How to Get Wisely Cool, Not Dumbly Cold in This Horrific Heat


Yesterday morning I got on the crosstown bus in the 100 degree heat and got to observe one of my favorite pet peeves (a paradox?) under the heading of American bad habits. It was in the form of a girl who'd apparently just finished running and/or exercising, was logically covered in sweat, then sat proximal to me, idly taking that notoriously excessive MTA air conditioning into all of her vulnerable pores. We are overly literal in our ignorance. We obsess over facts and neglect to consider the subjective context in which they exist: That of human physiology. As far as she knows she's doing everything right: Not just exercising, but intentionally doing so in the morning, preempting the more offensive temperatures to come. Very smart! Where she fails is in awareness of the danger of leaving open/active pores vulnerable to cold.

I used to love exercising in a cold, air conditioned room in the summer, otherwise jumping in a (relatively) cold shower after a hot July workout session. That was before I was better advised by my Chinese teachers in school, all of whom were MD's in China and could offer lesser known insights, even and sometimes especially by those who deem themselves "health conscious." Whether in the form of water or air, cold can more easily penetrate the muscle layer while we perspire, which thereby creates vasoconstriction, which is synonymous with pain. We recommend staying away from hot yoga, sure, but equally away from the direct line of fire of those vents in your yoga studio or the gym.

My observation is that most Americans underestimate the pathological effects cold can have on our necks and heads. We're mostly aware of the cliche that heat escapes through the top of the body. We take heed to remove our hats in the summer, but the vast majority of us walk mindlessly around in the winter sans any hat or hood covering said head, apparently presuming the inverse of this mechanism does not exist. This is reminiscent of the finally being realized premise that if stress and cortisol can affect our metabolisms then diet and metabolism must equally in turn impact our central nervous system. I digress.

No one appreciates air conditioning more than myself in the summer when going to sleep. However, as is the case with all modern amenities (and technologies), we'd be well advised to take advantage mindfully, with caution in acknowledgement of their existence as inherently unnatural. Not only for the sake of the external environment, but also for our own personal well-being air conditioning should be used sparingly, to the minimum point of necessary comfort. In the summer Chinese Medicine requests that we eat and sleep less and exercise more. In order to purge fluids we should urinate more in the winter, sweat more in the summer. Don't get me wrong: When it's 100 degrees outside exercise should be gentler, and this isn't at all to say we absolved from the gym in January. Be thoughtful. Think logically, in terms of balance.

As for diet, we recommend only slightly more raw, uncooked foods in summer - which is to say still very little - however if you must by all means go for cucumbers and celery, each of which supposedly have a systemically cooling effect on the body. My teacher, Jason Ginsberg, was one of the first to remind me of the adage: "Pathological substances cannot behave functionally in the body." This means that if we suffer from "damp arthritis" (a redundancy), the dryness of cigarettes will obviously not help. Similarly, neither ice cream nor ice cold drinks will cool the systemic heat created by recent temperatures. Instead they will constrict blood vessels, which will reduce circulation, thereby exacerbating any already existing inflammation we all have.

A great summer tea, depicted below, is a combination of mint leaves and chrysanthemum flowers, both of which are said to enter the liver channel, which if taken daily can go lengths to mitigate that hot summer irritability we're all prone to; also a nice therapeutic counterbalance to those hot summer nights of alcohol consumption we are almost all prone to. The recommended dose is 1 teaspoon of leaves/1 cup of water, but I tend to opt for a tablespoon. I bring the water to a boil with the herbs in it, cover and steep for 10 minutes then strain into as many mugs are present. If there's left over I usually just let it all sit and continue to steep in the pot all day... and drink all day... until Autumn!

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