In Chinese Medicine, summer belongs to the fire element, yang energy, and outward expression. Now is the time to spend time outside under the warm healing sun. As the liver belongs to springtime, the heart and small intestine belong to summer.
To stay healthy during summer months, top priority should be given to nurturing the heart, mind and spirit. When the fire element is in balance, the heart is strong and healthy, mind is calm and peaceful, and sleep is restful. When the fire element is out of balance, we may either lack joy (depression) in our lives or have an excess of joy (mania) and suffer from insomnia and or anxiety. To balance the yang energy of the season, summer is the perfect time to introduce cooling and light foods into the diet. In general, watercress, mint, asparagus, cucumber and lettuces are all cooling in nature, as well as fish and seafood. Eat in moderation, limit intake of dairy and greasy, fried foods and stay hydrated.
“In the three months of summer there is an abundance of sunshine and rain. The heavenly energy descends, and the earthly energy rises. When these energies merge there is intercourse between heaven and earth. As a result plants mature and animals, flowers and fruits appear abundantly.”- The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine
Summer officially started June 21st and I think we can all agree that it seems to have come on fast and furiously this year! With the temperatures soaring into and above 100, it’s very easy to become overheated. All year long I encourage my patients to drink plenty of water, but it’s especially important this time of year.
Some people have no problem drinking adequate amounts of water to stay hydrated, but others find it hard to do. Below are some tips that will help those even those who don’t like drinking water get enough of it, and make sure the water you drink is refreshing and most importantly actually being absorbed and hydrating our bodies.
My first tip often results in people looking at me as if I said I had 2 heads. Even during the summer, my drinks of choice tend to be hot. Those who have been treated by me are familiar with my spiel about how our bodies work very hard to maintain a 98.6 degree temperature. When we eat or drink cold foods and beverages, our internal temperature drops significantly. Like a furnace, our body has to work hard very quickly to bring the temperature back to the 98.6 degrees, the optimal temperature for our body’s myriad of functions. During the summer months, I drink hot teas that have cooling properties such as green tea and peppermint. This way I get a cooling feeling without putting out my digestive fire. If drinking hot fluids is too much, try sticking with room temperature water with cucumber or lemon slices in it. Berries are also a nice variation.
On that note, iced coffees are probably the worst drink you can choose. Aside from the amount of sugar often incorporated into these drinks, the combination of caffeine and ice only lead to more dehydration in the long run. Caffeine is a diuretic, and actually induces our bodies to release more fluid through urination. That means there’s less fluid for our bodies to use as sweat, the natural way we cool ourselves off.
My favorite Chinese herb (and fruit) to recommend to patients this time of year is Watermelon. It has cooling properties, and is 92% water. It is also low in calories and has vitamin A, C and potassium.
Other foods that can be eaten to promote hydration are leafy greens and, my favorite, all kinds of berries.
Remember, our brains sometimes mistake the thirst signal and try to convince us that we’re hungry instead. So if you find you’re excessively hungry this summer, try drinking some water first.
Traditional Chinese Medicine based Nutrition categorizes food based on their energetic properties and temperature. Eating foods that are moistening and cook in nature will help to keep you hydrated. Another tip for avoiding dehydration is to eat foods whose properties are “cooling” in nature:
-Add cucumber or mint to your water
-Eat more fruit and veggies, take advantage of farmers markets and eat what’s in season such as: lettuce, watermelon, spinach, corn, broccoli, asparagus, watercress.
-Avoid hot, greasy or spicy foods
-Add more fresh, wild seafood and fish to your diet
Swimming, meditation and yoga can keep the spirit calm, maintain good sleep and help your personal growth this summer season.
Joy is the primary emotion of the season which is linked to the Heart in Chinese medicine and acupuncture theory. Wake up early and stretch towards the sun. Go outside and play. Garden. Volunteer. Be kind. Share your joy with others. Smile. Remember how to let go and connect with your deep belly laugh.
2.RECOGNIZE AND ENJOY THE SURROUNDING ABUNDANCE
Summer is the time of abundance. Our gardens are blooming, plants are producing fruits and vegetables, flowers are blooming and there is color everywhere. Feed yourself and your senses with this color. Bring flowers into your home. Make sure the foods you eat reflect the colors and freshness of this season.
3.INCORPORATE COOLING FOODS INTO YOUR DIET
In Chinese medicine, iced drinks and ice cream can slow down and damage your digestion. Use these super-cold foods sparingly. However, on very warm days, you can include some cooling foods such as watermelon, cucumber, salads, sprouts, and mung beans. Some flower and leaf tea ideas include fresh mint, chrysanthemum and chamomile tea.
Summer is the time of highest or most yang activity. We all have more energy during the summer and want to get out there and do all sorts of fun activities. But don’t forget to be aware of your body and what it’s telling you. Make sure you’re drinking enough water and not getting overly fatigued. If you play sports, check in with yourself. If you’ve sprained or strained anything or feel like your body is out of alignment, it’s probably time to visit your acupuncturist. Chinese Medicine and acupuncture can help strains and sprains heal faster. Acupuncture can also help with overuse injuries and can increase the body’s performance by bringing the body back into alignment. But the key again is awareness and listening to your body.
5.KEEP YOUR BALANCE
Remember to balance all of the yang energy of summer with yin (slower, nurturing) energy. With all of the activities during the summer, it’s important to remember to take time to slow down each day. Beginning your day with meditation, qi gong exercises, or tai chi can help set the pace and build a foundation for the rest of your active day.
About the Author: Lauren Civello, M.S., L.Ac.
Lauren is a Nationally Board Certified Acupuncturist and holistic healthcare practitioner in Encino, California. Owner of Golden Valley Acupuncture Center, Lauren has been a healer in the community for over a decade.