According to 24 Solar Terms, May 6th marks "Beginning of Summer" (立夏 Lì Xià). As mentioned in previous posts, in China the seasons are tracked in relation to fluctuations of Yin and Yang dynamics in nature. Now Yang energy is in a growing trajectory as daylight hours are getting longer and night is getting shorter, and therefore this time is recorded as all Yang lines in Book of Changes.
As we discussed previously spring is linked to Liver organ and wood element. Wood brings new sprouting and life into the world. Summer phase turns it into a full bloom reaching the full potential of what was set in the winter and spring months, so if you ignored previous season's suggestions you are set for a poor summer health. However, when you follow the natural flow of events, you can really enjoy summer as it is the only season when you can let loose and not follow as many rules. Longer days mean being able to wake up earlier but still go to sleep later. You can be more active and productive without fear of exhausting your natural resources. Summer is ruled by the fire element and is linked to both heart and spleen organ systems. As a fire season Summer is a very straightforward suggestion to avoid being overheated. Heat can agitate the "fire" heart organ and bring the symptoms of irritability, insomnia, palpitation, chest distress, dizziness, constipation with dry stools and thirst. Areas of the world that tend to have high humidity should also watch out for damp-heat signs that usually cause digestive and joint issues and is a challenging pattern to treat in clinical practice.
Since cool temperatures have been lingering in Southern California, in my practice I still see a lot of patients with musculoskeletal problems as cold tends to constrict circulation and cause aches and pains. Cooler weather means that Yang Qi is not strong enough while Yin Qi further restricts Qi and blood flow in our bodies.
7 tips to promote health during the summer:
1. Nourish Yang in spring and summer
I am sure my patients are very tired of me saying that they cannot drink or eat food straight out of the refrigerator or enjoy a refreshing iced tea. If you are looking forward to hot summer season thinking you can indulge more in cold diet, that is not actually the case. In Chinese Medicine we believe that Yang Qi is as strong in winter as we promote it in the summertime. Therefore, even though there are some cooling foods that are recommended in summer time, the general rule is moderate exposure to cold diet and cold air. Going to an cold a/c environment or taking a cold shower closes the pores and inhibits perspiration making it difficult for the body to regulate inner temperatures. In many cultures it is advised to drink hot tea in hot weather for that reason.
2. Take a midday nap
As the longer day time allows us to wake up early and go to bed late, it is highly recommended to take a nap after lunch to avoid the burning hot temperatures and restore body energy as we tend to be more active during the summer season.
3. Don't worry be happy
Heart emotion is happiness. It is associated with outward movement of Qi and matches the energy of the summer. Heart is an emperor of all organs according to TCM theory and it is the main organ in charge of the emotions and therefore all 7 emotions are ruled by the heart viscera and has an impact on heart health. So, all the extreme sentiments will hurt the heart and cause mental instabilities. NeiJing (classical text of Chinese Medicine) states that only under a clear and peaceful mind can the whole body function well. It is suggested that people be more open and curious about things in the summer as emotions should follow opening and outward direction of the summer season.
In summer the spirit should be high and the mood energetic. People should keep their minds clear, emotions peaceful, mood joyful, heart broad and full of energy. Heat can be overpowering and people can be easily annoyed which in turn further overheats the body. A calm mood leads to a cool sensation is an important principle to remember during hotter weather.
The heart controls the mind through managing transportation of blood. If blood is sufficient then the mental state will be clear; if not, some mental disorders can show i.e. insomnia, dream disturbed sleep, poor memory, dizziness. etc.
4. Incorporate bitter foods into your diet
Heart’s flavor is bitter and color is red, therefore red and bitter foods support the heart and should be consumed during summer season. Rhubarb, watermelons, lemons, vegetable salads, tomatoes, dandelion are all good to clear summer heat and strengthen the heart. Red dates (AKA jujubes), cherries and longan can nourish heart blood and calm the shen or irritability. As it is easy to get dehydrated during summer season, it is also recommended to eat more sour foods as sour flavor tends to generate body fluids. The best Chinese Medical remedy for thirst or dry mouth is mume or sour plum juice. I used to drink a lot of it during the summer back when I lived in China and it was absolutely delicious. In the burning hot day, foods like watermelon, cucumber, strawberries, tomatoes, mung beans or adzuki beans are the most helpful to cool the body down and rehydrate. However, you have to remember that too much of cold food or drinks can weaken digestion that is particularly vulnerable during this time, especially towards the end of summer and therefore diet has to be light and bland, not too fatty or strong flavored. Congee is the best choice to relieve thirst, clear heat and rehydrate the body without being a burden on digestive system.
5. Drink plenty of tea
Cooling beverages are very suitable for summer but instead of overindulging on cold sodas or sugary iced teas, I'd suggest to stick to a healthier options of green, chrysanthemum and mint teas. They have cooling properties energetically even when you drink them hot. If you suffer from liver heat symptoms i.e. red eyes, red face, irritability insomnia, early periods, high blood pressure, tension headaches or migraines, I would encourage you to drink mint or chrysanthemum tea in any season as those have very soothing effect on liver.
7. Adjust your exercise routine to early morning or late afternoon.
Summertime pushes us to be more active with all the outdoor activities and longer days, but it is important to avoid high intensity workouts (especially in the middle of the day when the temperatures peak). Instead pick an early morning for a hike or take a walk in the park in the evening time. Swimming is an exercise of choice during this season as it strengthens the respiratory system, promotes metabolism, improves the cardiovascular system, and promotes endorphine production to set you for a better fall and winter. As summer is associated with outgoing energy flow, it is best to engage in social interactions so outdoor group sports are fun and healthy to participate in.