Heatwave and your heart
At the moment in the UK we are having a heat-wave with temperatures reaching 30C (unusual for the UK).
What happens to us during this times of hot weather?
You will probably feel hot, sweating, tiredness, fatigue, and symptoms can vary from migraines to confusion, heat stroke, ultimately too much heat put your heart under stress.
A medical article from Harvard Health Publishing explains what happens:
Like water flowing downhill, heat naturally moves from warm areas to cooler ones. As long as the air around you is cooler than your body, you radiate heat to the air. But this transfer stops when the air temperature approaches body temperature.
Your body shouldn’t get too hot (or too cold). If your temperature rises too far, the proteins that build your body and run virtually all of its chemical processes can stop working. The human body sheds extra heat in two ways, both of which stress the heart:
Radiation requires rerouting blood flow so more of it goes to the skin. This makes the heart beat faster and pump harder. On a hot day, it may circulate two to four times as much blood each minute as it does on a cool day.
Evaporation. Every molecule of sweat that evaporates from your skin whisks away heat. On a dry day, the evaporation of a teaspoon of sweat could cool your entire bloodstream by 2 degrees F. But as the humidity creeps above 75% or so, there’s so much water vapor in the air that evaporation becomes increasingly difficult.
Evaporation also strains the cardiovascular system. Sweat pulls more than heat from the body—it also pulls out sodium, potassium, and other minerals needed for muscle contractions, nerve transmissions, and water balance. To counter these losses, the body begins secreting hormones that help the body hold onto water and minimize mineral losses.
Their recommendations are:
- Take it easy and choose cooler times for activities.
- Cooling down air is the best way to beat the heat. Fans, baths, etc.
- Drink to your health.
- Eat light. Smaller meals, smoothies, salads, and fruits will also give you extra fluids and minerals.
How all of this translate in Ayurvedic terms?
Excess heat very much relates to excess Pitta.
We can experience all the signs of excess Pitta including being more irritable, overly reactive, intense, egotistical or have a hot temper.
With the excess heat, the heart bits faster to help the body cool down. As the heart beats faster, the tip of your tongue will be red (signs of fire element) and the liver, a Pitta organ, may become fatigued.
The fact that the heart is beating faster, denotes movement, hence an increase of Vata dosha too.
As we see the recommendations from Harvard's article very much follow what Ayurveda says: opposite qualities bring balance.
Excercise put heart under stress and increases body heat, hence any exercise should be done during the colder hours.
Ayurveda has specific recommendations regarding Pitta balancing exercises/practices that includes cooling pranayama and meditation.
I see people running, cycling, etc when outside temperatures are reaching 28C (or higher), is this type of exercise in this weather conditions healthy or balancing?
Cooling down through your skin (the largest organ in our body) with bath in the sea, lake or river (or bathtub), isn't it wonderful? This brings the element of water which is the element that balance both Pitta and Vata.
Drinking to your health with water: Wine, sugary and alcoholic drinks increase heat and dehydration.
Eat light: add the elements of cold, wet, moist to balance the heat of Pitta. This is the season for salads, smoothies, fresh seasonal fruit like watermelon (to eat on its own), and even ice cream (which normally is a no, no, in Ayurveda).
Eat a Pitta pacifying diet and follow a Pitta-balancing routine. Add cooling herbs and spices to your meals like coriander, fennel, or mint and lime juice, avocado, and coconut.
The practice of self-massage reduces stress to the heart, however, use oils with cooling properties such as coconut oil or castor oil.
We can see how modern medicine and Ayurveda do say similar things, however, Ayurveda has a more holistic view and can include more specific guidance and practices, including diet, massage, yoga, meditation and pranayama.
A reminder from Yoga: always practice the 8 limbs of yoga of Patanjali, in particular, Ahimsa: do no harm to yourself nor to others.
The practice of awareness will show you what to do.
Our body has its own intelligence, we need to learn to listen to it.