By Kim Finkelstein
Ah, summer, the season of abundance. Summer is a special, magical time when most people allow themselves more time with friends and family. Many of us are enjoying the longer, light-filled days, and finding exciting endeavors, BBQ’s and beach time, and (hopefully) taking more time for fun. While summer can be wonderful and full of activities, we have to take into account balancing work with play, and the excesses of summer with a bit of leisurely down time and relaxation.
The summer season contains the most Yang of the four seasons. Yang energy is considered hot, bright, bold, fiery, outward, and masculine, so the most Yang season is the brightest and boldest, with its culmination at the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year as well as the shortest night of the year (the most Yin night of summer). As a result of this, people may find themselves waking up earlier and staying up later, going out more, exercising outside, and socializing more. While this is normal Yang energy during summer, the heat and excesses of the summer will eventually damage our Yin, so such behavior must be tempered by leaving time for quiet, reflection, and calm, so the Yin side remains in balance with the outer-reaching Yang.
Our bodies are naturally geared to work in conjunction with the daily, monthly and yearly cycles of Yang and Yin. Looking at the summer season through the lens of Chinese Medicine, we are healthiest when abiding by nature’s cycle. Summer relates to the energy of the Heart and Small Intestine. The heart is considered the house and soul of the spirit, containing the consciousness of each human and allowing us to be our fullest self. A balanced heart consciousness (known as the “Shen”) allows us to be our best self; we present as calm, and manifest an inner peace when our Shen is in balance. When the heart organ is out of balance due to excess Yang heat, we see the opposite effect on the Shen which can manifest as a clouded mind, or clouded reason. Worry, anger, depression, sadness, insomnia, irritability, restlessness, red complexion, excessive sweating, or palpitations can result. The off-balance individual may also show symptoms of manic thoughts or behaviors, excessive talking, rapid speech, inappropriate laughter, aphasia, stuttering, and obsessive tendencies.
When treating imbalances and disharmonies in the body, Chinese Medicine believes in the benefit of a seasonal treatment approach. Treatments may vary based on time of year, because the body is affected by the world around us, and in turn, is a reflection of its environment. Seasonal acupuncture “tune ups” are commonly given to boost and support the body, getting it ready for the future season(s) to come, and diet during each season can also significantly help.
Summer nutrition can also help balance the body. As an age-old health model, Chinese medicine is generally not supportive of fad diets and health trends. Instead, it relies on sensible, tried and true methodologies to support health, based on season and the individuals personal health. Cooling, Yin foods help to keep the body in balance, so it is prepared for the season ahead. During the hot summer months we are naturally drawn to eating more raw food, which is great if you have a robust digestive system. Unfortunately for many of us with a weaker digestive system, too much raw food is not a good idea and can leave us feeling bloated, gassy and generally uncomfortable. Lightly steaming, stir frying or grilling your veggies is preferable, thus reducing the raw salad to a small side rather than the main affair. If you must have salad as a meal, try adding a small amount of warm protein over the top of your vegetables to create a wilted greens salad.
Foods to eat during summer: Lighter foods
Cooling, Yin foods such as: Watermelon, apple, apricot, lemon, kiwi, watermelon, orange, pear, pineapple, tangerine, cucumber, Belgian endive hearts, spinach, tomato, salads, yogurt, wheat, barley, fish, rabbit, mint, dill, cilantro, arugula, cress, wilted greens of any kind, whole grains, asparagus, bamboo, bok choy, broccoli, chinese cabbage, corn, white mushroom, snow peas, summer squash, seaweed, mung bean, cilantro, fish, duck, gazpacho, escarole, kale, swiss chard, banana, radish, celery, zucchini, dandelion greens, bitter melon.
How do we work with seasonal energies to our best benefit?
Since summer is the time of the most Yang, we typically seek to balance the inner Yang by boosting our Yin energy. Believe it or not, the best time to treat your winter illnesses is during the height of Yang, in the summer. Strengthening and balancing the body energy in summer leads to less colds and flu in the upcoming winter season. A buildup of excess Yang caused by summer heat and more frequent activity feeds on body fluids and burns up Yin, so extra effort must be made to build up and maintain body fluids and Yin in summer to disperse, diffuse, and balance the Yang. People tend to get sick in fall and winter due to the loss of Yin and fluids that occurs in summer. If we can keep our bodies in better balance throughout the summer, less colds and flu will result in fall and winter, and staying in harmony with the seasons overall will help prevent disease.
Cool but not ice cold water, watermelon juice, green tea, barley tea, chrysanthemum tea, goji berry tea, peppermint tea, lemon water
Foods to avoid during summer: Heavy foods, sugary, or greasy foods
Avoid: Overuse of coffee, excessively spicy foods. Ice cold foods like ice cream should not be eaten frequently as they cause the digestive system to slow down.
No more than 2 “raw” salads weekly.
Happy Summer, and we hope to see you soon!