The Water You Swim In: An Ayurvedic Guide To Pools, Mountain Streams And More
Water is, of course, rarely just water. Pure substance is hard to find in this world anymore and Ayurveda provides simple tools to discern what else is present in our water. This allows us to forgo complex chemical testing. By assessing what the mix is, we can intuit how the water will likely affect our personal experience.
Pure water, known as Jala or Ap in Sanskrit, is described to be clear, cool, heavy, flowing, smooth and soft. However, from experience we know this is not always true. Water which is not clear contains some kind of Earth element – whether obvious like soil or trash, or more subtle, like salts and sulfur.
Some water is translucent yet not clear. This indicates there is some other chemical present, different than water that is interacting and adjusting the color. When color is involved, this usually indicated the presence of Fire Element in some capacity.
When water has bubbles or foam present, we know Air is there as well. And, of course, inside the Air, is Space.
Considering all these mixtures present in just the simple waters of our surroundings can help us choose which ones to dip in and out of all summer long.
Salt water exists as the ocean as well as salt water pools. As one of the 6 tastes of Ayurveda, salt is made of Water and Fire elements. In certain quantities it is building, stabilizing, warming, cleansing, and promotive of downward flow of energy via Apana Vayu support. Salt is the mildest of the heating tastes and thus, in appropriate proportions is supportive for everyone.
Salt is the mildest of the heating tastes and thus, in appropriate proportions is supportive for everyone.
When we enter salt water, rather than ingesting it through the food, our body is able to absorb its qualities through the skin. Interacting with salts assist with digestion and elimination, the building of muscle tone and acts as a demulcent to dry tissues. Salt is able to clear channels as well as break down excessive growths in the tissues due to its capacities as a softener.
In excess, salt water can increase water retention and disturb the electrolyte balance in our body. The heating quality of the salt can cause excessive dryness, heat and viscous blood. It can also aggravate skin conditions and increase issues of Pitta and Kapha.
Thus, in appropriate doses, salt water is a beyond supportive method of staying cool while being nourished. If you have a dominant Pitta constitution, perhaps swimming in the early mornings or evenings may assist in maintaining balance – or of course, laying under an umbrella.
As with everything, time, place and circumstance is key.
Mountain streams are hard to beat in their supportive nature. The water is sourced directly from the earth, beginning in a dark, cool place. Thus the water is carrying all the nutrition from the depths of Bhumi Devi, Mother Earth. All of the minerals local to the area of the stream will absorb into the water. This is due to some of water’s most supportive functions which are to absorb, hold and carry.
If you live near and interact with local mountain rivers and streams, you will be able to gather the mineral nutrients you need to support your mind and tissues. Additionally, mountain stream water is usually quite soft and fluid as it is moving more slowly than a river. This means that the presence of Air is less in the water and so despite its movement, it is nearly tridoshic in its support.
If you live near and interact with local mountain rivers and streams, you will be able to gather the mineral nutrients you need to support your mind and tissues.
Mountain stream water is usually cool, with touches of heat from the Sun. It is soft, sweet, and both cleansing and tonifying. The cold is something Kapha and Vata constitutions should consider when swimming, but if everyone jumps in during Pitta hours (10am-2pm) it can be a wonderful tridoshic activity for all.
Mountain rivers have similar characteristics to their stream cousins, however, because they are wider and often move faster, there is possibility for an increase in Air element which can lead to aggravation of Vata in excess. In general though, there are often calm parts to all mountain rivers and so their effects on the Doshas will be similar to the streams at these locations.
Chlorine is a chemical often used to purify water for swimming as well as bathing. Though it has cleansing properties, it is difficult to digest as we have no need for chlorine in our body systems. The effects of taking in chlorine can be many. Chlorine when ingested is known to cause narrowing of arterial walls, causing stress to the heart over time. It is very astringent and so it leaves our tissues dry and brittle. The dryness of chlorine can thus affect the respiratory tract as well as can be linked to exacerbation of issues with asthma and allergies. Since the skin is the most absorbent tissue in our body, exposing the skin to chlorinated water for a long time, over a long time can lead to external and internal issues of dryness – Vata.
We recommend finding alternatives to swimming in chlorine this summer. Salt water pools are another method of plunging in anti-bacterial water, but with a chemical that the body knows, uses, and loves.
Other options are to wear a swim cap while playing in the water and showering directly after exiting the pool. Remember to hydrate with electrolytes when swimming in chlorine as the drying factors of chlorine will pull water and minerals from all tissues. After showering, remember to cover the skin with a light, summery oil like coconut.
Happy Summer and Happy Water Play!