Want to make the most of your Summer?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) there are 5 seasons – Winter, Spring, Summer, Late Summer and Autumn, each corresponding to the 5 elements – Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood.
Summer represents the outward expression of energy and it is expansive in nature, movement and activity. It is the most Yang of the seasons and is ruled by the Fire element. Life and energies are at their peak. Summer in TCM is the season associated with the heart and the small intestine meridians. The colour is red, the emotion joy, and it is a time for growth, expansion, light, abundance and is the manifestation of all we have been cultivating throughout the spring.
Many look forward to summer all year round. The weather is hot and the sun is out, improving people’s moods and people are drawn outdoors to participate in all the activities they have been longing for all winter. Plants grow quickly, people are full of energy and the body’s Qi and vitality are at their peak. It is a time to cultivate the Yang energy (fire), while making sure that it does not come to excess. In TCM, the heart, mind and spirit are ruled by the fire element, so priority should be given to these important aspects of ourselves in the summer season.
In summer, our work, play and relationships should be filled with joy and should instill in us a feeling of happiness and delight. It is a time of living our lives fully and going about our daily activities with joy, passion, and laughter. This is how we know that the heart energy is balanced within us.
Physically, when we are properly balanced, the heart circulates oxygen rich blood throughout the body, and assures proper assimilation in the beginning stages of digestion in the small intestine. In Chinese medicine, mental acuity is associated with the heart therefore memory, thought processes, emotional well being and consciousness are also attributed to the heart and the Fire element. This is a time to nourish our spirits, realize our life’s potential, finding joy in hot summer days and warm summer nights.
When the heart is balanced, the mind is calm and we sleep deeply and wake rested. When the heart is imbalanced, we may lack joy (which manifests in depression) or have an excess of joy (mania or manic behaviour). Some indications of a heart imbalance are nervousness, insomnia, irritability, heartburn and confusion, red complexion, poor memory, ulcers on the tongue and speech problems.
Emotionally, because the heart is connected to our spirits, summer is the best time to heal emotional wounds that we have carried with us from our pasts. Healing these wounds frees up space that we can fill with love, joy and happiness and ensures that we will not carry our old hurts with us into the future.
Here are some tips to help you make the most of the summer season:
- Drink plenty of water and other fluids
- Wake up earlier in the morning
- Go to bed later in the evening
- Rest at midday
- Add pungent flavours to your diet
- Eat in moderation. Over consumption of any food, especially cooling foods, can lead to indigestion, sluggishness and possibly diarrhea.
- Do not leave your food out for too long. The hot weather tends to increase food spoilage.
- Stay away from dairy, heavy, greasy, and fried foods.
- Refrain from anger; keep calm and even-tempered. (anger causes and exacerbates heat!)
Summer is about abundance, and this is definitely the case with foods. Fruits and vegetables abound in summer, and we are lucky to have a multitude of choice when it comes to what we eat. But beware: it is best to eat seasonal and local foods to assist your body in adapting to each season. A good tip is to ask yourself, could you grow this in your backyard? If the answer is “yes,” then enjoy. If not, then resist the temptation and look for an alternative that can be grown closer to home!
Because it is the season of maximum yang, it is important to stay cool and hydrated. There are many foods that are beneficial to eat during this season. All foods in TCM have a temperature, and energetic properties so in summer, we eat cool, Yin foods that are moistening to balance the heat. Foods with cooling properties also clear heat, can reduce toxins and help to generate body fluids. Generally, most vegetables and fruits are cooling, eating them raw makes them cooler still, and many seafoods are also cooling in nature.
In our fast food culture, it is tempting to consume cold, congesting foods (such as icy drinks and ice cream). According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, eating these foods introduces coldness into the system. Our digestion is weakened when summer heat is combined with too much cold food. Coldness creates contraction, which stops perspiration and traps heat inside. This process interferes with good digestion – it is like throwing water on a fire – and that’s exactly what happens to our digestive ‘fire’. Remember, the heart’s element is fire. A fire can burn too brightly or fizzle out if it is not monitored.
Here is a list of foods that are beneficial to eat in the summer months:
Apricot, rockmellon, watermelon, strawberries, tomatoes, lemon, peach, cucumber, orange, asparagus, sprouts, bamboo, bok choy, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, corn, white mushroom, snow peas, spinach, summer squash, watercress, seaweed, mung means, cilantro, mint, dill, bitter gourd, lotus root, lotus seed, job’s tears, bean sprouts, duck and fish.
Living in harmony with the seasons is at the core of Traditional Chinese wisdom. It was based on living in harmony with nature and one’s environment. Traditional Chinese Medicine is also a system that is rooted in prevention. Food is medicine and the ancient Chinese used food and its healing properties to build up the body when deficient, cleanse it when toxic, and release it when in excess. With these basic principles of eating with the seasons, and an awareness of the organs associated with each phase and their respective emotions, we can all stay healthy, strengthen our bodies, minds and spirits and live long, happy healthy lives.