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A Healthy Summer with Chinese Medicine

Updated: Oct 28, 2023

The three months of summer are called luxuriant flowering. The Qi of Heaven and Earth mingle. The ten thousand things bloom and bear fruit. At dark to bed, early to rise.

Do not tire of the sun. Keep that which is of the heart-mind from anger. Allow the finest things to flower fully. Allow the Qi to leak (sweat). Act as though you love the outside. This is the summer compliance of Qi (and) the cultivation of the Tao of lengthening.” —Nei Jing

June 21st marks the first solstice of the year and the apex of summer.

The summer solstice or xià zhì is one of the twenty four phases that comprise the Chinese Solar Calendar. The phases classified the sun's position in the zodiac to guide agrarian and seasonal alignment. By following the traditional prescriptions laid down by ancient practitioners and people deeply in-tune with nature, we are more likely to find harmony during these sweet summer months. The more aligned we are, the more we can reap the bounty of the natural world (and our place within it), and enjoy this expansive season of dynamism, passion and joy.

“Everything good, everything magical happens between the months of June and August.” — Jenny Han

In Chinese Medicine, summer is the season when Yang Qi climaxes and creative forces are at their peak.

Of the five elements, Summer belongs to Fire. Fire symbolizes combustion and is the most yang of the elements. With its radiant, dispersing energy, fire brings heat, light and vitality. Consider a bonfire sparking with dance; flames climbing to the sky. Summer is a season of vigorous movement - a time for release, creativity, and renewal. Under the element of fire, summer is inveterately linked with the organs of the heart, small intestine, pericardium (heart protector) and triple burner.

The heart in Chinese Medicine is considered the monarch of the body, ruling over all the other organ systems and the emotional, mental, and spiritual bodies. The Heart is in charge of and controls the blood, the vessels, and the blood circulating in the vessels. The heart houses the Shen or spiritual essence of the person/Consciousness. In the West, we identify the locus of perception in the brain. In Chinese Medicine, the heart is at the center of Consciousness itself. Have you ever dropped your awareness into the heart center and sensed there an infinite eternal luminosity? That’s you - the truth of who you are anyway.

Out of curiosity, let’s take a few moments now to soften the gaze, turn inwards, relax the mind and bring our awareness into the heart. Notice the warmth, pulse and vibrance of this majestic center. Is there spaciousness? Is there tension? Can you breathe through the chest wall and relax even more? Allow yourself to linger here. Notice what you notice. During heart meditations, I’m often reminded of sunbathing - resting quietly in a light that emanates from within.

“May the long time sun shine upon you all love surround you, and the pure light within you guide your way on.” — Snatam Kaur

In this season of Heart and Fire, summer beckons us to move, and to bask in the warm rays of the sun. It’s the perfect time to get our hearts thumping and the blood circulating. The weather is hot and inviting. It’s easy to pop outdoors to exercise, swim, hike and gather. The body’s Qi peaks in summer, so we may notice more energy for exercise and to accomplish goals laid out in winter.

Happily and not surprisingly, the heart season is linked with the emotion of joy. In summer, the Shen naturally expresses outward, the spirit plays and the body becomes more supple. When the fire element is in balance, we experience jubilance, a clear mind and the body naturally weaves between activity and rest, effort and ease. A wonderful way to nourish the heart and Shen is to smile and laugh. Not just from clever haha jokes, but by appreciating the glory of flowers in full bloom, the vibrance of a sunrise and sunset, the dusting of birdsong throughout the day and the chittering orchestra of insects at night. Stargazing, camping, hiking, loving and celebrating creative acts of all kinds harness this season’s inherent radiance.

“The sun does not shine for a few trees and flowers, but for the wide world’s joy.” — Henry Beecher

With every season, Chinese Medicine also cautions us to take special care during the summer. Especially during the blistering months, excess heat can lead to systemic imbalances. Hot, under-nourished, over-active mind/bodies can beget:

- Heart palpitations

- Flushed complexions

- Excess perspiration

- Irritability, anxiety, restlessness

- Insomnia

- Depression (not enough joy) or Mania (too much joy - yep! There’s such a thing)

- Rapid speech, aphasia, and stuttering - the heart opens to the tongue

So! What can we do to maximize this sunny season’s positive potential and mitigate the excesses that can cause literal burn-out, agitation, and physical dis-ease?

As quoted above, the Nei Jing suggests that we enjoy the sun, sweat, find joy, release fiery emotions like anger, rise early and retire late.

A smattering of Western Science thrown in for good measure: You probably already know that sunlight (UVB rays) help the skin produce Vitamin D3. Did you know that Vit D enhances cardiovascular health, decreasing chances of hypertension, heart disease, and stroke? Sunlight facilitates the body’s release of endorphins, which promote a sense of well-being. UVB rays help the body release anti-inflammatory compounds and increases arterial flow. Sunlight sets our circadian rhythms back on track, regulating sleep and wake cycles. Last but not least! The warm rays of the sun just feel soooo darn good, so get out there and soak up some rays! Obvi, be sure to apply sunscreen as needed and if you're feeling too hot, take a break, find some shade and/or head indoors.

"O, Sunshine! The most precious gold to be found on earth." - Roman Payne

With hot weather, it's easy to become parched and wiped out - yang quickly consumes yin. To circumvent this, stay hydrated and eat lighter, cooling foods to nourish yin, replenish body fluids, reduce toxins and clear heat. Drinking water throughout the day gets fancier (and cooler) with a few mint leaves, strawberries and/or cucumber slices. Small amounts of green tea can help clear heat from the organs, soothe heart fire, and calm the mind. This is in part because bitter flavors are known to drain and clear excess heat/fire. Bitter is the flavor associated with summer and bitter tasting foods on a hot day (i.e., dandelion, parsley, collard greens, mustard greens, arugula, kale, and celery) can go a long way to cool and vitalize the body.

Seasonal foods with inherent cooling properties like watermelon, lettuce and watercress also help to clear heat and replenish body fluids. Please note: Summer is the only time of year that this acupuncturist won’t poo-poo your penchant for cold and raw delights. Fresh fruit, salads, raw veggies and smoothies are all fair game - but, in moderation! Always. Chinese Medicine is all about balance. Sadly, that means ice-cream remains a less than optimal choice - sorry. And/but there are so many other delicious options . . . like: Cantaloupe, lemons, peaches, apricots, watermelon, oranges, tangerines, pears; Cucumber, endive, spinach, watercress, tomatoes, leafy and salad greens, sprouts, asparagus, bok choy, burdock root, snow peas, summer squash; Yogurt, wheat, barley, fish, seafood; Mint, dill, cilantro, chrysanthemum (makes a lovely tea).

“It’s watermelon weather | That summer kind of weather | When people get together and sing.” — G. Webster

As ancient Chinese treatises suggest, its best to rise with the sun, stay up later, and consider a mid-day rest. You may already feel drawn to lay down or take a break during the hottest hours of the day - do it! Naps are the best. You may also be called to wait till the sky and earth cool to enjoy a slow walk at night or to watch the heavens from a back porch - Yes! Also! Prioritize what makes you feel good - seek people, places, and activities that fill your heart and make you smile. Remain intentional about your self-care and healing - this is the perfect time to release or express whats on your heart. Let go grievances and resentments. Call in radiance, ease, nourishment and Love.

June, July, and August are a bit more languid, time slows, the world is a whole lot brighter. It’s a season many of us have been looking forward to all year. Its a time of bounty . . .

“Let us dance in the sun, wearing wild flowers in our hair...”― susan polis schutz

*As always, I’m not a doctor and these offerings are not to be taken as medical advice. Take care of yourselves and keep a look out for a Late Summer blog coming out in August - because Late Summer is a whole 'nother game. Loves xx


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