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To Drink or Not to Drink

Aug/03/2022 / by Sweta Vikram
Image credits: Shutterstock

What is the first image that comes to mind when you think of summer? I am asking this question specifically of people who live in the northern hemisphere and feel starved for warmer, outdoorsy days for 6 months of the year. A large majority of adults told me that summer to them is about beach, barbecues, pool, beer, chilled white wine (some drink, really), gatherings, and basking in the sun.

We went out to lunch the other day with some friends. It was hot and humid. Because of the rise of COVID, we picked a restaurant with outdoor seating and chose to eat at an odd hour to avoid crowds. This meant, we were sitting under the sun when it was scorching hot. One of our friends, who has a larger-than-life personality, ordered wine along with his burger and fries.

At first, he was the center of attention. Initially, the heat combined with the relaxing qualities of alcohol dilated the blood vessels and aided in circulation. Hridya, the heart, considered a social organ — under the influence of alcohol — encourages one to have fun and lowers inhibition. This man was loud. Slowly, I noticed he started to sweat profusely. Between wiping his forehead and enjoying his medium-done burger, he ordered more alcohol. A little later, I noticed how his body language changed. His face looked flush. He eventually had heartburn. The easy and happy-go-lucky demeanor changed to that of roughness and impatience. The self-righteousness and know-it-all attitude took centerstage. He reacted poorly to one of the conversations and used an aggressive and judgmental tone.

Ayurveda will tell you that this friend, who is otherwise a loving person, did everything that imbalanced his pitta dosha and morphed (temporarily) into an unrecognizable jerk. The icing on the cake was him drinking alcohol in the summer under the hot sky and pairing it with foods that further aggravated his pitta.

A Quick Review of the Doshas

For a quick recap, the ancient healing sciences of Ayurveda uses three doshas, or constitutions, to explain how nature exists within us. They are vata, pitta, and kapha. Each one of us has some amount of the three doshas. But for the most part, we all have one or two predominant doshas. Pitta is made up of fire and water elements. When Pitta is in balance, the individual is bright, curious, hungry for knowledge, content, courageous, enthusiastic, leader, and much more.

Doshas are applied to seasons as well as time of the day as well. 10p.m. – 2a.m. and 10a.m. – 2p.m. are considered the pitta time of the day. Summer is considered the pitta season in Ayurveda. Summer creates heat in the body, which is natural. When we ingest other items that increase more heat in the body… That’s when trouble begins. My friend is a classic example of what happens when we eat a pitta-aggravating meal under the hot sun (pitta-imbalancing time of the day). When excess pitta gets accumulated in the mano vaha srotas — channels of the mind — it tends to cause problems (think sharp tongue or short fuse). Excessive heat can show up as inflammation in some people, diarrhea in others, or irritability, criticism, judgmental behavior, fiery attitude, envy… You get the picture. The immune system eventually fails.

Pitta’s Relationship With Alcohol

Alcohol aggravates pitta dosha. According to Ayurveda, like increases like and opposite qualities help re-establish balance. Let’s look closely at the qualities of alcohol and pitta dosha. Pitta has the characteristics of oily, sharp, hot, light, fleshy smelling, spreading, and liquid. The qualities of alcohol are light, hot, sharp, subtle, rough, spreading, and drying. Alcohol has a sour taste, which aggravates pitta. Meaning, since alcohol and pitta season share similar qualities, drinking alcohol during summer will increase pitta in your mind and body.

Ayurveda’s Views on Alcohol

Ayurveda’s authoritative text, “Caraka Samhita,” addresses the consumption of alcohol both as a benefit and as a dangerous toxin. The book also provides a list of strict rules for the consumption of alcohol and states strongly that strict rules apply to alcohol consumption. According to Ayurveda, if taken in moderation, alcohol could be good for us as it aids healthy digestion, relieves stress as well as gives us good sleep. But it can also become a toxin when used inappropriately. Certain Ayurvedic preparations called arishtas (herbal wines) are used to treat illnesses. But they are taken appropriately under guidance from an Ayurvedic doctor, not a liquor store.

Alcohol and Wellness

One thing that “Caraka Samhita” reiterates is that alcohol has the opposite qualities of ojas, or the vital life essence within you. Consumption of alcohol may deplete your ojas. When you are stressed, ojas gives you the ability to endure. It supports the immune system and keeps the mind nourished. When ojas is depleted, relationships start to fail, health issues start, and careers are ruined.

Alcohol also negatively impacts your liver. The liver is said to be one of the main seats of pitta and can be one of the hottest organs in the body. So the summer can take a particular toll on the liver. Throw alcohol into this mix, and we can’t keep the liver cool and refreshed. The heart, the seat of many of the important qualities of the body necessary for life, is afflicted by the excessive intake of alcohol. The mano vaha srotas is nourished by sattva, or purity of mind. Alcohol is rajasic in nature. If you have a pitta imbalance, you might be excessively rajasic to begin with. Alcohol will only make you angrier, exhausted, agitated, high-strung, and competitive.

Parting Words

Do you truly know your mind and body? Many people drink to feel better. And yet, as a person’s level of ojas drops, they feel worse. If you lack awareness and drink mindlessly, you might find it’s a slippery slope. Leading a balanced life and knowing how much alcohol is good and what’s harmful requires discernment. Those with high pitta dosha would do best to avoid alcohol altogether this summer. No one likes a mean, drunk, agitated, and flushed person at gatherings.

“The great thing about Ayurveda is that its treatments always yield side benefits, not side effects.” ~Shubhra Krishan

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional. If you are nursing, taking medications, or have a medical condition, please consult with your health care practitioner prior to the use of any of these herbs. If you are looking for advice from a trained yogi and Ayurvedic coach, contact me here.