Summer is the time of year when nature is at its fullest, the weather is warm and our calendars are bursting. Sunlight fills our homes early in the mornings, waking us from our slumbers with the promise of a fresh new day. Summer is the season of yang, a time when the body undergoes vigorous metabolic (body energy) processes. The heat often hits us, slowing us down during the peak of the day, sapping our energy until the evenings coolness comes.
That light, that energy and that warmth places different demands on our bodies than other times of the year. Several thousand years ago, The Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor put forth the principle that one should cultivate the yang energy in spring and summer, while protecting the yin energy in autumn and winter. It teaches us that summer belongs to fire, one of the five elements. Fire is symbolic of maximum activity or greatest yang, which means that it is a time of heat, outgoingness, and moving outward in nature and in our lives. In order to harness that energy, it the time of year to start projects and work towards goals and challenges. We’re encouraged to socialise and connect, to reach out to opportunities and aspects of personal growth. This is a time to enliven our spirits, and to realize our life’s greatest potential as we find joy, purpose and meaning in our external endeavours. If winter is for rest and reflection, summer is for action and growth.
To prevent summer ills and remain in harmony with the environment of summer, ancient Chinese physicians advised:
- Awaken earlier in the morning.
- Go to bed later in the evening.
- Rest at midday.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Add pungent flavors to your diet.
- Refrain from anger; keep calm and even-tempered.
Gone is the need for heavy sauce laden pasta dishes or slow cooked stews, now our bodies crave fresh fruits, vegetables and grains. To eat fresh, simple and light food is to avoid adding to the sluggishness of the summer heat. A light and less-greasy diet is strongly recommended. It is the perfect season to introduce some cool, yin foods into your diet. Here are some simple food ideas to keep your digestion and body feeling light.
- Think teaming bulgur, quinoa or rice with kale, spinach, rocket, silverbeet or avocado, all helping to keep the body cool in summer. Combine it with other brightly coloured veggies and berries for variety and nutritional balance.
- Try switching some or all of your coffees (hot in nature) for green tea or peppermint (cooling).
- If you generally have digestive issues, lightly steam all veggies and eat at room temperature. Add a little grated ginger if you spend most of the year feeling cold.
- Avoid eating really cold food and drinks, even on a super hot day. When you think about it, it only cools you down for a moment. However on the inside, cold is constricting the flow of Qi adding to pain in the body. Especially avoid if you suffer from muscular pain, stomach pains or period pains.
- Take it easy on the icecream, we know in summer that’s a tough one but sugar, cold and dairy is a nightmare for our digestive organs!
- While it is still the social season, be mindful that alcohol has a warming effect on the body, adding to the summer heat.
- Lastly, Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. Sooo important for every aspect of our body’s function. 2L is the general rule of thumb, more if working physically hard. Keep in mind that salty foods make us thirsty and having caffeine and alcohol means we need more water.
In general, cooling foods tend towards the green end of the spectrum – lettuce, cucumbers, and watercress are some of the coolest. Few vegetables are warming. Fish and seafood are also cooling, while most meats are warming.
These fruits and vegetables will help your body adjust its temperature and protect you during the long, hot summer days:
- Bok choy
- Chinese cabbage
- White mushroom
- Snow peas
- Summer squash
- Mung means
Other helpful tips for the summer season:
- Keep a pitcher of water with slices of lemon and cucumber with you and sip it throughout the day.
- Eat in moderation. Over consumption of any food, especially cooling foods, can lead to indigestion, sluggishness and possibly diarrhea.
- Do not leave your food out for too long. The hot weather tends to increase food spoilage.
- Stay away from dairy, heavy, greasy, and fried foods.
Remember simple, fresh and cooling foods are the key to eating well and feeling well this summer!
Ailments – Heat Conditions
This is the time of year where heat conditions tend to flare up, especially for those prone to them. In Chinese medicine this means internal heat conditions where the yang rises up and is not anchored by the yin and can manifest in symptoms like: headaches, anger and irritability, flushed face, insomnia, ringing in the ears, and tight neck and shoulders. Diet and lifestyle changes mentioned above can help in cooling the body – we also recommend avoiding heating foods and drinks like alcohol and particularly coffee. Acupuncture and herbs can also be very effective in reducing heat conditions, building the yin and restoring the body back to balance.