Chinese Medicine Late Summer Wisdom
Even if you don’t fully experience the dramatic environmental changes of the Seasons, everyone knows them: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. Did you know in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there is a celebrated fifth season?! Well, it’s not celebrated in the sense of holidays, Hallmark cards or other hooplah, but it is acknowledged as its own distinct time of the year and has dramatic impacts on our health if we are not mindful or aware of how it may affect our overall health.
“Late Summer” is known for the final days of summer when the temperatures are typically very hot, humidity increases but there may be a day or two of surprising cooler temperatures, as Autumn approaches. This time of the year is all about building reserves, like our ancestors who were preparing for long cold autumns and winters. Late Summer is ruled by the Chinese Medicine element of Earth. The Earth element symbolizes and is closely related to the organs of digestion, particularly the Spleen (a not-so-talked-about organ in Western medicine unless you need it removed) and Stomach. Because Earth likes to be warm and dry, the excess heat, or surprising cold, along with humidity (a quality of wetness) has the tendency to challenge our digestion system in Late Summer, especially if your digestion system is already prone to being out of balance, are overweight, or have congestion in the body. Since the tendency int he Summer is to party, be more laid back and enjoy we tend to eat more foods that can challenge our digestion system: frozen drinks, frozen blended drinks and smoothies, overly cheesy or oily dips, more processed and sugary food to accommodate the long road trips, travels, or BBQ’s like chips, hot dogs, soda, ice cream and cakes. If we don’t take time in the Late Summer to get-back-on-track, it is common to see the following ailments or signs of being imbalanced during Late Summer appear:
weight gain lethargy chronic fatigue cloudiness of the mind lack of motivation feeling “burned out” muscle weakness flare-ups of chronic pain or injuries exasperated fibromyalgia digestion troubles even with no desire to eat or drink feeling “ungrounded”
There is a famous, and misleading, saying, “You are what you eat.” After years of clinical practice and learning more about the digestive system than most (due to my own challenges with digestion growing up), I truly believe and teach my patients about the importance of “YOU ARE WHAT YOU DIGEST” (not what you eat). This concept was taught to me by the renowned International Ayurveda Physician, Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar, who has just released a new book The Hot Belly Diet. The difference is, you can eat as "perfectly" as possible but without the digestive fire and balance, your body is not necessarily benefitting from the organic, free range, non-gmo, etc. food. If your body is not properly digesting the foods and drinks you consume, your body is not sorting, absorbing and processing what your body really needs. Remember, every-body is unique with individualized needs. And if the body is not digesting properly, or is out of balance, the mind is not properly digesting experiences and chronic mental and/or emotional stress build as well. Over time if your digestive system is chronically imbalanced, other organs, tissues, bodily systems and the mind begin to suffer. Our Digestive System is considered to be of the utmost importance when it comes to building immunity, improving overall health, maintaining weight, feeling vital and motivated and having clarity of the mind.
Late Summer is associated with building nourishment at the body, mind and spirit level. If we enter Autumn with healthy, balanced digestion, strong immune system and clarity of mind, we have the reserves and stores to last through the drying, cold and harsh months (can be harsh mentally and emotionally--think SAD, Seasonal Affect Disorder). Furthermore, when we are full, we have enough to share with others and won't be as drained or get as sick, especially in preparation for the busy holiday season.
Preventative medicine begins NOW in Late Summer to build the digestive fire and immunity. If you enter the Autumn and Winter with low reserves of physical, mental and emotional energy, you are much more likely to experience the reoccurring cold, flu, respiratory conditions and bodily pains of the winter.
Tips for Late Summer:
Begin to create your daily routine you'll carry over into the Autumn with exercise, meditation, yoga, sleep, food, rest.
Visit your acupuncturist to get a digestion tune-up.
Movement: Take a walk after every meal. Minimum 1000 steps. Ideally, until you build a light sweat.
Exercise: sweat at least 4-5 days/week, if not every day. If you feel more exhausted or lethargic after you exercise, you’re sweating too much, in Chinese Medicine lingo, loosing too much essential qi. Ideally, you want to feel energetic and vital after you exercise.
If you practice yoga asana, focus on the Prana Vayu of Samana, twists and wide-legged forward folding poses.
Meditation: Samana meditation, color yellow, themes: grounding, nourishing, filling the vessel/body, releasing the emotion of “worry,” feeling whole from the inside out.
Food: Eat more warm, cooked, foods and beverages. Add ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, cumin and cardamom to your meals and beverages (even your smoothies!). Avoid icy foods and beverages, cold foods, overly fried foods, high sugar foods and overly processed foods. Over time, these will quell the digestive fire and throw your digestion out of imbalance.
Recommended food choices: soups, stews, casseroles, baked or roasted food.
Beverage: Twig Tea, Barley Tea, Oolong Tea, Chai, sip on warm lemon water throughout the day.