This post is copied from our older, original blog. Original post date 6/21/2011.
Today is the summer solstice, and here in New England, it finally feels like summer has actually arrived!
Summer is the season of the Heart, of Fire, and of Joy in the Traditional Chinese Medicine system of correspondences. It is a time to celebrate vitality, to nurture that which is most important to us, to connect with those people and things that are dear to us, and to do things that make us happy and joyful.
The energetic of the Summer Season is radiance – like the glow of the summer sun, we ourselves can glow when we are in tune with our body’s natural wisdom, and the wisdom that the Earth herself shares with us.
We often say that everything in Traditional Chinese Medicine goes back to the theory of Yin and Yang. Yin represents those forces within us and in the universe that are cool, calm, passive, receptive, sinking, heavy, and contracting. Yang, on the other hand, represents all that is warm, fiery, active, initiating, expanding, light, and outward-moving. Summer is the quintessential Yang season. In the natural evolution of the universe’s energy in a yearly cycle, the Summer season (and the summer solstice – today) – is the height of Yang. After summer, the yang of the universe slowly decreases (and Yin slowly increases), until Yin predominates in the Winter. All this really goes to show that Summer is the natural embodiment of Yang, and to live in harmony with that natural energy, we need to adjust our diet, our lifestyles, our outlook, and how we take care of our bodies to reflect its wisdom.
Summer represents a period of abundant growth. One has only to look out the window to recognize the fullness of the trees, the fruit and vegetables sprouting forth and reaching towards the sun, the bounty of the natural world during this time. To live in harmony with this Summer energetic, try to wake early rather than sleeping through the warm summer mornings. Greet the sun in some way – for you yoga people, this is a great time to start each day with some Sun salutations. If yoga isn’t your thing, try going for a morning walk, or even drinking a cup of tea on your porch…something to welcome the Summer’s energy into your life each morning.
You may also want to adjust how you eat during the summer, as your body will optimally process the food that you eat when you eat in harmony with the natural rhythms of the world. Summer is a season of brightness and creativity, so eating a wide variety of foods is very beneficial, reflecting the wide array of foods and plants that bloom and fruit during the summer months. Mixing colors on your plate is also recommended, to reflect the brightness and radiance of the season. (Also, as mentioned, Summer is the season of the Heart energy system, and the Heart has a close relationship to how we interpret color, which means that including a wide variety of colors in each of your meals nurtures your Heart energy, particularly during the summer!)
I don’t have to tell you that the summer brings with it Heat. To protect yourself from the heat, try to focus on eating cooling foods, such as juicy fruits, berries, mint, and mung bean. Eat in cooling environments, such as a shaded patio. Include foods in your diet that TCM believes have the specific function of clearing Summer Heat: lemons, limes, watermelons. Avoid heavy foods like nuts, red meat, and eggs (in excess), as these foods can create additional Heat in the body. It is also advisable to add spicy flavors (in moderation) to your summer cooking, as the spices are a good way to bring heat out to the surface of the body (ie, make you sweat), and cool the body down naturally.
In TCM, each season corresponds to one of the energetic systems in the body, and Summer corresponds to the Heart. The Heart – in TCM, just like in the West – corresponds to the emotion of Joy. Therefore, the Heart is nourished by taking part in activities that bring us cheer and joy. The season of the Heart is a time to celebrate that which you love in the world, and celebrate yourself. Author Daverick Leggett writes, “The Heart is the seat of Consciousness. It is the place of saying ‘I am,’ the place from which we radiate our essential presence into the world.”
In summer, take the time to remember what it is that makes you, you – what it is that brings you the most joy, what it is that makes you infuse radiance into the world around you. Perhaps now is the time to take that art class you have always thought about taking, or take a day off to go hiking with your partner, or join a sports team, or begin a practice of meditation each morning. The Heart is our connection to our center, and this summer, remember what it means to take care of your core being.
Just like iconography in the Western world, the Heart in TCM also governs our relationships with other human beings. So it is nurtured by feeling connected to those that we love. So try to think of this summer as a time to reach out to friends and family, to forge new bridges, and to strengthen enduring bonds.
Nourish the Heart through music, through poetry, through art, through dance. Nourish the Heart through ritual – it can be a ritual you have known your whole life, or something that you create for yourself. Suggestions of (emotional)-heart-healthy rituals include: Make a list of 5 things you are grateful for each day before you go to bed. Meditate for 5 minutes each morning. Create a shrine of objects sacred to you. Light a candle at the same time each day, to remind you of something important. Go for a walk each evening. Call someone you love every Sunday afternoon.
Nourish the Heart energy through food by eating red foods (the color of the Heart) – strawberries, raspberries, kidney beans, cherries. Make that delicious summer berry salad, and you will be nourishing your Heart energy and eating in tune with the natural summer rhythms all at the same time.
This is not to say that you have to be happy all the time during the summer. It is to say that the natural energy of this season is an energy that wants to move outward, to explore, to grow, to celebrate, and to radiate. It is most natural for us to seek the same movement in our own lives, in whatever form we are able to find it. Happy Solstice.