The summer sun is here to stay for the next few months. It’s no surprise that in Traditional Chinese Medicine summer is associated with the fire element. This very yang, active energy can serve us well to accomplish goals that we set earlier in the year and make positive changes in our lives. However, we have to be cautious of being scorched, literally by the sun, or figuratively by the heat of excessive activities.
The organ correlation for the fire element is the Heart and Small Intestine. There is also an association to the tongue and blood vessels, as well as the emotion of joy. When the fire element is well tended to and also in balance with the opposing water element, these organs function optimally and health follows. Of course, this concept holds true year round, but it is of particular importance for this season.
For some of us, we thrive with the added heat from nature. These people are those that tend to be on the cooler side constitutionally and may indeed benefit from a added warmth that summer brings. On the other side of the spectrum, are those among us who tend to be on the warmer side constitutionally. If we find ourselves in this category, it can be particularly important to be wary of overheating the system when the sun is burning brightly.
Regardless of which category we find ourselves in, there is a challenge for all of us to adapt to the changes of season and recognize best practices for our body at different times of the year. I cannot tell you exactly what that might be. We are each unique in our own paths and experiences of health; however, I can offer some guideposts. See these as possibilities for creating a deeper connection between yourself and the ever-changing world that surrounds us. See this as a way to begin thinking about how to keep the flames burning without creating a wild fire, or how to contain the fire without putting it out.
1. Spend time outdoors before 10 a.m. or after 5 p.m.
Outdoor activities are abundant this time of year. Try to stay out of the heat of the day by either getting up earlier for that hike or staying up a bit later. In fact, this time of year it is a good practice to get up earlier and stay up a little later, as long as we can rest during the afternoon. If you have yet to try this, I highly recommend it. Even if you can only incorporate it into your weekend routine, it is well worth the effort.
2. Incorporate coconut into your life.
This is a great time of year to enjoy some coconut water. Go for the real deal whenever possible and be cautious when buying the canned variation (watch for added sugar, preservatives, etc.). Besides staying hydrated, coconut water also offers electrolytes for replenishment. Another way to use coconut during summer, is by applying a light coat of coconut oil on your skin after taking a shower. This is great to soothe your skin and keep you cool.
3. Use essential oils for those extra hot days.
Some well known essential oils that can be used topically to help cool down are lavender and peppermint. If you have sensitive skin, use coconut as a carrier oil and mix in a few drops of whichever essential oil you chose. You may find it useful to apply this blend to the soles of your feet or around the wrists.
4. Enjoy some raw foods.
Summer brings an abundance of food that has cooked in the sun before we go to eat it. So, following the idea of eating locally and seasonally as much as possible, now is the time of year to go for that raw salad or fruit from the vine. This is especially helpful for those of us that have a digestive fire that tends more towards overheating. Some common cooling foods for summer include: cucumbers, watermelon, cilantro, berries, asparagus, summer squash, lettuce and grapes. Find a balance that works for you, being aware that we do not want to put the fire out. For most of us, incorporating some of these foods, especially at midday when the sun burns brightest, will feel cooling and nourishing.
5. Practice a cooling pranayama for five minutes before going to bed.
This is so simple and can be done while lying in bed, yet it will take some dedication to make it a habit. There are two breathing practices that I would recommend. The first is simply breathing in and out through the left nostril, which is associated with the more feminine, cooling aspect of the body. Use your right thumb to close off the right nostril and take slow gentle breaths through the left. The other option is called sheetali and involves rolling the tongue to create a small tunnel for the breath to enter. Inhale through the mouth and exhale through the nose. With this breathing practice, you can really feel the cool air coming in to the body. Both practices have a calming and cooling effect. It is important to mention that you should never be forceful with the breath during these practices.
Wishing you a summer full of joy!