Summer is the most Yang season according to ancient Chinese wisdom. It is a time of flourishing abundance–for expansion, growth, lightness, outward activity, brightness, and creativity. To harmonize with the energy of this season, rise early, greet the sun, and bring your awareness to the gratitude you feel for the life energy it provides. Be joyful in work and play. Find ways to be of service to others. Allow the bounty of the environment to enter and enliven you!
According to the Chinese Five-Element Tradition, each season is associated with an element of nature, an emotion, and an organ system. Summer’s element is fire; its emotion is joy; its organ system is the Heart. The Chinese word for Heart, pronounced “Shen”, translates as “Heart-Mind” and includes our mental/emotional center and capacity to experience joy. Chinese medical theory tells us that the Heart not only regulates blood circulation but also controls consciousness, sleep, and spirit, and “houses the mind.” (Capital letters are used to indicate expanded definitions.) The Heart, in combination with the Liver, is related to the nervous system and the brain. The Heart acupuncture meridian affects both the physical heart and the mind. It is well known in Western medicine that the emotions have a direct effect on the heart, causing changes in rate and strength of contractions.
Those with healthy Hearts, according to this expanded definition, are genuinely friendly. Their perception is keen, their minds and hearts open. They are truly humble because they are aware of their small place within the expansiveness of nature. Clarity indicates a healthy Heart-Mind. Problems seem effortlessly solved. Creative yet simple solutions come easily.
Summer it the best time to treat any of the following issues with acupuncture and herbal medicine: insomnia, restlessness, scattered thinking, poor memory, high blood pressure, irregular heart beat, hyperthyroidism, depression, poor circulation, weak spirit, aversion to heat.
Heart disease on the physical level is the largest problem in the United States. These statistics increase tremendously when we include the mental/emotional component of the Heart. Many chronic degenerative conditions (arthritis, cancer, and mental illness) are associated with this “organ” as well. This makes the treatment of Heart-Mind imbalances a priority in Chinese medicine.
The Healing Foods of Summer
Brightly colored fruits and vegetables abound in summer. Enjoy the process of creating beautiful meals with them. A table with fresh flowers and a dazzling display of in-season foods is a wonderful way to celebrate this season. Buy organic, local produce whenever possible. Cook lightly and add a little pungent, spicy, or even fiery flavor. Use high heat for a short period of time to saute or stir-fry. Steam or simmer foods as quickly as possible. Use less salt and more water.
Nature once again provides us with exactly what our physiology needs during the season. Because minerals and oils are sweated out of the body, a varied diet is required to replace lost nutrients. Summer offers us abundant variety. Summer heat combined with too much cold food weakens the digestion. Minimize ice cream and iced drinks as these will actually stop digestion!
On hot days, create a cool dining atmosphere; have picnics and patio meals. Include cooling, fresh foods: salads, sprouts (especially mung, soy, and alfalfa), fruits, tofu, cucumbers, and any flower or leaf teas including chamomile, mint, and chrysanthemum. The best fruits to cool summer heat are apples, watermelons, lemons, and limes. Mung bean soup or tea is a specific medicinal summer heat remedy. Heat-dispersing hot spices such as cayenne, red and green hot peppers, fresh (not dried) ginger, horseradish, and black pepper are ideal for inducing sweat to release heat to the surface of the body. The body then mirrors the climate and is less affected by it. However, if too many heat-dispersing foods are taken, weakness can occur due to excess loss of Yang (heat). The ability to stay vital and warm in the cooler seasons will be compromised.
Heavy foods in summer will cause sluggishness. Meats, eggs, and excesses of nuts, seeds and grains should be avoided. A natural, healthful practice is to eat lightly on the brightest, hottest days of summer. Our own internal rhythms tell us this.
Enjoy the bountiful, colorful, and varied foods of the summer season!