How Chinese Medicine Balances "the Summer Element"
Greetings, friends! If we weren't already aware, today's external environment has surely reminded us that summer begins this week; Thursday to be exact, and with it brings the energy of Chinese Medicine's fire element, in all of its good, as well as its potentially challenging contributions.
We can be confident it is no coincidence that the crime rate usually rises during the summer months, especially and unfortunately crimes of the violent variety. The fire element represents our passion, which can be beautifully directed in creativity, connection and romance; however also pathologically if and when misused or left uncontrolled. "Heat symptoms" that might aggregate can be everything from heartburn and eczema to migraines, insomnia and anxiety (all examples of excess energy rising upwards). For this reason it is important to balance the summer's heat with cooling activities and foods. Taking breaks, going swimming, and of course, exercise or meditation (which frankly, are never not on the prescription list), can all greatly benefit the body if (and only if) done consistently. Obviously, acupuncture can be helpful towards clearing some of our excess internal heat and humidity (or "dampness") perpetuated by the climate, and Chinese herbs might be in order to "nourish the body's yin," which most closely corresponds to the parasympathetic nervous system and fluid mechanism.
COOLING FOODS that might assist include cucumbers, celery, mung beans, peppermint and spearmint teas (I actually think the latter has greater benefits), cabbage, tofu, duck, cold water fish, dandelion (tea or the actual plant), parsley (also the tea or actual plant), swiss chard, watermelon (the white part above the rind has the greatest cooling effect), and radishes. Be sure to eat plenty from this list on the days following those fun, but not optimally healthy summer barbecues whose menus tend to feature all "fire-aggravating" substances like beer and heavy meats. Sorry. Not everything fun is bad for us - just most.
Although Chinese Medicine advocates for eating mostly cooked food as opposed to raw, "mostly" does reduce in its percentage during hot summer days. If you'd like to enjoy salad or fruit or some kind of smoothie we'd recommend it be at lunch time when the "stomach qi" is still strong and the atmosphere's quantity of "yang"/fire energy is greatest (yes, even if you're in an air conditioned office). Consuming raw food for dinner is more difficult to digest, and for breakfast is not considered energizing enough to begin the day. Finally, please keep in mind one of my favorite laws of herbal medicine: "Pathological substances cannot behave functionally in the body." What does this mean? It means ice cream and frappuccinos cannot operate as "cooling foods" anymore than hot sauce or whiskey can as "warming" in winter :)
Instead, do take advantage of the summer heat and energy by exercising outdoors, spending time in nature, and enjoying the company of friends, also a prescription that happens to be in order year round, though tends to be more practical in summer.