“What good is the warmth of Summer, without the cold of Winter to give it sweetness”, says author John Steinbeck in his book, “Travels with Charley: In Search of America”.
Long humid days, short warm nights, the intoxicating smells of abundant plumeria blooms and mangoes so full of juice that it drips down your arm in a sticky stream. Summer conjures joyful feelings for most of us with fond memories of vacation from school, beach days and leisurely late nights outside in the warm air.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Summer is the season of the heart, whose emotion is joy. The heart isn’t just the organ that pumps blood throughout your body, it’s also the home of your spirit or shen in TCM.
Summer is a season full of abundance—warmth, activity and outward growth. It’s a great time to pursue creative projects that bring your spirit joy, socialize with friends outside and reap the benefits of these long warm days before they shorten into the cooler ones of Fall.
The Summer heat has both positive and negative impacts on our bodies. We feel energetic and happy because it’s warm and bright. However, too much exertion in the heat can lead to exhaustion, agitation, headaches and sometimes insomnia.
Tips for staying balanced in the Summer:
~Drink lots of water:
Room temperature water is ideal. Although we may crave iced drinks, thinking that it feels refreshing, it’s actually increasing our internal body heat trying to warm up that cold liquid in our stomach. In turn, this slows down our entire body process, including digestion which can lead to bloating, indigestion and constipation. In addition to water, some energetically cooling teas like mint, chrysanthemum and the Hawaiian mamaki tea will help naturally cool the body down without ice.
~Eat cooling foods:
All foods in TCM have an energetic property. Conveniently, the foods that are abundant in Summer are ideal for keeping our bodies cool. Foods such as watermelon, cucumber, berries, zucchini and bitter greens like Romaine lettuce are all good at cooling us down as well as increasing the amount of water we ingest.
~Avoid heavy and cold foods:
Red meat, greasy foods and cold dairy foods like ice cream severely impair digestion and may create more heat in the body. Best foods for summer are lightly cooked seasonal vegetables and easy to digest foods like light broths and soups.
When we are enjoying the cool ocean at a hot day at the beach, we may end up sitting around for extended periods in our wet bathing suits, which is not ideal. It can weaken our immunity and allow the cold to sneak in. This is especially important for women, as it can increase urinary tract infections, yeast infections and cause difficulties with menstruation.
~Be mindful of the temperature and wind:
Due to the increased temperatures of Summer, our pores are open more to allow for sweating. Be mindful of when the wind picks up—it might feel good in the moment, but can allow a cold to sneak in. Keep a light sweater or scarf handy for when it gets breezy.
We hope these tips help and that you’re enjoying your Summer season.
There is so much information and many opinions available about what foods are best to eat for a “healthy” lifestyle. Even if you’re eating high quality, organic “superfoods”, it may not benefit you in the most efficient way if you are not absorbing the nutrients properly due to poor digestion.
Here are some simple tips for better digestion:
The majority of digestion occurs in your mouth before it even reaches your stomach. Our digestive system is a two-part process, mechanical and chemical. In order to help the stomach work most efficiently, there are a few important steps to ensure this happens. When digestion does not work optimally, you may experience bloating, gas, sleepiness or abdominal pain, not to mention loose stools and/or constipation.
Limit water intake 15 minutes before and after meals.
If you need a little drink during a meal, aim to keep it less than a half of a cup. Too much liquid during meals dilutes the digestive acids and enzymes and your stomach has to work longer and harder to process the food.
Make sure the liquid is at least room temperature or better yet, have some hot tea. Iced or cold liquids slow down the process significantly.
Smell your food before taking the first bite.
This gets the salivary glands activated in your mouth and sends a signal to your stomach that it should get ready to receive food. The stomach will then prepare the proper mix of acids and enzymes to break down that exact variety of foods.
Chew, chew and then chew some more.
Take small bites, chew thoroughly (25-100 chews per bite) and put your fork down in between bites.
Before swallowing, the food should be broken down to a soupy consistency. Once food hits the stomach, it only has chemicals to process it. Sending whole chunks of food down requires much more time and effort to digest, with some things not being digested at all, rather just rotting and being passed to the intestines that way.
Concentrate on eating only.
Avoid TV, phone/computer or upsetting conversations while eating. Ben Harper has a song called, “Please don’t talk about murder while I’m eating”, which is terrific advice. Distractions, violence or upset while eating severely impair digestion. TV, phone or computer use are distracting and don’t allow us to be aware of how much we are eating, which can lead to overeating and poor chewing. Violence or upset engages our fight or flight sensation which leads to digestion being slowed considerably to make sure we are safe first, even though it’s not necessarily a direct threat.
Enjoy the flavors of your food. Appreciate where your food came from and the hands that prepared it.
Happy Eating = Happy Stomach!
We are transitioning out of the yin, contractive, cooling nature of Winter (yes, even here in Hawaii), into the yang, expansive, warmer nature of Spring. This season in the theory of Chinese medicine relates to the Liver meridian. Our Liver in both Western and Chinese terms is one of the hardest working systems in the body. In Chinese medicine, it is the General of the troops, making sure all things flow smoothly and easily, both physically and emotionally. It is easily affected by the brisk winds of Spring. Because it is warmer now than in Winter, our pores are more open and we may be sweating. However, in the transition between Winter and Spring, the weather can be slightly erratic, changing quickly from warm to cold and back again. We need to keep ourselves covered up and warm during this transitional time, especially the neck. The neck is the primary place on the body where the wind enters, causing a “wind invasion”, or the “common cold” in Western terms. Wearing a light scarf, bandana or even just poppin’ your collar up can help to keep the wind from invading.
When the Liver is not running smoothly or is disrupted by the windiness of Spring, stagnation can occur. This may show up as poor digestion, headaches, dizziness, emotional upset, frustration, anger, anxiety or even muscle cramps.
Make time to nurture your Liver meridian and enjoy the bounty that Spring offers by taking a walk near the ocean, spending time in the country looking for the new blooms and growth that Spring inspires or just a moment in the evening enjoying the stars and constellations of the season.