We are right in the middle of Summer. For me, this time of year brings back a lot of memories. From school holidays playing under the sprinkler with my brothers, dancing for days at music festivals and jaunts overseas to recharge my batteries.
Contentiously, Summer is in fact not my favourite season of the year (I'm a sucker for Autumn leaves and casseroles) and unsurprisingly according to Chinese Medicine it's the most yang season of the four. It is the season where we find ourselves exerting the most energy, we are outdoors more, the daylight hours are longer helping us socialise over gorgeous sunsets, and the hot sun sees us out and about exploring nature or venturing into the water.
As part of the seasonal cycle, summer is the season where the energy we have stored in Winter and built up in the Spring, is finally ready to explode into a plethora of yang activities. Where possible, tune into this seasonal cycle within yourself and try to relish the opportunities that the season does provide.
From a Chinese Medicine perspective, Summer is the season of the Heart and it is represented by the Fire element (which can sometimes be quite literal depending on where the mercury is on any given day.) Of all the organs in the body, the Heart is what Chinese Medicine calls The Emperor.
In Western Medicine, the brain is usually viewed as the most important organ compared to Chinese Medicine which regards the heart at the top of the tree, and this is one of the many differences between the two schools of thoughts.
The heart is vital to avoid chaos in our lives and commands the flow of Blood, something that nourishes the whole body. The Heart is the portal of all emotions in the body.
In practical terms, this means that summer is the time of the year where we should allow ourselves to really 'follow our heart' and fill up on the things that truly do bring us joy.
It's the time to catch up with old friends, to spend time outside playing sports, going on long walks or feeling the salty water on our skin.
Summer foods to indulge in (and what to go easy on)
Summer in my opinion is one of the easiest of the seasons to eat well. Hot weather, outdoor living and an abundance of seasonal produce allows our nutritional intuition to really come into its own. Put simply from a Chinese Medicine perspective, we are looking at foods that cool the body down (and manage the fire of the heart which is in full force.)
According to Joerg Kastner in his book Chinese Nutrition Therapy, the heat of summer “feeds on body fluids and harms yin. It is recommended to take in predominantly cooling, yin foods to disperse heat and build up body fluids. The bitter flavor corresponds to the fire phase, and mostly bitter–cool as well as bitter–cold foods in moderation should be consumed during the hot season.”
Summer is not the time of the year to be sitting down with a nice spicy curry or a plate of power punching beef tacos - I don't think I ever want to sweat that much. Generally dry and hot foods are what we should be avoiding as much as possible during these months.
And it's not just limited to what's on our plate. Reducing our coffee intake can also play a big part on our seasonal health. It's up for debate whether swapping your hot morning cup of joe for a delicious iced coffee beverage will negate the benefits... I'll leave that for you to trial and let me know if you feel any difference to your energy levels and overall health.
The fruits that are best to consume during summer include apples, watermelon, lemon, kiwi, orange, pear, pineapple, summer berries (strawberries, cherries, strawberries, goji berries, beetroot) and tangerine. Some of these fruits might not be available to you depending on where in the world you are, but increasing your consumption of what you can source will have enormous benefits.
If sitting down and eating a full platter of fruit isn't quite your style, there are other great ways to reap the benefits. Adding any combination of these to your water filter or daily smoothie is a wonderful alternative to add them to your summer days. If you are a regular smoothie consumer, remember to try and keep it as close to room temperature as you can before you drink it. Often people will think that by needing to eating "cooling foods" that the food itself should be cold or chilled. Whilst it does make a lot of common sense, eating cold food can upset our body's temperature and affect the flow of qi throughout the body.
Other great cooling foods to consumer during the summer months include Cucumber, Belgian endive hearts, spinach, tomato, salads, yogurt, wheat, barley, fish, rabbit, mint, dill, and coriander (cilantro).
Needless to say, it's the time of the year to really up your water intake. Fresh fruit juices as mentioned above are great here as well, and whether you like it hot or cold green tea is perfect for Summer as it has wonderful toxin expelling qualities that cool the fire, relax the mind and can also remove heat from other body organs such as the liver, gallbladder, stomach and lung.
Taking care of you
It truly is a wonderful time of the year, so indulge and really allow yourself to find and do the things that bring joy into your life - whatever that is. By simply looking out to nature, we can see that Summer is a time for growth and expansion, so follow that example and find ways for you to grow and expand in yourself.
If you have spent the last 9 months or so being incredibly busy and not having a chance to stop, give yourself permission at this time of year to slow down, stay out later, plan face-to-face catch ups with friends who you may have only caught up with digitally throughout the year, and find moments where you can adventure outdoors - whatever that looks like for you.
Whether it's a day at the beach, a hike through a national park that you've always wanted to visit, or even get out in your garden and get your green thumb on.
Pragmatically, we should take this time of the year to nourish our hearts, fill up on wonderful memories made with those that we love and prepare us for another seasonal cycle of work and the other less joyous obligations that are no doubt in store for us all.
Wake up earlier in the morning
Rest at midday
Go to bed later
Seek water to balance the Fire element: cool baths and showers, swimming
Seek activities that bring you joy and put you in a state of flow
Nourish creative projects
Find time to play like you did as a child
I hope you have the most wonderful summer, finding opportunities to recharge and fill your heart with joy and that you can stay nice and cool.
Photography images supplied by Canva.