dialogue’. This misinformation or bias essentially confuses every internet search you want to do on the subject. Let’s face it, suncreams are a massive industry. The over zealous sun-causing-cancer hypothesis sells suncreams despite themselves also being associated with melanomas. And these sunscreens unintentionally stop us getting enough vitamin D, the shortage of which is leading to a host of immune and inflammatory disorders.
So if you don't want to use sunscreens but want to safely get enough sun what do you do? If you have fair skin or haven’t been in the sun much then build up your tolerance slowly. When you go outside and your shadow is very short or it feels too hot for you then cover-up in light cotton and get your wide-brimmed sunhat out. If you are in the sun then keep your skin from dry vata-aggravation by massaging in protective organic virgin coconut oil each morning and evening. It makes you smell delicious, rehydrates your skin and protects it from oxidative damaging sunburn. If you have been in the sun then use some of our aloe vera juice directly on your skin. You can make ice cubes from it and then let it luxuriantly melt as it cools you down or just dab the juice on cool from the fridge. Forget all the aloe vera ‘gels’ around. They have minimal aloe vera and are mainly made from water and thickening agents. For a quick and cooling ‘spritz’ mist yourself in organic rosewater. Roses have long been used for tightening the skin and are used to soothe and cool that prickly heat sensation. You will smell divine too.
Here are some of my other tried and tested ‘keep it cool’ tricks:
The cooling breath: This is known as sheetali pranayama in yogic circles. Roll your tongue into a tube and then draw the cool air in through this tube and out through your nostrils. Do this 20 times. It’s gently cooling.
Twist it: Because of the summer heat, firey-pitta tends to build up in the digestive system. Yoga poses that feature abdominal stretches, twists and promote internal massage will help to clear pitta from its main site in the liver and small intestine.
Rainbow your plate: It couldn't be more obvious really. A pure expression of Gaia as an intelligent whole is right in front of us. As you would expect from any self-regulating system, the abundance of green leafy vegetables, colourful vegetables and fruits that flourish at this time of year all contain phytonutrients that protect against oxidative skin damage from too much sun exposure. After all, in the pursuit of optimum photosynthesis, plants have to protect themselves from intense sun exposure and they develop compounds that act as powerful leaf-guarding antioxidants.
To keep fiery-pitta in balance your diet should consist of sweet, bitter and astringent flavours, and be light and easy to digest. Asparagus, lettuce and lots of green vegetables all have these flavours. Take some refreshing Organic Aloe Vera Juice with Clean Greens at breakfast time to set you up for a cool day. If you want to superboost your plant-protection then take some Vitalise. It’s an action-packed herbal bonanza with over 30 ingredients covering every spectrum of the rainbow giving you a powerful solar-shield. It is also best to avoid too many heating foods. All dark meats (beef, lamb, pork) as well as citrus fruits (except lemons and limes), tomato, raw garlic, raw onion, chillies, excess salt and sour dairy products all increase pitta.
Incredible herbal teas: Drink energetically cooling herbal teas of peppermint, chamomile, licorice, fennel and roses. These have a soothing effect on your thermostat. Try Pukka’s Three Mint, Three Fennel, Three Licorice, Three Chamomile, Refresh, Love, or Clean Matcha Green teas. Or try making your own rose syrup elixir: collect fresh organic rose petals in a glass and cover them in sugar overnight. Real pros leave this in the moonlight for an extra cooling effect. In the morning mix the syrup in your smoothie or dilute with water.
So help is all around. And none more so from our good friend the sun.