Continuation of the Seasons Series - Summer from a Chinese Medicine perspective:
Five Element (Wu Xing) theory helps us understand the world around us through a series of phases (seasons) and their associated correspondences and interrelationships. This month, we focus on how to work within the Summer season for best balance and harmony of Body, Mind and Spirit. The nature of Summer is Yang, high energy and expansion, which means this is the time when excitement abounds: kids are out for the summer; you can hear their excited squeals as they tear about, blissfully ignorant of the heat of the afternoon sun. We feel light and airy and free – rising as heat from a flame, or wilted and scorched when done to excess.
* Representative Organ System for the Summer Season:
- Heart (aka The “Monarch”, “Emperor” or “Ruler”). Organ time = 11am – 1pm
- Heart opens to the tongue and controls speech: Have you ever wondered why your Acupuncturist looks at your tongue? The tongue tells a lot about particular organs and their pathology, Heart included as well. Because the Heart controls speech, we also pay attention to the content and the pattern of your speech. On one hand, people may have pressured, rapid speech or appear to speak incessantly, whereas others may be somewhat aphasic or stutter when the Heart is in disharmony. The Heart “hates” (doesn’t care for) Heat so the Pericardium (Heart Protector) does serve to some degree to protect the Heart from this pathogen. There is also a relationship between the Heart and Small Intestine (another Yang “organ”), and it is said that the 2 work together to ensure clarity of the Mind in order to have proper judgment and right decisions. San Jiao (Triple Burner) is associated with the Fire element also, but is a puzzle to the general public as it is not an anatomical “organ”, but this is the beauty of Chinese Medicine: the interrelationship of the various systems.
- Heart governs Blood and blood vessels. At its worse, think the physical disease of heart attacks or circulatory disorders; at its best, our circulatory system is able to meet the body’s needs as the heart pumps out blood and life-giving nutrients to every cell. Energetically, the Heart is poetically said to be the “residence of the Mind (Shen)”, although several of the other organs affect our Spirit-Mind as well. When the Heart is in harmony and functioning at its best, we have great spirit & vitality, are able to fall asleep easily and have deep, restful sleep. A disturbed Heart causes difficulty falling asleep, interrupted sleep, and vivid dreams that bother you long after waking up.
* Representative Color of Summer is red; Heart manifests in the complexion & controls sweat.
We see this clinically when our patients present to us with red complexion (although other organs can cause Heat as well), or a red tongue tip. Some may even have a scorched smell to them, while a lot of Heart patients will complain about the heat. A common complaint I often hear has to do with spontaneous, random sweating, or having to change pajamas from waking up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat. One of the reasons for this may be because Heat injures Heart-Yin and causes sweating which weakens the Yang aspect of the Heart, or just really poor Heart Qi (other organs can act up too & cause problems with sweating so talk to your Acupuncturist about this).
* Representative Sound: laughter; Representative Taste: bitter; Representative Emotion: joy.
Laughter is the best medicine they say, and I have laughed till I cried; but people with a Heart disharmony usually have inappropriate laughter (like the nervous kind), or disruptive loud outbursts and “joy” that almost seems manic. On the other hand, when we hold on to feelings of frustration, resentment, jealousy, or guilt for too long, we can also injure our Heart. These patients often complain of palpitations, forgetfulness, insomnia or a really bad night’s sleep, and waking up with a bitter taste in their mouth. Some may swing to the other extreme and actually feel depressed – joyless.
* Representative Element/Climate of Summer: Heat.
Excess Heat in our bodies will dry up our Yin fluids, and may show up as acne, headaches, constipation, fever, irritability, heartburn; some may even literally have a heat stroke.
Recommendations for the Summer season:
- A normal state of joy is necessary for life, so go ahead: en-Joy life! It’s okay to live a life of pleasure, but remember anything in excess can be of detriment so appropriate moderation versus wanton abandonment is advised :-D. With more hours of sunshine available during summer, it’s easy to lose track of time and go-go-go all day, but get up early, take an afternoon nap if you can (I love visiting countries that have siestas), and hang out a little later at night.
- Foods that are considered hot in nature (e.g. red meat, chicken, greasy fried foods, heavy or spicy hot sauces, even alcohol!), should be minimized as much as possible during the summer months (Rutrow! There goes the family barbeque! =D). Eat foods that are cooling, light and easy to digest like watermelon, cucumbers, berries, bok choy, summer squash, cilantro and mint. A small amount of bitter foods like dandelion or chicory leaves, and even a little spice (pepper, ginger, horseradish) can also be beneficial in the summertime.
- It’s easy to visualize the concept of “water puts out fire” - in Five Element theory, this is the “Ke” or “Control” cycle and so no wonder we are drawn to the beaches or swimming pool (just avoid hanging out too long in the sun as this creates another form of Heat problem (sunburn). We just recently had a water fight with the garden hose, and I am famous for dancing in a summer’s rain - probably to the amusement of my neighbors :D. It is highly recommended to drink lots of water to prevent dehydration and replenish any fluids lost through excess sweat; just be sure to avoid sweetened beverages in excess. I don’t particularly care for electrolyte enhanced water no matter how good they say they are for you (blech!). I much prefer water infused with slices of fruits, cucumbers, lemon or mint – these are the latest rage, and they make a refreshing and healthy drink alternative in these dog days of Summer. Be careful though as we get into the later days of Summer as too much cold, sweet or damp foods can create more problems.
- See your Acupuncturist for a Summer tune-up. With Chinese herbs, dietary therapy and acupuncture we can help you clear Heat, nourish Yin or calm Shen (settle the mind). Not only will you have more energy and feel more vibrant, but you will sleep better, awaken feeling more refreshed and joyous to greet the day, and your Heart will thank you for it. Here’s to your health! May your Fire continue to burn bright within!
Audrey Steele, L.Ac