Summer: the season of vitality and the Fire element
Summer is here! My favorite time of the year. The longer days mean more sunshine and time to enjoy the abundance that this season brings. The parks are filled with shrieks from children, music and smells from BBQs and the chatter of conversations with friends and families. The farmer's markets are filled with a variety of nutritious seasonal fruits and vegetables. (A tomato is not the same unless it's in season, am I right?!) Life and vitality are happening all around us. And if these Five element posts interest you, check out my previous post on Winter, the Water element, and the Kidneys. Now let's dive a little deeper into how summer relates to Chinese medicine.
The Fire Element
In Chinese medicine, summer marks the peak of the robust Yang energy which is characterized by heat, movement, and activity. Summer is the season associated with the Fire element and the organs of the Heart, Small Intestine, Pericardium, and Triple Heater. The Fire element is associated with the emotions of joy, passion, connection, and warmth. When the Fire element is balanced in the body, the person will have the ability to share and withdraw their warmth and friendliness when needed. They will have healthy boundaries with others and they will have the capacity to experience joy that feels appropriate to each situation.
Physical symptoms associated with an unbalanced Fire element include the following:
Excessive perspiration or lack of perspiration
Rashes, hives, or hot skin eruptions
Sleep disturbances, insomnia
Palpitations, irregular heartbeat
Speech problems (stuttering, confused speech)
Mental & Emotional symptoms associated with an unbalanced Fire element include the following:
Restless, agitated, or explosive energy
Anxiety, irrational fears, and phobias
Depression or weak spirit
Codependent thinking and behaviors
Trouble setting boundaries
Difficulty making decisions
Experiences burn out
The Fire element organs
Each organ associated with the Fire element has its own set of functions and dysfunction in Chinese Medicine.
The Heart is considered the emperor, the ruler of the mind. The definition of the mind includes emotions, consciousness, memory, thinking, and sleep. In Chinese, the word for heart is "Xin" which is often translated as heart-mind. Therefore, according to Chinese medical definition, the heart governs the blood, controls blood circulation, and sweat, but also has a relation to our nervous system and brain. For example, we can see this connection when we feel fear or anxiety, our heart rate starts to increase. Without the Heart, there is no life, even in Western medicine, so our bodies will do everything to protect it. In Chinese medicine, a healthy heart looks like normal mental activity, balanced emotions, clear consciousness, good memory, thinking, and sleep. The person may be very charismatic, charming, warm, present, and can connect with others genuinely. If the Heart is unbalanced, the person will have social anxiety, insecurities, and will feel anxious, restless, and unsettled. The person may also have poor memory and insomnia. Due to the nature of the Heart channel opening to the tongue, the person may also have tongue sores or ulcers or difficulty with speech.
The Pericardium is the heart protector. In Western anatomy, it is the membrane surrounding the Heart. This organ also has a similar function of housing the mind, as the Heart does. When the Pericardium is balanced the person can set boundaries with humans and situations. The person can distinguish between healthy and unhealthy love in relationships. A dysfunctional Pericardium will have trouble saying no, will have codependent thoughts and behaviors, and difficulty setting boundaries.
The Small Intestine receives our food and drink from the Stomach and helps separate the "clear from the turbid". In other words, this is where absorption of our nutrients takes place and the remaining waste will continue to the Large intestine, just like in Western medicine. The Small Intestine does this not just for our food, but also for our emotions. A balanced Small Intestine will be able to determine which relationships and situations should be turned into something more meaningful and which should be processed and let go of. It also helps us distinguish right from wrong. When the Small Intestine is out of balance, there will be anxiety around making decisions of the heart.
The Triple Heater is not an organ in Western medicine. Instead, it can be described as an area of the torso including the chest, solar plexus, and abdomen. In Chinese medicine, it functions as a great waterway shuttling fluids and energy throughout the body. It also controls the excretion of fluids from the body. Emotionally, it provides warmth and help to the rest of the world without feeling overextended. When the Triple Heater is unbalanced there can be problems with sweating, urination, or digestive fluids. There can be trouble knowing where to appropriately put our energy in relationships. This can look like codependency - being overly identified with another person's needs. This can also look like burnout from overextending, being too helpful, or too busy.
Wellness Tips for the Summer season
So how do you nourish the organs of the Fire element this summer?
Get acupuncture. Weekly acupuncture visits can help balance the energy of all of these organs when you are experiencing any of the symptoms of dysfunction. There are specific points on each organ's channel that can activate the energy of the Fire element.
Eat cooling, bitter foods. Since the temperature is very hot this time of year, a lot of our energy is expended through activity. Our bodies do not want to use up more energy to digest heavy foods. Instead, this is the time of year to eat lighter and less food. Try cooling, fresh foods such as salads, smoothies, fruits, cucumbers, tofu, sprouts, pork, chicken eggs, pumpkin seeds, mung beans, millet, pearl barley, white rice, & wheat. Also, bitter foods, such as endive, escarole, spinach, kale, broccoli rabe, and Swiss chard, have a cleansing quality that can help the physical heart and any deposits in the arteries.
Drink lots of water. The sun and heat pull tons of moisture from our pores, so it is important to rehydrate. Drink 8-10 8 oz glasses of water a day.
Exercise. This is beneficial for our cardiovascular system and helps detoxify our bodies from toxins when we sweat. Start slowly with brisk walking to just break a sweat. Try to do this 5 times a week for 30 minutes a day.
Hiring a coach or therapist. So much of the Fire element dysfunction has to do with our minds, thought patterns, and emotions. Therefore, it is important to hire a professional coach or therapist to gain awareness and work through some of these disordered patterns of thinking and behaviors.
Calming the body & mind. Since we are of the "Information Age", we tend to have mental hyperactivity and overstimulation ALL of the time. This can deplete the energy of the heart and lock us into an activated state in our nervous system. It is important to offset this activated body and mind by finding some calming time. This prevents us from experiencing burnout. Some somatic or body-calming practices include: breathwork, restorative yoga, qi gong, or tai chi, and getting good quality sleep. Some mind-calming practices include: meditation, journaling, turning off screens in the evening time, sipping a cup of warm tea, getting outside in nature, and getting good quality sleep. Notice how sleep is in both categories, so if you aren't sleeping well, this can be affecting so much of your health. I know slowing down can be extremely challenging, but if we sit with the discomfort and make it a practice, we will be surprised at what we can learn about ourselves in the moments of stillness.
Have fun! Engage your Fire element by sharing your warmth with others and participating in experiences that bring you joy this summer.
As always if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. Happy Summer Solstice!