In Chinese medicine, top priority is given to the Heart and the Small Intestine during the summer season. These two organs are represented by the Fire element. This element is also associated with the color red, bitter flavors and unsorted or scattered emotions, which can be transformed into love, profound lasting joy, and creativity. Growth, happiness and spiritual awareness between the heart and mind are the focus now. We can subtly alter our self-care behaviors to resonate deeply with the tempo of summer, paving the way for greater health the next time the seasons change.
1. Regulate your body’s temperature by eating “cooling” foods
All year long, I advise my patients against eating salads. For the majority of people, cold, raw foods are the worst thing for digestion. Finally, we have entered the season where salads will benefit rather than potentially harm. In general when you are cooking, you will want to steam or simmer foods as quickly as possible. If you are going to sauté or stir fry, do so quickly and infrequently as this cooking method adds additional heat to your food. Our goal is to create a cooler internal environment to balance the heat from the external environment. Some foods that are particularly helpful in accomplishing this are watermelon, apples, lemons, limes, cucumber, salad greens, seaweed, tomatoes, wild caught cold-water fish, and bean sprouts. Avoid heavy foods, meats, curries and fried or greasy foods because they can cause you to feel sluggish. Your appetite may lessen during the summertime. Be mindful of this and you will naturally adjust by eating lighter fare and a lesser quantity of food.
2. Rise with the sun and go to bed with the moon
When you are living in harmony with the Tao or in tune with nature, you will want to get up when the sun comes up and go to bed when the sun goes down all year round. This may seem practically impossible for our modern lifestyles. Who could ever imagine going to bed in the wintertime at 5:30pm? However, the ancient Chinese Taoists believed that this was one of the ways in which you could maintain maximum health. It gets much easier to follow this rule when the sun is setting around 8:30/9 at night. For all of you night owls, you get a little break on your sleep habits this season!
3. Reach out and connect with other people
Connect and engage with friends, family and the outside world. This is the season of intimacy and warmth. There is a reason we call them “summer flings” and not “winter flings!” We shed our layers physically (no more jackets or sweaters!) and can begin to move toward shedding them emotionally. This season’s element is associated with the mind and its stability. The heart is synonymous with the mind in Chinese medicine.Emotionally, when our fire element is balanced, we feel genuine, friendly, humble, and have clarity in our self-expression. Joy is our reward for achieving equilibrium between heart and mind. Say yes to the party, the BBQ, the beach day, and all celebrations, which enable us to cultivate community, support and love in our lives.
4. Be mindful when using fans and air conditioning
Chinese medicine regards wind as the leader of the 10,000 diseases. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the manufacturer of my air conditioner agreed with this ancient wisdom. This was explicitly stated in the owner’s manual: “Being exposed to direct airflow for an extended period of time could be hazardous to your health.” Thank you for having our back Zenith! Wind from fans or A/C units blowing directly on your body can invade your open pores, causing summer colds, sore throats or neck and shoulder stiffness. Take care to make sure that air isn’t blowing directly on you.
5. See me for a seasonal tune-up!
Each season brings its’ own unique opportunities to shore up the body. Living in tune with the natural rhythms and activities of each season can keep us strong for each stage that follows. We all have unique constitutions, which can either react very favorably or negatively towards heat. Some uncomfortable symptoms you may experience during the summer season are excess body heat, profuse sweating, continually parched mouth and throat, constipation, allergies or heart palpitations. Other signs of Heart disharmony are agitation, nervous exhaustion, insomnia and heartburn. The best medicine is always preventative.
6. Focus on expansion, growth, and creativity
The yang energy of summer is all about excitement, assertiveness and exuberance. What this means is that summer is a perfect time to focus on changes in your life, on growth, joy and spiritual awareness. Enthusiasm, warmth in our relationships and conscious awareness should be our focus now. Be creative and look to the outside world for inspiration. Find joy in the lushness of the foliage, the intoxicating scent of blooming flowers, and the beauty of the landscape magnified by the sun. Strengthen your consciousness and collect your scattered mind with spirit-focusing practices such as devotional singing or chanting mantras. Look within to find what you need and then bring your newfound self-knowledge out into the world to shine and multiply. Bring something you hold close to your heart to fruition. Make it happen.
7. Don’t work too hard OR play too hard
The energy of summer is Yang! It is the energy of fire, movement, expansion and the maximum potential of the year. The greatest amount of activity in nature takes place right now-fruits and vegetables are ripening, the sun is shining, and we are at our energetic peak. We tend to take this extra burst of energy and run with it. People naturally travel and socialize more in the summer. Along with spending much more time outside in the heat; we can easily get depleted from over-activity. Take time to balance these periods of energetic expenditure with quiet, relaxing activities such as reading, meditation or simple mindful contemplation.
8. Use alcohol, caffeine, or spicy foods in moderation
Alcohol, caffeine and spice are all considered energetically “hot-natured” foods. With all of this heat occurring in our external environment, we don’t want to add to that by overwhelming our bodies with more of the same. Choose white wine over red wine or liquor. Green tea is also a more cooling caffeinated choice than coffee or black teas. The summer element in Chinese medicine is connected to the small intestine as well as the heart. A lighter diet and strong or spicy flavors are recommended to keep this organ healthy and to reduce the risk of indigestion. However, as with all things moderation is key. Spices initially increase warmth but ultimately they bring body heat out to the surface to be dispersed. Black pepper, horseradish, fresh ginger, cayenne pepper, and chilies can suit this purpose and take a more prominent position in your summer meal preparation.
9. Strengthen your immune system
Strengthening the immune system should be an important part of any seasonal ritual. Taking proper care of yourself with regard to each season’s special requirements will promote health in the season to follow. Health problems from improper care won’t manifest until late summer or fall. Be aware and alter your personal care routines to match the new presence of heat and humidity in your environment. Get plenty of rest, take time for meditative, quiet moments of restoration, and observe these summer tips.
10. Stay hydrated and protect yourself from excess sweating
All of this heat can damage our fluids. We may be unaware of how much we are actually perspiring throughout the day or while we sleep. As humans with bodies composed of 70% water, we can easily deplete our stores without proper hydration. Short-term effects of dehydration can be fatigue, headaches, dizziness and irritability. Long-term effects can be more serious. Be sure to hydrate with pure, filtered water rather than sugary energy drinks or juice. Abstain from iced drinks as they can wreak havoc on your digestion causing upset stomach, diarrhea or loose stools. Your organs enjoy being warm and do not function properly when iced. Stick with slightly chilled or room temperature beverages rather than ‘cold.’ Mint, chrysanthemum, or chamomile teas are perfect cooling herbal teas for the season.