Summer is on its way. The lengthening of the late afternoon sunlight and the warmth in the morning air signalling it’s approach. The days are full of the pre-Christmas hustle. The buzz of social activities and a sense of celebration gives fuel to the upbeat Yang dynamic that marks this next change of season.
It’s easy at this time of year to get swept away in the frantic flow of Christmas shopping, end of year parties, wrapping up work life for another year, planning some leave or juggling the school holidays and ongoing work commitments. It’s this next six weeks or so that people are likely to drop the ball and push health and lifestyle goals to the side. Waiting for the allusive New Year’s resolution of self-care and a healthy focus for 2020.
While I will definitely take this opportunity to implore my patients to do their upmost to find some calm in this flurry of early summer activity and resist falling into the complete spiral of silly season loss of focus. I am also aware that it may probably fall on deaf ears.
So, for those that have committed to embracing the silly season here’s some information about Summer and Traditional Chinese Medicine! I’m also including some summer survival tips to best support your body through this transition and Christmas lifestyle hacks so maybe we can stay a step ahead of our New Year’s Resolutions…… who knows maybe you’ll be inspired to come see me in clinic, I’ll still be here!
UNDERSTANDING SUMMER AND TCM
Traditional Chinese Medicine theory consider people and nature to be completely intertwined. Our external environments have a direct impact on our internal environment. Attention should be paid to the subtle changes as the seasons transform. This time should be honoured and in order to best support our health we need to consciously adjust how we move through life as the seasons shift.
One of the governing theories in Traditional Chinese Medicine is 5 Element Theory. 5 Element Theory acknowledges that Qi can express 5 different qualities, fire, earth, metal, water and wood. These qualities are observed in nature and ourselves. As the seasons shift each holds a connection to a specific element which in turn can influence the balance of the elements within us. We can experience periods of excess or deficiency in any of the elements internally and Traditional Chinese Medicine can be used to reinstate balance and resolve these disharmonies.
As well as a connection to an element Traditional Chinese Medicine considers each season to also carry connections to paired yin yang organ meridians, an emotion and a taste.
THE ELEMENT OF SUMMER – FIRE
It will come as no surprise that the element associated with Summer is fire. As we move through summer, we see the fire element expressed all around us, in nature and within our body.
Fire is yang in its expression. It is intense, dynamic, warm and moving. The Fire element is the spark from which all of life is born.
An excess of fire can be common in Summer with the fire element and heat of the season and our internal fire burning the Yin in our body. This may manifest physically as fever, headaches, thirst, dry nasal passages, inflammation and insomnia. Too much fire dries out our internal fluid balance. In the digestive tract this can result in constipation. Fire has an ascending property and tends to commonly affect the upper body. Mouth ulcers, gum problems, dryness in the mouth and red eyes are great examples of an excess of fire.
An imbalance of our fire element can also impact us spiritually and emotionally. As described earlier the fire element moves with an upward motion. Agitation and nervous exhaustion are examples of how an imbalance may present emotionally. A deficiency of our fire element may be expressed as a lack of joy or depressed mood and when excess there may be a manic nature to joy.
When our fire element is in balance then we experience a calmness of spirit and strong healthy heart. This balance of heart and mind brings true joy and contentment.
THE ORGAN MERIDIANS OF SUMMER – THE HEART and SMALL INTESTINE
The organs associated with Summer are the Heart (Yin) and the Small Intestine (Yang). This means this is the time that their energy is at its peak.
When considering the Heart from a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective it extends well beyond the physical mechanical functions and into the spiritual and emotional connections. The Heart houses our ‘Shen’ or spirit and is considered to be the home of our internal harmony. It is in essence a control centre of all our activity. Physically the heart governs the blood circulation. Poor circulation of blood has a flow on affect to all areas of our health. It is imperative that this process is operating at its optimal level. As the Heart houses the Shen any deficiency of Heart Qi results in an unsettled spirit, an impact on mental health, cognitive ability and emotions. If the heart is not in balance, then it is impossible to experience good health.
As mentioned above there is always a yin organ and yang organ. The Small Intestine (Yang) is paired with The Heart (Yin).
The Small Intestine know to people as an organ of digestion and elimination is considered in a similar way in Traditional Chinese Medicine. More emphasis however is given to its role as an eliminator or waste or unnecessary products. It is said to separate the pure from the impure and this carries across from the physical aspect of digesting nutrition to the way our body absorbs and processes information, emotions and events through life. Imbalances experienced in the Small Intestine can lead to digestion issues, abdominal pain and appetite disturbances. With the Heart connection it is common to experience gastrointestinal discomfort, nausea, loss of appetite and stomach pain in association with heartache and stress. With the Heart housing the Shen, clear judgement and mental peace can be impacted by the Small Intestines ability to effectively process the pure from the impure. Here we find another example of the gut mind connection. Where there is dysfunction of the gut, the Heart will not be able to function correctly, and the mind will also be ill at ease.
The FIRE element is the only element with 2 extra meridians: Pericardium (yin) paired with the Triple Burner (yang). Neither of these meridians house organs but have extremely important functions.
Consider the Pericardium to be the ‘protector’ of the heart. It’s a shield not only against infection, shock and trauma but also energetically against what we allow in and out. The Triple Burner (San Jiao) is the abdominal area divided into three sections, the Upper Jiao which distributes fluids all over the body, Middle Jiao which digests and transports food and drink and Lower Jiao that separates the essences of food into clean and impure, excreting the impure.
THE EMOTION OF SUMMER – JOY
The experience of Joy is essential to optimal health. When a patient expresses to me an inability to experience Joy, I take this as a sign of imbalance of the Heart Qi. Other related symptoms to a lack of Joy can include heart palpitations, inability to sleep, agitation and anxiety.
As much as a deficiency can contribute to ill health so can an excess.
As we know Traditional Chinese Medicine is all about the experience of balance. I know that excessive bouts of Joy may not sound to be something of concern however if you consider them as the following: manic episodes, extreme over excitement and other expressions of disturbed Shen. These manifestations may be as simple as an acute migraine or headache experienced after sudden over excitement or elation or more chronic such as ongoing mental health issues and imbalances.
THE TASTE OF SUMMER – BITTER
Bitter is the flavour associated with Summer. Probably not people’s favourite flavour Bitter still plays a vital role in our health. Bitter is a powerful mover of Qi and enters all Summer’s FIRE organs. Brilliant at aiding digestion it gives us movement and can also be useful to dry and drain. Be wary of overdoing Bitter flavours though, excess will dry up Yin fluids and bloods and rob us of Joy (make us bitter ourselves) Coffee is a good example of an area we overuse Bitter, we love the flavour ritual and energetic punch it can give us but it’s a sneaky drain of our reserves and can really impact our adrenals.
EATING FOR SUMMER HEALTH
There is a reason why certain foods become come into season at different times of the year. Nature is wise. Summer is a time of abundance, with fruits and vegetables a plenty. Supporting your health with Traditional Chinese Medicine means taking a holistic approach. In clinic I will always take note of the foods you are consuming and discuss how your diet may (or may not) be supporting your health. As a general rule we want to select foods that are nourishing, easy to digest and that do not place stress on the digestive system. Sometimes this can mean limiting fruits, fresh vegetables and raw foods due to their cooling nature that can dampen our digestive fire. To counter this, we adjust our habits. Such as quickly stir-frying food, adding warming spices or combining with other foods that have a warmer energetic quality. Happily, for many with Summer being a time of heat and yang this is when we can indulge in those cooler quality and raw foods. In fact, they assist in keeping us cool and maintaining our internal balance.
SUMMER SURVIVAL TIPS
- In many areas, fresh produce is available at farmer’s markets or farm stands, making it easy to eat according to the season.
- Now is the time to enjoy COOLING foods, look for more green produce that support your body fluids.
- Eat in moderation, avoid overeating and indigestion in these warmer months.
- Drink more water, stay hydrated to balance your internal fluid and temperature.
- Get your day started EARLY and enjoy longer days with a later bedtime, take full advantage of the YANG energy of daytime hours.
- The Small Intestines natural optimal functioning time is between 1pm and 3pm. Where possible take time to rest around this time so that your digestive system can function at an optimal level.
- Tend to your FIRE, take part in passion projects, make fun a priority, move your body, BE YANG, give yourself and your heart to others and activities that your heart loves.