The Taoists were great observers of nature. They learned that what was occurring within our physical bodies and affecting our spiritual selves was also mirrored in the external environment. From the Taoist perspective, each season relies on all the other seasons in order to fully be a success. The Spring Wood needs the Winter Water to grow strong and healthy. Likewise, the Summer Fire needs plenty of Spring Wood to roar to its sizzling zenith.
This article is about Summer and its associated element Fire. Summer/Fire is the apex: it’s the yang within the yang. It’s the height of energy and activity. In order to be able to really enjoy this time of activity and motion, it would serve us to understand what this season has to offer and how our own body and spirit responses.
Fire is the only element to have four organ systems and corresponding meridians. They are Heart and Small Intestine; Heart Protector (or Pericardium) and Triple Burner. This article shows how the Chinese related to these organ systems and how we see their functioning in the health of our body, mind and spirit.
Fire can stir our passion, fill us with joy and laughter, and nourish our desire for friendships and love. These literally are the characteristics of Summer according to the Taoist theory of Five Elements. It is no surprise that the Heart and Heart Protector/Pericardium are related to Fire. The Heart is like the benevolent ruler that oversees all functions within the body mind and spirit. It pumps blood to all parts of the body, brings love and connection to all aspects of the spirit. Whereas the Pericardium actually exists in western terminology, physically the sack that surrounds and protects the heart, in Chinese Medicine it also exists as a function. Because it is the most vulnerable of organs, the Heart, must be protected, both physically and spiritually. A person must know when to allow the gate to the Heart to be open and when to close. Being open all the time will cause undue distress. Being closed all the time can lead to lack of love and passion, lack of connection and friendship.
Interaction, inter-relatedness is a very important part of the Fire Element. Think of the summer months. It’s a time for getting together with friends and family, for sharing good times and fun activities. Think of what happens when this doesn’t happen. One often gets depressed and lonely. One can crave contact, touch, a smiling face.
The Small Intestine not only sorts the pure from the impure food and nutrients but also sorts the supportive from the disruptive emotions, that nourish vs. confuse and contaminate us. If our Small Intestine is not working well, we can get filled with negativity and disgust. Our Heart can become overwhelmed and anxious. We may become hypertensive, our blood circulation may become compromised, and even our digestion can be thrown off balance.
Triple Burner is completely an Eastern concept. There is the Lower Burner in the pelvic region, a Middle Burner in the abdominal area, and an Upper Burner in the chest-head region. Interaction between all three is important for balance within the whole body mind and spirit. Hot headed and cold feet would not be the state we’d consciously choose to live with.
We who live on the California coast we have to be careful when the fog is thick for day after day. The fog, which is wet and cold is the antithesis of Summer heat. Too much wet and cold can leave us damp inside: foggy head, uninspired, slow and torpid, dull and sloggy, even physically affected with sinus congestion, damp digestion, skin problems, fungal troubles. We may need to actually add damp reducing and warming foods, such as ginger, garlic, white pepper, aduki bean and asparagus. We may need to encourage ourselves to go over the hill, to bring the sunshine into our lives. It’s not just a nice idea to give ourselves the sunny side of nature but actually healthy for our body, mind and spirit.
On the other hand if we find ourselves in a particularly hot and dry summer we need to make sure we don’t burn ourselves out. Hydration, while always important, is even more crucial during hot Summer months. Eating hydrating foods is good – melons are especially heat reducing and hydrating. Limit the amount of caffeine and alcohol you drink – both are very dehydrating.. Eat a rainbow of vegetables, including a good amount of dark green leafy. Pears, mung bean, persimmon, seaweed, water chestnuts are all good for cooling the heat and adding moisture.
Playing water sports, having down time (especially in the middle of the day) and keeping to a daily schedule can help us to calm down in the face of intense summer heat. Getting enough sleep is essential. Sure, it’s challenging because it’s hard to slow down, let alone sleep when it’s still light out. I remember traveling in Sweden in August a few years ago. The sun didn’t set until 11 pm or so, and would rise again at 4 am. Did that mean we only needed 4 – 5 hours sleep? I don’t think so. Being always on the go, such a common experience during the long days of summer, can leave the body, mind, spirit depleted and the reservoirs can run dry.
Summer Fire can be particularly challenging if your system is already a bit overheated and dry, whether it be from constitutional tendency or perhaps a change of life. Menopause will bring about an increased stage of heat and lack of moisture. Summer excess can only exacerbate the situation, leaving the woman with more hot flashes, drier body conditions, and even wider mood swings. Overheating is not particular to menopausal women. One can have a preponderance for firey yang behavior: lots of partying, drinking, heated impassioned discussions, not enough rest, which may all lead to such imbalances as: high blood pressure, heart burn, and insomnia.
The key is to maintain balance throughout the seasons. Make sure we get a good dose of Summer Fire. Enjoy the increased activity and joy. Don’t overdo it and get burned out.
Original article by Judy Pruzinsky Copyright 2007.
Judy Pruzinsky, L.Ac writes articles about acupuncture and health that are published in online and print publications.